I wish we could pay teachers as much as we pay doctors, lawyers, CPAs and
engineers. What they do for society is just as important.
Probably so. But most salaries are set by supply and demand.
It's that simple. There are a lot more people trained as teachers (3.2 million)
than trained in those other professions. Teachers today make about the average
for four-year college graduates in all fields of endeavor.
Another very important factor is the length of time in the
workday, and the work year. Teachers work less than other college graduates in
other fields that make more than they do, but it makes sense. Teachers work
under a union contract that normally defines the teacher's work day at around
seven hours or less. Teachers themselves report being in school buildings 38
hours a week, on average. That's far, far fewer hours than an accountant works
during tax season, for example. Furthermore, a teacher's work year comes to 190
working days, on average, with summers off and so forth. That compares to about
240 days for a lawyer or office manager with two weeks' vacation and 10
holidays and paid days off.
Still another factor is that teachers tend to start at low
starting salaries, but quickly hike up to a good median pay. Other professions may
tend to start their new employees off at a higher starting pay, but the "snap"
- the increase to the median pay - takes a lot longer. Therefore, when you see
comparisons of teacher salaries to the salaries of others in careers that
require four years of college, see if the comparison is of starting salaries,
or median salaries. Comparisons of median salaries between teachers and other
professionals find that teachers do indeed make about 10% less, on average,
than those other professionals, BUT since they work about 30% fewer hours, they
actually make out well, hour-for-hour.
There's yet another factor regarding the latter: in
teaching, everybody makes fairly close to everybody else, even though of
course, veterans make more than beginners. However, veterans don't make THAT
much more than beginners. But in the private sector, especially in fields such
as sales and marketing, or engineering, there are a few individuals who make
WHOPPING big salaries - salaries in the millions - and those few individuals raise
the entire median a lot. Teaching, in contrast, doesn't have those "superstars"
to lift their average - and of course, once again, that's compliments of the
union and collective bargaining that's holding teacher pay back.
You also have to consider the dollar value of the fringe
benefits and retirement packages for teachers vs. the other professionals. Most
people would have to say that teachers come out the winners in those
If teacher pay seems low in your state compared to other
states, you have to look at the average salaries for four-year college
graduates in both states. It is likely that overall, salaries in your state are
lower than in other states because you have a lower cost of living, have more
rural areas where "comparables" are lower because there are fewer jobs for
college graduates available, and so forth.
In education, a higher salary does not signify the
importance of the job. Look at homeschooling parents: they work for free, and
yet their children would certainly say that the work that they do is important.
Teaching salaries also do not correlate to how much
education you have had as a teacher. As many homeschooling parents show, you
don't even need a bachelor's degree in any college area to function as a great
teacher, much less be an education major and a certified teacher. Relatively
few homeschooling parents are certified teachers, but the average test scores
of homeschooling students is much better than the average test scores of
students who have certified teachers. Many of the professors at colleges and
universities who get the highest ratings as teachers from their students are
not educators at all, but are "adjuncts" with expertise in various subjects who
find that they are able to teach without going back to teachers' college or
gaining teaching certification from the state.
Salaries also reflect intensity of training. The formal
training of those other disciplines in medicine, law, accounting and
engineering, for example, extend for years past college, and so they deserve
higher compensation to match.
The biggest influence of all on teacher pay, however, is
that there is no free market for how much teachers can make, in public
education. The unions control pay with the collective bargaining process. Their
system is simple: basically, the longer you've been teaching, the more you
make. You can make a little more with a master's degree and by coaching or
sponsoring a school activity, but even if you are such a great teacher your
pupils come to you at the bottom of the scale at the start of the year, and
finish ready for Phi Beta Kappa, you don't get paid extra for being extra good.
Pundits call union seniority rights, tenure and the single
salary scale "the three pillars of mediocrity" for teacher pay. Before collective
bargaining and unionism seized control of teacher salaries in the 1960s,
teachers made about the same as others similarly situated, only they worked for
nine months of the year. To the extent a gap has emerged, don't blame school
boards or the public: blame the unions.
But common sense is making inroads. Mentoring pay is being
allowed to keep master teachers in the classroom, not reluctantly seeking desk
jobs to get more pay.
Districts in Denver, Cincinnati and Delaware are moving to a
performance-based merit pay system, though some teachers in California have
refused bonuses coming to them because their students improved on standardized
tests; they say bonus systems cause jealousy and unhealthy competition.
Further, there's a lot of interest in "differential" pay for
teachers willing to work in disadvantaged areas, or with hard-to-find
specialties such as math, science, special education and foreign language.
And districts are experimenting with salary scales for
teachers, not based on longevity, but labeled the same as student scores on
standardized tests: "basic," "proficient" and "advanced."
Homework: Check out teacher pay data by state
in the annual publication Quality Counts