Teaching, like nursing used to be thought of as “women’s work”. I remember my own father saying that it was a good way for a woman to combine a job and family responsibilities. I also remember my first salary as a teacher, $5,200. The world of work for women has changed dramatically since then. Many of those early attitudes, however, linger.
I became curious about the comparative status of the teaching profession with similar occupations. Salaries, benefits, and hours/days worked are figured in. How do you compare teachers’ and pilots’ work time? These are not idle issues. They are at the heart of attacks on teacher unions and the teaching profession. What is fair; what should change?
TEACHERS’ SALARY COMPARISONS
Let’s look at some 2012-13 data provided by the National Education Association (NEA) on salaries.
- The national average for beginning salaries was $36, 141. Florida’s was slightly below average at $35,166.
- 12 states had starting salaries at $40,000 or higher.
- New Jersey had the highest starting salary at $48,361 and Montana was the lowest at $27,274.
The average national salary for all elementary teachers is $56,830 and is $59,180 for secondary education not including special education and career technology. Florida’s average salary is $47,950 with eight districts paying between $50-$60,000. Holmes County is lowest at $33,190.
Salary schedules traditionally have been based on a combination of academic qualifications and experience. The school reform effort is pushing salaries based on a combination of performance evaluations and student achievement gains. Differentiated pay and/or bonuses may be awarded for teaching in ‘at risk’ schools and hard to fill certification areas. Some states have dropped tenure e.g. newly hired teachers in Florida are given contracts.
Teacher contracts are changing. In some states like Florida, teachers without tenure may be hired on renewable three to five year contracts or as ‘at will’ employees. These ‘at will’ employees are basically temps. They can be fired at any time without cause. Most of these teachers receive no additional benefits beyond those required by federal law. Their retirement systems might include a 401k type fund that is voluntary for both teachers and schools. Most charter schools in Florida operate under ‘at will’ contracts. Many ‘at will’ contracts have limited provisions for pay increases due to experience. This practice often creates a trade off between high teacher turnover and lower school operating costs.
CHANGE IN SALARIES OVER TIME
Comparing teaching with those having similar skill requirements: teachers, accountants, nurses, computer programmers, clergy, personnel officers and vocational counselors is disturbing. The Economic Policy Institute report (EPI) highlights follow:
- Since 1979, wages have dropped relative to workers in similar fields by 18.5% among women and 9.3% among men
- Teachers have somewhat better (+1.4%) benefits than comparable workers, but this is offset for those who do not receive social security.
- There are vast differences in the way work time is measured among professionals (e.g. pilots and teachers) that obscure a 23.4% advantage for other professionals relative to teachers. Measuring time accurately outside the workplace is not possible. (The number of hours allocated specifically to instruction also varies within states even though the total number of days required in a year may be set by the state. Administrative requirements, planning time, parent and student consulting time e.g. vary as well. In addition, the work load associated with grading student work is often not factored into estimates of work load.)
MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT EDUCATOR PAY
NEA counters common assumptions about teacher pay and adds detail to the EPI report summarized above. For example,
- Teachers are measured by days worked (e.g. 190) divided by five, resulting in 38 weeks. The other professions are measured by days paid (work days plus paid vacations, holidays, and breaks).
- Teachers have summers off. NEA reports teachers must earn recertification credit on their own time while other professions often allow work time for this purpose. (The NEA arguments that teachers work in the summer, while often true, does not factor in the amount of money earned in the summer to offset differences in salary among related professions.)
NEA arguments include the fairness of salary schedules and the need for certification, tenure, and benefits. The final myth, that teachers love children so they should not expect high pay, seems so dated. Unfortunately, a year or so ago I was talking with some state education officials who literally made that argument.
There are undoubtedly many equitable ways to accomplish attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers. This is a time for increased public awareness of the tradeoffs these policies have on the teaching profession.
We can ask some questions:
- How much instructional time is needed to meet expectations for student achievement?
- What proportion of a school year is actually allocated for instruction?
- Are salary plans adequate to attract and retain teachers in difficult to fill positions?
- Are district hiring, retention, and dismissal practices effective in securing a highly qualified staff?
- Do district budget allocations represent a reasonable balance between administrative and instructional needs?
- Where does the funding come from, and where is it allocated?
These are contentious issues. Chicago’s teachers went on strike over minor raises when the number of days in the school year were increased. Teachers in Washington state just settled a strike. The state legislature would not fund changes ordered by their state Supreme Court. Teachers also had concerns over limited recess time for students and their own low salaries. In both suits, the teachers won. These are battles, but the war rages on across the country.