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Bruno: Teacher Pay, Part 2: How High Should It Be?

5902557577_0cceab6259_nI previously discussed Chad Adelman's complaint that teacher pay often rises with experience, but I'm also doubtful about another point that he raises: that teacher pay may be too high. (Alderman is definitely not the only person to be making these arguments; it just so happens he combined them into a single post very recently.) Adelman writes about Chicago teachers:

The other thing that’s worth pointing out here is that every step of the Chicago teacher salary schedule did better than inflation. Inflation increased a cumulative 18 percent from 2005 to 2012. Beginning teachers in Chicago saw their pay increase 26.5 percent. Because of those late-career raises, teachers with 14 years of experience were paid 28.3 percent more, and teachers with 25 years of experience were paid 31.6 percent more.

In fairness, it's not completely clear whether or why Adelman thinks we should object to this, or if he just thinks it's an interesting data point. I do, however, think he gives the vague impression that teacher salaries might be "too high" in Chicago and I want to push back on that a bit.

Debates about whether teachers are "overpaid" are pretty common, but they almost always fail to specificy the objective of paying teachers more (or less) in the first place. It's tricky to make the moral and empirical judgments about what teachers are "worth", but there are some good reasons to think that it would be worthwhile to pay teachers considerably more than we do now.

Note, for example, that by international standards teacher pay is quite low. Compared to GDP per capita, teacher salaries in the U.S. are quite low, especially for experienced teachers. And as Dick Startz points out, if you compare teachers' salaries to the salaries of other college-educated citizens, the U.S. is on the low end again. And yes, teacher salaries do seem to correlate with achievement, at least internationally.

When discussing teacher salaries, then, we should remember that teachers in the United States are probably already underpaid by international standards. This means that any argument to the effect that teachers should be paid even less (or even denied a raise) should grapple with what that might mean for the quality of our teachers and our education system generally.

Teacher compensation questions inevitably involve trade-offs, but the discussion around them is often frustratingly unclear about what we hope to gain - and what we are willing to lose - in dealing with them. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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I wonder how teacher pay in states with strong union representation compares to states without strong teacher unions?

The discussion should be around the quality of those teachers. No one complains about a great teacher making more money.....

How about raising salaries for new teachers? I can see the argument that raising salaries would help recruit smarter and more accomplished teachers a la Finland, but giving higher salaries across the board would both be prohibitively expensive and would just be giving more money to teachers who would never have gotten hired in those other countries to begin with.

Quality and pay are NOT completely separate issues. Oakland Unified remains one of the lowest paid districts in the San Francisco Bay Area, and this is one factor that drives teacher turnover. It is difficult to retain teachers beyond their first few years when they can get an immediate raise of ten percent or more by finding a job in a neighboring district.

High turnover has been shown to reduce achievement, especially in schools with higher proportions of low achieving and African American students. Districts that are serious about long-term reform need to make teacher retention a top priority -- and salary is a big piece of the puzzle.

See the report on this study here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2012/03/when_teachers_leave_schools_ov.html

When I was a young teacher in Canada, American teachers in north eastern states, made much higher incomes than Canadian teachers. This position has been reversed. Canadian teachers in Ontario routinely make $96 000 after ten years. They are also angry that many professions such as engineering and pharmacy, with similar educations, average more money.

A book was published over 10 years ago called The $100 000 teacher. The justification was all there. It should probably be the $120 000 teacher by now.

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