What teachers make

Nationwide, teachers’ pay averages $45,771 a year, up 3.3 percent from the previous year, according to the a survey by the American Federation of Teachers. Beginning salaries rose 3.2 percent to $29,564. But teachers are paying more out of pocket for health benefits, leaving them about even.

California teachers make the most: Average pay is $55,693. South Dakota pays the least.

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  1. Mike in Texas says:

    As I’ve said before beware of statistics self reported by school districts such as this. What you have to remember is that administrators are also “teachers” since in fact they are certified teachers.

    Granted it wouldn’t make much of a difference in the big city school districts but most districts are not huge.

    I once saw a similar figure for a school district I worked for in Florida. A bunch of us teachers compared notes and not one of us was making the “average” quoted in the paper, not even teachers who had been there for 20 years.

  2. Mad Scientist says:

    Never trust averages.

    The average American has one breast and one testicle.

  3. Lots of people are paying more out of pocket for health insurance costs. It isn’t just teachers.

  4. “people are paying more out of pocket for health insurance costs.”

    Putting aside the difference between group health insurance rates and individual rates, those of us who have health insurance “provided” by our employers are also paying in the sense of a reduced hourly wage, which is effectively equal to “out of pocket.” This applies to all other non-monetary benefits as well.

    As we economists like to say, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

  5. As a resident of South Dakota, this is where I put on that big foam hand with the one finger pointing up (oddly, not the one you would imagine) and start yelling “We’re number 51! We’re number 51!”

    Sigh. For a couple years there we struggled our way ahead of Mississippi.

    Despite the pay situation, I’m proud to say that South Dakota has a lot of very high-quality teachers and the students in our public schools are generally getting a level of education that (if I can believe the stories I’ve seen through this blog) is not available in all parts of the country.

  6. John from OK says:

    Remember this is for a 7-hour day and a 9-month year. And in a response to the expected outburst, most salaried non-teachers don’t get paid for overtime, either.

  7. Michael says:

    John, but in the school district where I taught, no one but teachers, administrators, secretaries, counselors, and nurses were on salary, and no one worked overtime but teachers and administrators. No one.

  8. Hmm. Here is an NEA site about education in South Dakota pointing out, among other accomplishments, that South Dakota is ranked first in the nation for computer availablity to students; that it is one of the top six states in the nation in the percentage of high school students taking upper level science courses; that its high school completion rate is fifth in the nation; that it is one of the top six states in the percentage of high school students going on to college; that every South Dakota high school math teacher is certified; that all Biology teachers are certified; that all Chemistry teachers are certified; that all Physics teachers are certified; that South Dakota public school students outperform private school students on their Advanced Placement exams; and more.

    Maybe low pay works.

  9. Tim from Texas says:

    Insurance of any kind, especially health insurance, is a scam, and an old scam, which people used to recognize as a scam. So look at the figures and odds very closely, for it will make you want to drop it and give yourself a raise. And if you can’t drop it and are trapped into having it then you have in front of you the definition of a scam. Good luck!

  10. Michael says:

    Tim, you’re wrong, as you seem to be about so many things.

  11. dhanson says:

    I can’t believe John from OK brought up that same old trash about 7 hour days and 9 month years. Yes, John, this is the “expected outburst.” If you recognize that teachers work more hours–which you refer to as unpaid overtime–why to you even bother to erroneously state their work time as 7 hour days for 9 months a year? Unless it is simply to dismiss teacher pay as a non-issue by saying something you yourself admit is untrue.

    Yes, teachers work a lot of non-classroom hours. And here in South Dakota at least, they often pay for a lot of classroom supplies out of pocket. In smaller rural school districts they often pay outrageous health insurance premiums. And they are required to continue their own educations throughout their careers.

    Teachers–good teachers, at least–don’t go into teaching to get rich, but it would be nice if they could do their jobs without being begrudged every penny with a dismissive wave of the hand like John from OK has chosen to do here.

  12. Steve LaBonne says:

    I wouldn’t begrudge good teachers a lot more than they earn now. I begrudge bad teachers (I’ve met plenty of teachers who themselves complain bitterly about timeserving colleagues)every penny they makre. And I especially begrudge the rules and contracts that make it impossible in many places to fire teachers simply because they’re not good at their jobs, and that make it impossible to pay excellent teachers, and/or those with hard-to-find subject matter knowledge, any more than the losers who have the same amount of service time. Changing those conditions is going to be essential to preventing further erosion of political support for the public schools.

  13. Richard Brandshaft says:

    “…7 hour days for 9 months a year?…”

    Conservatives don’t understand the concept of “market rate” when is suits them not to.

    If teachers were paid above market rate for someone of similar abilities, schools would have more than one HIGHLY QUALIFIED applicants for each vacancy and could pick and choose. Schools that enable graduates to get jobs as teachers would be prestige institutions, besieged by applicants. (I carefully phrased this not to imply education schools actually teach anything useful.)

    If teachers were paid below market rate, schools would have trouble finding good people. Education schools would get a mixture of good people to whom teaching is a calling and those incapable of mental heavy lifting (or medium lifting).

    At market rate is somewhere in between.

    Which best describes the real world?

  14. Our ability to pay good teachers what they are worth (and then possibly pull other professionals into teaching) will not change until we radically change the funding system. The public funds simply are not there. In Pennsylvania, public schools are funded primarily by property taxes. My parents could barely scrape together the money to pay their property taxes, and they were among the statistical few that actually paid their property taxes in full and on time. Obviously those taxes could not be practically raised, people could barely pay them as it is, and obviously, under that system the more affluent areas have higher taxes and thus better schools. The method of funding PRIMARILY at the local level is one of the biggest failings in public education.

  15. Mad Scientist says:

    Unfortunately, you all miss the point.

    Teachers are paid what the union thinks they are worth and not a penny more.

  16. Michael says:

    Mad Scientist, the union is made up of its members. and contracts, which are negotiated by union representatives, are subject to a vote of those members. Your description doesn’t describe reality.

  17. Let’s say you have two students: one works hard and does everything he is supposed to, and the other just shows up for class. You then give both of them the same grade because they’ve been there the same amount of time. That’s how I view teacher pay. Like Steve, I’d have more sympathy for low teacher pay, if I didn’t think some teachers making the same amount weren’t also being drastically overpaid.

    Finally, I’d pay a lot more attention to this study if it also factored in the cost-of-living in each state. Comparing teacher pay between South Dakota and California is ludicrous unless you account for that. For example, using some rough cost-of-living rates between (for example) Pierre, South Dakota and Sacremento, California, the $55,693 average becomes $35,104, which isn’t too much greater than the posted average of $32,414.

    If anyone knows of a good study comparing avg. teacher pay including cost-of-living, I’d definitely like to see it.

  18. Mad Scientist says:

    Michael, look at how most union contracts allocate pay. Typically it is based on length of service.

    No mention of how good (or poor) that service is.

    Just how long you have been there.

    So, the union is de facto deciding what teachers will earn, and not a penny more.

    The situation will continue until unions move towards a merit-based pay system. But it will never happen, because it is inhernetly unfair to those who don’t give a damn.

  19. Michael says:

    Mad Scientist, you are making the mistake of describing the union as if it were somehow unrelated to the teachers who are its members. Local bargaining units are not the national headquarters. The local bargaining units are made up of teachers’ representatives, usually voted in to those positions by the majority of teachers in the district. Both administration and union reps have to come to an agreement on the contract; teachers generally have chosen job security over merit pay (and despite what some economists will tell you, most people will make the same choice), and administrators like length-of-service-based pay because it’s easier to budget for.

    Unions at the local level are made up of and driven by the teachers they represent. This becomes less true the larger the district gets (see Chicago or New York for obvious examples of this), but it’s still something you need to keep in mind.

  20. Mad Scientist says:

    How is what I wrote incompatable with your premise? Simple: it isn’t.

    So, if the unions are made up of members, and the unions make the “best deal” for their members, then the members have absolutely nothing to bitch about. In fact, the unions have decided through the negotiations what teachers are worth, and not a penny more. Nothing based on how good a job you do; just showing up is enough.

    News Flash: It don’t work that way in the real world.

    The argument of job security over merit pay is a red herring. Once one get tenure, it is a job for life. It becomes impossible to fire the incompetent and since there is no incentive to do a good job, why bother to excel? If teachers don’t strive for excellence, why expect the students to?

  21. Michael says:

    MS, you’re setting up “the unions” as separate from “teachers.” As a rhetorical device that obscures your point, and makes your statement presumptively false, by making the unions a third-party to teacher pay. They aren’t, any more than the administrative negotiating team is a party separate from the administration. Recognize what’s happened: teachers used to negotiate as individuals, which left them without recourse in the face of administrative abuse, with mostly artificially depressed salaries, and no job security at all. Unions, almost without exception, were formed in the face of a mass imbalance of power in the light of administrative abuse of that power. Tenure–extreme job security–was granted by agreement with administrators, teachers, and state legislators. It–and good benefits–were granted in lieu of higher salaries. A set salary scale also works to benefit the majority at the expense of the excellent few, but it generally satisfied teachers and administrators, as it lessened conflicts over salaries: everyone now knew what the rules were.

    You said, “The argument of job security over merit pay is a red herring. Once one get tenure, it is a job for life. It becomes impossible to fire the incompetent and since there is no incentive to do a good job, why bother to excel?”
    It is in no way a red herring. (BTW, an administrator who says it’s impossible to fire an incompetant teacher is incompetant himself.) Job security in the form of tenure, once a novelty, has become fossilized. It will take a massive shift in school culture to change it, and it won’t happen at all unless teachers are convinced it’s a good thing in fact as well as in theory. If teachers could be reasonably certain that administrators wouldn’t abuse merit pay, that there were safeguards against those abuses that would arise, and that merit pay would be reasonably determined, I would wager that the vast majority would be in favor of it. As it stands now, the majority still prefer job security in the face of criticism from the public (whether that criticism is reasonable or not) and politically driven drivel from legislators.

    All that said, you might find it interesting to know that John Kerry wants to implement merit pay, and make it easier to fire incompetant teachers. Go here for more information: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2004/0407.schorr.html

  22. Mad Scientist says:

    Captured by the collective mentality of the union.

    By definition, what one negotiates is precisely what the item being negotiated is worth. If the teachers are stupid enough to accept the pay scale that the union negotiates, then they have absolutely nothing to bitch about because they agreed that is what they are worth.

    Kerry’s idea of merit pay is to give it to everyone. When all the rhetoric is stripped out of it, he’s a socialist. Which is why unions endorse him to the disgust of their members.

  23. Michael says:

    OK, Mad Scientist, now you’ve gone round the bend. If you think Kerry’s a socialist, you don’t know enough about socialism, democracy, or democratic republicanism to say anything intelligent. I won’t bother responding to you anymore.

  24. Steve LaBonne says:

    Hmm. That raises an interesting point. I’m a Democrat, about where Kerry is on most domestic issues, a little to his right on foreign policy (which is what is giving me pause about voting for him, though in the end I probably will). On much of the European Continent I might well be somewhere on the right wing of a Social Democratic party; in Britain I would very probably be a Blairite Labour voter, Labour being essentially a mild Social Democratic party that evolved from Socialist roots. I must say that I find both the demonization of the S- word by the American right, and the consequent craven tendency of the American left to treat it as a horrible taboo word, extremely silly and very unhelpful to meaningful political discourse. Though I don’t suppose there’s really much to be done about it at this late date.

  25. Mad Scientist says:

    OK, here are the facts:

    Repeal tax cuts. This is redistributionist in the extrems. Taking money from the earners to redistribute it to those that have less is probably closer to communism than it is to socialism. My Bad.

    Give health care to all. By taking money from the “wealthy”. Again, closer to communism than to socialism. My bad again.

    Demonize the rich. Because, after all, they must have cheated to poor people who rely on trial lawyers to make the world right. More redistributionist crap.

    Promise more money for teachers, first responders, increases in minimum wages; basically more money for anyone who wants it – financed by, you guessed it, the wealthy.

    Sorry, I stand corrected. Kerry is closer to a communist than he is to a socialist.

  26. Steve LaBonne says:

    Now _that_ is horsepucky- he’s as much a Communist as Tony Blair.

  27. Mad Scientist says:

    Since Tony Blair does not hold a position of power in the US, I do not care what his economic leanings are.

  28. And how would you like to explain us folks in texas, where we are not allowed to collectively bargain for anything, and where teacher association (and there are four of them in this state) is totally voluntary? Where you sign your contract in April but are not told what you will be paid until later — sometimes not even until after the date on which you can legally resign your job and find another one for the year? Where strikes by teachers are a firing offense?

  29. Mad Scientist says:

    Typically, strikes by teachers are a firing offense anywhere. In the Buffalo area, the head of the Buffalo Federation of Teachers had to spend a few days in jail for leading a strike.

    Anyone who signs a blank contract needs serious help. And having a legal date for resigning is simply slavery. Ever hear of resigning after you move out of state (believe it or not, there’s more to the world than Texas)?

    Simply put, if you don’t like the rules, find another line of work. Nobody’s forcing you to teach.

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