Teacher pay: Up or down?

Over the last decade, teacher pay declined after inflation in every state, claims the National Education Association.

Not so. Teacher pay rose in 36 states after inflation, responds Jay P. Greene, looking at the NEA’s own data.

. . . we see that salaries increased by 3.4% nationwide over the last decade after adjusting for inflation.  The increase in average salary outpaced inflation in 36 states

. . .  total compensation for public school teachers has risen much more rapidly than just salary because of the rising value of benefits.  In addition, the numbers the NEA provides are the increase in the average salary, not the increase for the average teacher.  The huge increase in new teachers over the last decade who begin with lower starting salaries makes the rise in average salary smaller than the average raise that each individual teacher has received.

According to the NEA, the average teacher in 2008-09 was paid $54,319, excluding benefits, Greene notes.  The average school revenue per pupil was $11,681, up from the previous year.

Update:  The NEA has revised its press release to say teachers have lost ground in “many states.”

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  1. Wow. I would do anything to make the national average! I make $36K with a master’s degree and 8 years’ experience. I won’t see national average money until I’ve taught over 20 years.

  2. Don Bemont says:

    Teacher pay varies incredibly from place to place, leading to a whole lot of misleading talk.

    However, one trend I have observed, which sounds a bit arcane, but makes a big difference:

    From the mid-70s when I started teaching until maybe a decade ago, all schools systems I knew of used a “true” step system with a limited number of steps. First year teachers were on step 1, eighth year teachers were on step 8, but somewhere around your fifteenth or twentieth year, you reached the top step and stayed on that step permanently. Standard operating procedure at contract negotiation time was to talk about what percentage to raise all the steps. (So step one, step five and step twelve all were raised, say, 3%.) Assuming that a school district had a certain amount to allocate to teacher salaries, a larger piece of resulting raise went to younger teachers who were still going up a step; teachers on top step stayed at that step.

    However, in recent years, this seems to have changed. School districts, in alliance with older teachers, have simply given a percentage raise to all teachers. It still looks like a step system, but every year a step is added, so older teacher are never “penalized” by being on top step.

    This is a bonanza for older teachers, who benefited from the step system when they were young and now benefit from the straight percentage system when they would otherwise have been stuck on top step. Getting the best of both worlds they (I, included), end up with very good salaries.

    * This is a disaster for younger teachers, who, if they think to do the arithmetic, will find that they would have to work for 50+ years to get what is now a 30th year salary.
    * In the short term, this offers fuel for the message that teachers are overpaid, since the available dollars are skewed towards those at the top end.
    * In the long term, this is good for school district’s cost cutting efforts, because those at the top end of the pay scale are likely to retire soon, and those that follow will be paid far less.
    * Most relevant to this discussion, it skews “average” teacher salaries wildly. A district with many retirements coming in the next couple years will have a very high average teacher salary, but afterward a very low teacher salary.

  3. My union has done a great job in getting salary increases for teachers and I make far more as a teacher than I would in private industry in this backwater town where I work. However, I could make a larger salary in the private sector if I moved to a big city where the teacher salaries aren’t so great. Just as in real estate, it’s all about location.


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