Nothing new about differential pay

Paying some teachers more than others has roots in Western civilization, writes Rick Hess.

In the Greek city-state of Teos, for example, elementary teachers were paid 600 drachmas for the first grade, 550 for the second, and 500 for the third. Equally noteworthy is that the Greeks also paid instructors differentially depending on the subject taught. Teosian archery and javelin teachers were the lowest-paid teachers, at 250 drachmas per year; literature teachers earned 500 to 600 drachmas; and music teachers were the highest-paid teachers, at 700 drachmas.

. . . In Athens, meanwhile, both the Sophists and the Philosophes charged tuition as they saw fit, with students then choosing who to study with in the same manner that families select private schools today.

Allowing students to determine whether to pay for select lectures a la carte or to buy education in bulk permitted them to customize learning to their circumstances and interests. Eventually, the Roman Emperor Gratian established a salary schedule throughout the empire in the fourth century CE, with pay routinely differentiated based on judgments regarding the import of various instructional roles. In the city of Treves, pay reflected the level of students taught, with Sophists who taught at the “professor” level receiving an annona (an assortment of foodstuffs that functioned as salary) 50 percent greater than that of Latin grammarians or secondary teachers.

Hess is quoting from his new book, The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday’s Ideas. It makes a lovely gift, along with my book, Our School.

About Joanne


  1. So, pay the gym teachers and the football coach less money than the music teachers — who were laid off three years ago, so make $0.

    Is that what Hess is suggesting?