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Teachers Earn More Per Hour Than Most

Updated 16 Oct 2006

The Truth About Teacher Salaries
with lifetime earnings calculator

Mean Hourly Earnings for selected occupations in the Philadelphia, Wilmington, Atlantic City  areas, all workers, all industries, 1998, from the Department of Labor's National Compensation Survey.

Note: The Department of Labor classifies elementary school teaching at level 9 out of 15, and secondary school teaching at level 10.  (The levels range from a low of 1 to a high of 15 and the levels are derived from 10 factors, including knowledge, complexity, work environment, etc.)  The average level 9 salary in the area under consideration is $26.07/hour, compared to the teacher average of $34.99/hour.  The average level 10 salary is $28.58/hour compared to the teacher average of $38.93/hour.

If these statistics are approximately true for the State of New York--and I believe they are--our teachers make about 35% more per hour than people serving in comparable jobs.  That works out to be about $14,500 more per year per teacher.  NY has about 180,000 full time, public, elementary and secondary teachers, so our economy has to produce an extra $2.6 billion dollars per year (excluding the resulting higher retirement benefits) than if we paid teachers the average salary earned by those serving in comparable jobs.  Over an average household size of 2.63 persons for a population of 18.2 million, the added cost for each household is $377 per year.  It may not sound like a lot of money, but it is enough to keep us from being economically competitive with many other states, which have enjoyed a much greater economic recovery than we have in upstate NY.  See my comments on the relative oppressiveness of our taxes and slow economic growth.

 

DOLSalaryChart1998.gif (19723 bytes)

August 8, 1999

Teachers' Pay: Adding Up the Impact of Raising Salaries

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE

The New York Times


The news that two-thirds of New York City's fourth graders failed a state reading test was embarrassing, to say the least. The results, announced in May, followed too many other tests with unhappy results, including one in which American eighth graders ranked below South Korea, the Czech Republic and two dozen other countries in math and science performance.

Ask a teacher what needs to be done to improve such dismal performance, and it's a good bet the first answer will be to raise teachers' salaries, thereby attracting and keeping better teachers.

There is scant evidence, though, that higher salaries alone make a difference in student performance. In fact, there is little evidence that tinkering with any single element of the education system does any good at all, when so many variables come into play, like class size, curriculum, early childhood education, discipline, homework and parental involvement, just to mention a few.

But teachers' salaries seems always to top the list of problems, perhaps because teachers' organizations make forceful arguments on the issue. They say, for instance, that one thing is clear:
Beginning teachers usually earn less than other college graduates, [perhaps because they sign contracts to work 36 to 38 weeks a year, not 50 weeks] and that discourages many top-notch people from going into teaching. Average starting pay for public school teachers nationwide is $25,735, ranging from $19,146 in North Dakota to $33,162 in Alaska [our teachers will start at $31,898 for the 1999-2000 school year.  I note that beginning librarians in Schenectady County, who must have masters degrees to begin working as librarians, earn about $33,000 for a 49 week year.  If we paid teachers like we pay librarians, they would start at less than $26,000.]. While the most experienced teachers in some affluent suburbs earn more than $90,000 a year, the average salary for teachers nationwide is $39,347 [ours is $52,000] -- just a fraction of the annual bonus received by many thirty-somethings on Wall Street. Just try to raise a family or send a child through college on that amount, many teachers say.

"If we want to improve the quality of our public schools," said Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, "a major part of that is to make sure we can, to be clichéd, attract the best and the brightest, and you're not going to do that without increasing salaries."

Pointing to the higher status of teachers in Japan, advocates say raising pay is a sine qua non to upgrade the status of American teachers and to show that the nation is paying more than lip service to improving education.
What signal does it send about teaching, many educators ask, when a 45-year-old teacher with a masters degree earns $45,000 a year and a 25-year-old out of law school often starts at $90,000?  [First, less than 5% of law graduates start at that income level.  Second, the beginning lawyer earning $90,000 gives up all semblance of a personal life.  Third, many lawyers in NY, who go into public service, start at lower salaries than Scotia-Glenville teachers, they work more hours, with fewer perks, and often greater stress, with 2 to 3 years more education than a teacher has.  Fourth, lawyers don't have sabbaticals or tenure, the value of which is usually disregarded in articles on teacher salaries.  Finally, hour for hour, degree for degree, many public service lawyers earn less than many Scotia-Glenville teachers.]

"Teaching should be a profession, not a philanthropic act," said David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, a nonprofit group that encourages college graduates to become teachers.  ["Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."--Martin Luther King, Jr.  See the accompanying table to the left.]

But many experts question whether raising teacher salaries, by itself, will translate into better educational performance. And some conservatives maintain that this push for higher pay is an attempt by powerful teachers unions to line their members' pockets at taxpayer expense.  [There is no question that the more money a group obtains, the more powerful it becomes.  The federal government, trial lawyers, the NRA, and teachers unions are all examples.  The more powerful a group becomes, the less attention it has to pay to the needs and desires of others.]

If you just increase salaries, it's going to buy you very little," said Richard Murnane, a professor at Harvard's School of Education. [Absolutely true, in part because of the laws of scarcity, diminishing returns, and the production-possibilities curve.]  "Right now schools are not places where well-educated college graduates want to work for very long. There is very little collegiality, very little opportunity to work on projects with other adults. It's a lonely job, and in many communities, it's seen as very low status."

One argument that undermines the push for higher pay is the experience of private and parochial schools, whose teachers are generally paid less than public school teachers, but whose students often out-perform public school students.
At the nation's Catholic schools, pay averaged $22,000 last year, 45 percent below the public school average. At other private schools, teachers averaged about $35,000, 11 percent below public school levels.

Catholic school administrators say their schools perform well notwithstanding their low salaries because their teachers are dedicated, their curriculum is highly structured and discipline is maintained. But many educators say Catholic schools often outperform public schools largely because they are free to kick out students who misbehave. Private schools often outdo public schools, educators say, because they have smaller class sizes and student bodies often culled from the nation's elite.

"Certainly our salaries are a lot lower, but the general question is, will paying higher salaries produce better learning?" said Leonard DeFiore, president of the National Catholic Education Association. "Everyone in the teaching profession hopes teachers will get paid more, but whether that is correlated with more learning is an open question.
For most people who go into teaching, money is not an issue. It's like in other helping professions -- it's what you want to do and you know you're not going to make a lot of money doing it."

But for many teachers, money is definitely an issue. Take Daniel Perez, a 27-year-old graduate of New York University with a master's from Hunter College. After five years of teaching math at a Queens intermediate school, he earns $38,600, but this fall he is jumping to a Suffolk County high school where he will earn $47,900.

"It was O.K. to start at $28,000 when I was still living with my parents, but it doesn't cut the mustard when you have a family or want to own a home," he said.

New York City teachers often seize on Scarsdale's pay scale -- a teacher with five years' experience and a master's degree earns $60,000 versus $38,600 for a city teacher -- to argue that they should earn far more because their jobs are harder.

"In the high-wealth suburbs, salaries are higher, working conditions are better, facilities are newer, social conditions are less impacted and class sizes tend to be lower," said Haselkorn of Recruiting New Teachers. "So urban districts tend to lose out all the time in the bidding war for qualified teachers. That's a scandal. You can't say that we're providing equal education opportunities in this country when there are such imbalances between low-wealth and high-wealth districts."

In arguing for higher pay, many education experts cite studies showing that the nation, which has 2.7 million public school teachers, will need to hire 2 million new teachers over the next decade because of increased enrollment and a wave of retirements. Another factor experts point to is that a generation or two ago many talented women and blacks entered teaching, despite the low pay, because many other careers were closed off to them, but that is no longer the case. Now they can go into engineering, accounting, medicine or law, all of which pay considerably more than teaching.

Many educators say that if school districts raise teacher pay while taking other steps like increasing expectations, cutting class sizes and demanding more teacher training, then those steps, taken together, will improve student performance.

"I don't think salaries in and of themselves are a magic bullet, but they're an important piece in a larger puzzle," said Haselkorn.

 

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