Smart Money 2.0

The National Council on Teacher Quality recently released a report by Patricia Saenz-Armstrong comparing the salary trajectories of teachers in 90 large school districts across the country. Excerpts from the piece appear below:

“Teacher pay is low.”

It has been said hundreds of thousands of times before. The search term “teacher pay is low” produces about 487,000 hits in the most popular search engine. A study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that, in a breakdown of annual salaries by the 14 main college major groups, “education” ranks at the very bottom. Another study by the same institution analyzes salaries for 137 specific majors. Both within bachelor’s degree holders and graduate degree holders, education majors ranked in the bottom 25% of median annual salaries.

Like all averages, this ranking masks a vast heterogeneity of teacher pay. While teacher pay can indeed be very low in some districts, such as in Sioux Falls (SD) where typical teachers with a bachelor’s degree make on average about $42,000/year over the course of their 30-year teaching career, some teachers in the District of Columbia can make on average $110,000/year over the same time span.

Sioux Falls teachers do not start at the bottom of the first-year teacher salary spectrum, nor do D.C. teachers start at the top of the beginner teacher salary spectrum. And while starting salaries matter, they only tell a small part of the story. Ending salaries, salary growth rates, timing for reaching certain benchmarks, and overall salary trajectories also matter, and they can make a world of difference.

In a market economy where everything has a cost and labor decides freely where to go, salaries are the quintessential incentive for attracting the right person to the right position. This is as true for the teaching profession as it is for others. To delve deeper into the issue, this study looks at and compares the salary trajectories of teachers in 90 large school districts across the country.

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