Why Teachers Received Lower Salaries in 2011

When the financial crisis hit, teachers’ salaries were either frozen or cut. The good news is that after the dust settled, they’re finally starting to see a little boost in their pay packets. However, the question remains: Why are teachers paid less than their peers in similar professions?

The answer to that question isn’t easy to come by. While many believe that it’s simply because teachers have less to do and earn less money, that’s not the case. Research has shown that teacher compensation actually makes a difference to student achievement. In fact, researchers have found that a 10% increase in a teacher’s salary is likely to produce a five to 10 percent increase in student performance.

To make matters worse, some teachers have a tough time keeping up with their bills. They have to work outside the classroom, or moonlight, in order to keep up with their families’ needs. That’s no small feat, considering that the average teacher spends about 60 hours a week in the classroom.

In some states, teachers are paid less than the minimum wage. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that in the past decade, inflation-adjusted salaries for Oklahoma teachers have fallen by more than eight thousand dollars. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, teachers’ salaries fell by almost twenty percent.

Using data from the Census Bureau, EPI examined how much different states pay their teachers. It turns out that teachers in Arkansas and Missouri earned fewer dollars in 2011 than those in Kentucky. This is especially troubling, given that Arkansas was one of the top five states in terms of per-pupil funding, and that it was the first state to pass a law requiring teachers to pay taxes.

On the other hand, the EPI also surveyed other states and discovered that teachers in Mississippi, South Dakota and Wyoming earned a bit more. However, in all three states, the pay gap between teachers and other professionals was not as large as one might imagine.

The best way to get around this issue is to improve the quality of the teachers who are already in the workforce. If we can attract more qualified educators into our schools, then we will be better able to meet the needs of our students. For example, the EPI found that charter schools whose teachers have experience in hard-to-staff subjects pay their employees more than their counterparts in traditional public school systems.

There are other steps we can take to improve the quality of our teaching force. These include attracting a more diverse set of applicants, improving pay, and reducing the time teachers spend on administrative tasks. By improving the social status of teaching, we can increase teacher motivation, and thus, student performance.

Finally, if we really want to see a dramatic increase in teachers’ pay, then we need to give our teachers a reason to stay in the job. As EPI noted, the average teacher spends about 60 hours educating students each week. Unfortunately, that number doesn’t allow for a great deal of flexibility for a teacher to attend to medical issues or take a bathroom break.


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