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Teacher Salaries: More Attention Needed to Specifics
By David W. Kirkpatrick (June 15, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
         One of the ongoing controversies in the public schools is the issue of teacher salaries. Teachers largely claim they are too low while taxpayers are equally vehement that they are more than adequate.  The arguments of both sides consist largely of rhetoric with a lack of specifics.  Even teachers often don't know what the average salary is.
 
         But there are some objective figures to consider.
 
         For example, one indication of the adequacy of salaries is the ability to attract applicants for jobs.  Generally speaking, there are no shortages of potential teachers for most positions.  Where shortages do exist, as is sometimes the case with math and science positions, it is the teachers, and their unions, that are to blame. They insist that all teachers should be placed on the regular salary schedule without regard to competitive salaries elsewhere, where math and science majors can command higher salaries than, say, English and History majors.
 
         Then there are the actual salary levels. Statistics in 2005 showed the average teacher salary in the nation was $46,762, ranging from a low of $33,236 in South Dakota to $57,337 in Connecticut.  Even this ignores the additional compensation teachers receive as fringe benefits, which may add an additional 33% or more to the costs, primarily for very good retirement and health coverage plans.  Further, averages include starting teacher salaries, which may begin at $30,000 or less, which teachers gladly mention, but ignore the high salaries of career teachers at or near the maximum on their salary schedule, important because retirement pensions are often based on the best three or so years.
 
         Last year, the New York State Department of Education issued a study that reported maximum teacher salaries in that state of $100,000 or more and median salaries as high as $98,000 per year.  That is, there were districts, in Westchester County for example, where half of the teachers earned more than $98,000 a year.
 
         A novel approach a few years ago by Michael Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency in California, compared teachers average salaries to average salaries all workers state by state.  First prize went to Pennsylvania where the teachers received 62.5% more than the average employee.  That difference is even greater when it is further considered that teachers average a 185 day work year while most workers put in 235.
 
         The average teacher's salary exceeds the average family income for other citizens.
 
         An unusual perspective was arrived at by Thomas J. Stanley who has conducted serious studies of affluent Americans.  He was not concentrating on teachers or taking a position on their status.  But in his book, Millionaire Women Next Door, published in 2004, he considered Internal Revenue Service statistics on the 2,337,000 people who died in 1998.  Of these, 103,983, or about 4.5%, left estates of $625,000 or more.
 
         Women who had been educators were 7.4% of the total deceased that year but 20.6% of them, nearly three times the statistical expectation were among the affluent few.   Former male educators didn't do quite as well but even they were represented among the wealthy decedents by a ratio nearly 1.5 times the anticipated numerical ratio.
 
         Since the average age of the women at death was 81.4 years and 76.6 for the men, they probably generally retired a number of years ago, when salaries were less than today.  Stanley suggests teachers are savers rather than spenders but, even granting this, they had to earn enough to live and still save.
 
         He also found that teachers tend to be generous.  Where the average person donates about 2% of annual realized income to charity, teachers donate almost twice that much - 3.69%.   When compared with what he terms "the so-called status professions attorney, corporate executives, physicians and such" as to the percentage of their income they give to charitable causes, teachers rank first.
 
         So when you hear it said no one ever got rich teaching, don't believe it.  And if you hear someone say teachers are only interested in money don't believe that either.  As a group teachers do rather well thank you.  And, in terms of ability to pay, they are more generous than even those with higher incomes.

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         "Every year, bright students from the nation's top colleges decide to teach but don't head toward public schools. Instead, they accept lower salaries and larger workloads at private and charter schools, at least in part to avoid the obstacle course of public-school teacher certification." p. 156, Naomi Schaefer, "Traditional and Alternative Certification: A View from the Trenches," Marci Kanstoroom/Chester E. Finn, Jr.., Eds., Better Teachers, Better Schools, Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Education Leaders Council, July 1999

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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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