In an April 2018 article, Education Week reported the average teacher salaries of each state and the District of Columbia, noting:
The average public-school teacher salary for 2016-17 was $59,660—up from $58,353 in 2015-16. The NEA estimated that the average salary for this school year (2017-18) is $60,483. It seems like teacher pay is steadily increasing—but the NEA found that when inflation is taken into account, the average teacher salary has actually decreased by 4 percent from 2008-09 to 2017-18.
The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported the annual mean wage of 1,065 occupations in its May 2017 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. Of those 1065 occupations, 14 were related to teaching occupations from Preschool and Kindergarten Teachers ($39,600) to Secondary School Special Education Teachers, ($64,590). The average for all 14 positions was $58,762. According to that wage estimate, average teacher salaries are just above the annual mean wage of $50,620 reported for all occupations by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the 2017 U.S. Median Household Income was $61,372 putting teacher salaries just below average.
Based on these numbers, the average teacher in the U.S. could be considered as “doing ok.” When compared to most other occupations, teacher salaries are “somewhere around the middle.”
If graded on that scale, teacher salaries would get a C.
Unfortunately, the same grade could be applied to our children’s academic performance when assessment scores are compared with other countries.
A February 2017 Pew Research Center report found the following:
Recently released data from international math and science assessments indicate that U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, and behind many other advanced industrial nations. One of the biggest cross-national tests is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which every three years measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries.
The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.
Blame for mediocre performance by U.S. students can’t just be laid at the feet of teachers. There are many other factors that affect academic growth, such as family involvement and socio-economic status, but certainly, one could argue that the most influential element of a student’s success in school is the teacher.
In an August 2018 Gallup Poll, 71% of parents rated the performance of their children’s teachers as good or excellent, (22% rated teacher performance as fair, 6% poor.) In the same poll, only 42% of participants rated a career in the business sector of teaching as positive or very positive.
The profession is wonderful and attracts many creative, intelligent, and talented individuals, but over time, many become disenchanted.
In 2015, the latest data available, a bit more than 1 million teachers left for a different job. Overall, around 8% of teachers leave the profession every year, according to the Learning Policy Institute, citing Department of Education data.
In particular, when turnover contributes to teacher shortages, schools often respond by hiring inexperienced or unqualified teachers, increasing class sizes, or cutting class offerings, all of which impact student learning.
Research is clear that both teacher inexperience and rates of turnover negatively impact student learning, which means that students in schools with high turnover and few experienced teachers are at a decided educational disadvantage.
The biggest reason teachers cited for leaving, whether it was to retire or take another job, was dissatisfaction—with the teaching profession, the lack of opportunities to advance, the meger administrative support, or the working conditions. (Varathan, 2018)
Is teacher pay fair compensation for the job? What are some of the roles and responsibilities we expect teachers to perform for their students, or in business terms, for their clientele?
The average class size in the United States is 22 students. Few businesses, if any, require one representative from the organization to spend six to seven hours each day directly interacting with 22 clients each hour in one room, (nor is there any business that requires representatives meet with their clients’ parents on a regular basis).
Below is a sample list of typical responsibilities and services provided by teachers to their students, as submitted by one teacher to The Washington Post (Sidbotham, J., September 8, 2015):
The author of that article didn’t mention that teachers also must prepare for emergencies such as natural disasters or an armed attacker on campus. They must plan how to protect their clients.
Do other professions, such as Computer Systems Analysts, Funeral Service Managers, and Financial Examiners who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are paid on average 50% higher than teachers, provide such attention and services to 22 clients each hour, face to face, every working day?
What about the Purchasing Managers, Lawyers, and Flight engineers who receive twice as much or more than teachers? Do they work at this intensity level? Do lawyers meet with 22 clients each hour, six to seven hours each day, 180 or more days a year? Granted, the outcome of each lawyer’s case may have huge consequences for the client, but couldn’t the same be said of the outcomes on a child’s future related to time spent with a teacher?
And how about pro-athletes and movie stars who earn a hundred or more times what a teacher makes? Are their services really worth a hundred times more than teachers?
How about a 20% raise for all teachers? That would put the average teacher salary in competition with Web Developers, Loan Officers, and Real Estate Brokers.
Many say that the education sector is well funded by the federal government and shouldn’t receive more.
Discretionary spending in 2015 was 1.11 trillion dollars (29.34%) of the federal budget. Education, funded through discretionary spending, was $69.98 billion or 6.28% of discretionary spending.
In fiscal year 2015, the federal budget was $3.8 trillion. The U.S. Treasury divides all federal spending into three groups: mandatory spending, discretionary spending and interest on debt. Mandatory and discretionary spending account for more than ninety percent of all federal spending, and pay for all of the government services and programs on which we rely. (National Priorities Project)
Education receives 1.84% of the total federal budget. For every dollar we give to the federal government, less than 2 pennies go to our kids’ education.
Are teachers and schools worth more than 2 pennies?
There are few roles in society that rival the importance of a great teacher. Stars in any field - music, athletics, engineering, medicine, politics - have an army of teachers to thank for teaching them the skills and values that currently allow them to be successful. Teachers are the builders of society - we build people - we build and develop future generations. There is no more important profession. (Glenn Gerher Ph.D)
When it comes to demonstrating how much we value teachers in this country, we can do better. We must pay teachers a fair wage for the services they provide to their customers: our children.
U.S. Student Assessment Score Comparisons
Teacher Turnover Rates
Teacher Roles and Responsibilities
Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States, Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000
Desilver, D., U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries, Facttank News in the Numbers, Pew Research Center, February 15, 2017, retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/
Fontenot, K., Semega, J., and Kollar M., Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017 (Sepember 12, 2018) United States Census Bureau, Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-263.html
Gallup, Education, Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/1612/education.aspx
Geher Ph.D., G. Teaching : The Single Most Important Profession (May 4, 2015) Psychology Today, Retrieved from
National Priorities Project, (March 2019) Retrieved from
Sidebotham, J., Here's what people think teachers do all day — and what they actually do (Sep. 8, 2015)
Business Insider, Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-people-think-teachers-do-all-day-and-what-they-actually-do-2015-9
Will, M., See How Your State’s Average Teacher Salary Compares, Education Week, April 24, 2018 retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2018/04/teacher_pay_2017.html
Varathan, P., The US is having a hard time keeping teachers in their jobs, (June 1, 2018) Quatz, Retrieved from https://qz.com/1284903/american-teachers-leave-their-jobs-at-higher-rates-than-other-countries-with-top-ranked-school-systems/