Teachers’ pay continues to fall further behind pay of comparable workers
What this report finds: The teacher pay penalty is bigger than ever. In 2015, public school teachers’ weekly wages were 17.0 percent lower than those of comparable workers—compared with just 1.8 percent lower in 1994. This erosion of relative teacher wages has fallen more heavily on experienced teachers than on entry-level teachers. Importantly, collective bargaining can help to abate this teacher wage penalty. Some of the increase in the teacher wage penalty may be attributed to a trade-off between wages and benefits. Even so, teachers’ compensation (wages plus benefits) was 11.1 percent lower than that of comparable workers in 2015.
Why this matters: An effective teacher is the most important school-based determinant of education outcomes. It is therefore crucial that school districts recruit and retain high-quality teachers. This is particularly difficult at a time when the supply of teachers is constrained by high turnover rates, annual retirements of longtime teachers, and a decline in students opting for a teaching career—and when demand for teachers is rising due to rigorous national student performance standards and many locales’ mandates to shrink class sizes. In light of these challenges, providing adequate wages and benefits is a crucial tool for attracting and keeping the teachers America’s children need.
Introduction and key findings
An effective teacher is the most important school-based determinant of education outcomes.1 Therefore it is crucial that school districts recruit and retain high-quality teachers. This is increasingly challenging given that the supply of teachers has been greatly affected by high early to mid-career turnover rates, annual retirements of longtime teachers, and a decline in students opting for a teaching career.2 At the same time, many factors are increasing the demand for teachers, including shrinking class sizes, the desire to improve diversity, and the need to meet high standards. In short, the demand for teachers is escalating, while simultaneously the supply of teachers is faltering.
The supply of teachers is diminishing at every stage of the career ladder. On the front end, fewer students are entering the profession. Generally speaking, the small fraction of the most cognitively skilled college students who elect to become teachers has declined for decades (Corcoran, Evans, and Schwab 2004). Several factors have helped to drive this trend. Over the long run, employment opportunities for women have greatly expanded, and thus the teaching profession can no longer rely on what was a somewhat captive labor pool. At the same time, teachers are less satisfied and more stressed as standardized testing has been elevated as a tool for student, school, and teacher evaluations.3