Math and Science Teachers Earn More Outside of Education

April 24, 2013

In the modern world, math and science are increasingly critical to individual and national economic success. For students, teacher preparedness and effectiveness is a vital component in acquiring the skills necessary to perform well on college-readiness tests and in the workplace. The labor market attracts some of the most talented math and science teachers away from teaching toward industries with higher compensation, says Martin West, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

  • Teachers are still compensated based on salary schedules that do not differentiate teachers based on their skills or subject-area expertise.
  • In the 2003 school year, 27 percent of schools with a math teaching vacancy reported that filling a vacancy was "very difficult" or ultimately unsuccessful compared to only 4 percent for other vacancies.

Examining data that follows the careers of almost 32,000 Florida high school teachers, 3,500 of whom left teaching for a new job during the timeframe, shows that math and science teachers earn more outside the teaching profession.

  • Math and science teachers earned 15 percent and 12 percent more, respectively, than did English teachers after leaving the teaching profession.
  • While these findings are limited only to Florida, they suggest that districts should offer higher salaries to math and science teachers.

Offering higher salaries should attract higher quality math and science teachers, which a large body of evidence shows would improve student achievement.

  • Unfortunately, offering higher salaries to teachers in the subject areas where there are shortages is preferable to only 33 percent of Americans, according to an Education Next survey.
  • Similarly, another survey of teachers in Washington state found that 59 percent of teachers opposed differentiating teacher compensation by subject area.

Teachers fear that differentiating teacher compensation by subject area would suggest that some subject areas are more important than other subject areas. However, in the labor market, this is just the case as science and math skills are worth more in terms of compensation than other skills like knowledge in social studies or the arts.

Source: Martin West, "Do Math and Science Teachers Earn More Outside of Education?" Education Next, April 19, 2013.

 

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