NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 22, 2005

Public schools should adopt merit-based salary structures to help private-sector firms efficiently meet their demands for skilled labor, says author Matt Schultz.

Over the years labor leaders have intensified their campaign for higher instructor salaries as a means to address teacher shortages, but a better option would be to reform the current single salary schedule that compensates teachers based on level of education and years of experience rather than field of expertise or competence, explains Schultz.


  • One original justification for the single salary schedule -- pay parity among genders -- now seems counterproductive; rigid pay scales and union domination are more responsible for driving the best and brightest women from teaching than higher compensation in other professions.
  • Since school salary systems largely fail to reward teachers who work harder and who are smarter than their colleagues, younger, higher-aptitude Americans have been less likely to enter the field; between 1963 and 2000, the share of teachers coming from the lowest quarter of colleges increased from 16 percent to 36 percent.
  • In 2006, roughly 16 percent of schools' new hires will teach math and science, and thanks to the single salary schedule, for every dollar a school district would use to raise the pay of this high-demand category of teachers, it will be forced to spend $5.25 to compensate all other instructors at the same rate.

While resistance to changing the single salary schedule will be highest from entrenched labor unions, the task of reform is not impossible, says Schultz. Teachers will respond to a properly balanced system of incentives just like the rest of us.

Source: Editorial, "Study: School Pay Needs Restructuring," Capital Ideas, September/October 2005; based upon: Matt Schultz, "Single Salary Schedules for Teachers: Sabotaging Public Education and Wasting Taxpayers' Money," National Taxpayers Union, September 6, 2005.

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