NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Pay Comparable

September 19, 2003

Public school teachers are not underpaid relative to other professionals, says Richard Vedder of Ohio University. Furthermore, not only are their salaries comparable to many other professions which require similar levels of education and experience, teachers receive more vacation days and better benefits than most professional workers.

  • In 2001, the weekly pay of public school teachers was within 10 percent of what accountants, biological and life scientists, editors, reporters and nurses make.
  • The average hourly wage for all workers in the "professional specialty" category was $27.49 in 2000.
  • Elementary school teachers made $28.79 per hour; high school teachers, $29.14 per hour; and special-education teachers, $29.97 per hour.
  • Teachers receive benefits valued at about 26 percent of their annual salary; the average for workers in private industries is 17 percent.
  • Teachers are generally not paid based on merit because many believe it is impossible to judge a teacher's quality; unusually effective teachers who raise their students' test scores are thus not rewarded for their expertise.
  • Teachers in rural areas are paid substantially less than those in urban areas even though rural school districts face greater teacher shortages.
  • Because of union negotiations, teachers whose specialties are in high demand (math, science, special education) aren't paid any more than those in fields with a surplus of applicants.

One answer, says Vedder, is to emulate universities: Evaluate teachers' performance and pay them accordingly. Districts should also offer higher salaries to rural teachers and teachers in high-demand fields so that the pool of qualified applicants increases.

Source: Richard Vedder, "Comparable Worth," Education Next, Summer 2003, Hoover Institution.


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