Can America afford to pay teachers more?
11 out of 10 teachers would choose to learn more if they could afford it.
All teachers need to earn more money than teachers currently do and make the most of their profession if they want to put a significant dent in their classroom’s budget, according to a new analysis of data from the 2013-14 National Survey of Education Progress. This includes both traditional, full-time and nontraditional teachers, like those who work in camps and temporary positions, are self-employed, or teach during the summer.
A full 100 percent of those employed as full-time teachers said they believe that more money is necessary for the job to be worthwhile, while 89 percent say it’s necessary for them to continue teaching.
Yet 93 percent of teachers say they would spend more of their current pay if they could, and 77 percent would consider switching jobs if they could make that happen.
Experts say this reliance on more money as the primary motivator for teachers is part of a widespread problem when it comes to “salary envy.”
“When you look at teacher salaries in the United States, we are the lowest paid in the developed world, and no country has more than a third of the income of the United States,” said Sam Kazman, general counsel and policy director for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank.
Of the 39 countries analyzed by The Economist, the United States landed at the bottom of the salary table in 2012–13 with an average total annual salary of just over $58,500. Germany finished second with $75,800, while Poland, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, the United Kingdom, and Sweden rounded out the top 10.
Starting salaries for teachers vary by state, and almost all of the highest average salaries come from states that pay out significantly higher starting salaries—which keep teachers from becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of having to work multiple jobs or living so far from the office that they can’t afford to own a home.
“It’s not just that more money means better pay, it’s that the market dictates the size of the pool of teachers to choose from,” said Suzie Snitkofsky, an education professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. “You can never let it go to your head.”
The National Salary Project, which aims to compare the salaries of teachers and other workers across states, ranks the highest-paying districts around the country. Among the top districts are a majority of the states in the Northeast.
Snitkofsky said a lot of teacher salaries come down to factors like career choice, length of education, and location. But no matter where a teacher works, the pay in their district should be comparable to the pay of comparable positions in nearby districts, said Kazman.
“Salaries in many places are clearly too low, and their regional competitors do offer more money and better benefits,” he said.
Salary envy is one of the biggest problems parents face when it comes to searching for the perfect schools for their children, said Marlaina Minner, director of Keck Graduate Institute’s graduate school of education.
“The potential investment of up to $30,000 per student in schools with high-quality teachers is a far better return on investment than spending the same amount of money building new schools that will be similar to neighboring ones that don’t provide the same education,” she said.
The SEC also reports that teachers earn the most in states where their salary is the highest. In New York, a $49,400 median salary makes it the highest-paid state, but in Mississippi, the median salary is lower than $42,000.
Both Kazman and Snitkofsky agree that attitudes about what a teacher should earn make a huge difference in the salary that can be made.
“There are completely different levels of teacher quality,” Kazman said. “They definitely are not consistent from state to state.”
The Washington Post contributed to this report.