How to Prevent Teacher Pay Inequity from Worsening
Veteran teachers make considerably more than novice teachers. A recent report by Marguerite Roza of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University noted that Missouri teachers at the end of their careers make 137% of what a teacher with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience makes. This ranks Missouri 14th in terms of having the “steepest” salary schedule. In other words, we are back-loading teacher pay.
Roza points out that rewarding teachers in this manner has serious implications for teacher recruitment and retention, fiscal sustainability, and pension obligations. High-quality college graduates with high-paying alternatives may steer clear of education. Similarly, young teachers may be more inclined to leave the profession because of low salaries.
Teachers are primarily paid via a salary schedule, which gives standardized raises to teachers for each additional year of service and each additional postgraduate degree earned. The problem is that a salary schedule often gives teachers a raise that is set as a percentage of what they make, not a predetermined dollar amount. This leads to larger end-of-career increases, because the raises compound over time. For a teacher who starts at $40,000 per year, a 3% raise at the end of the first year will mean a $1200 increase. But their second-year raise will come to 3% of $41,200, which works out to $1,236. Keep projecting the numbers out and each year’s raise just gets bigger and bigger.
In addition, school districts often give cost-of-living (COLA) raises. These too are often awarded on a percentage basis, further widening the pay gap between veteran and novice teachers.
I highlighted this in a post a couple years ago. In which I wrote:
Take, for example, the salary schedule for a teacher with a master’s degree in the Parkway School District. In his or her first 10 years, a teacher in Parkway only receives a 17 percent pay raise. Between their 11th and 20th years, they receive a 51 percent pay raise. The difference is $20,000. It is no wonder we have difficulty retaining new teachers. The system is designed by veteran teachers for veteran teachers. After all, veteran teachers are usually the ones who serve on salary bargaining committees.
Teachers are unique among professionals in this regard. Using U.S. Census Bureau data, Roza calculated the earnings trends for teachers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and computer programmers. Compared to these other professions, teacher pay is significantly back-loaded.
I have written a number of times about the need to revamp how we pay teachers (see here and here). In this report, Roza doesn’t go that far. Rather, she offers a simple solution to slow down the growth in inequity between junior and senior teachers—a fixed-dollar pay raise. Instead of awarding COLA’s on a percentage term, districts should award the same dollar amount to teachers at every step of the pay schedule.
Regardless of your preferred method of reform, Missouri will struggle to attract and retain great young teachers until we stop back-loading teacher salaries.