Attention Teachers: Professionals Do Not Have a Salary Schedule
When you think of “professionals,” how do you think of them being paid? Do you expect them to have a schedule that says what they will make each year, regardless of their performance? Would you expect that the only way they could earn a raise would be by getting an advanced degree or by sticking around another year? I don’t think so.
Doctors, lawyers, you name the profession—professionals are paid based on what they do. They are paid in proportion to the demand for their labor, their skill, and their hustle. Not so for teachers. Teachers are paid via a single-salary schedule that doesn’t factor in their quality or effort.
Let me be clear, I’m not saying teachers are not professionals. I’m saying they are not paid like professionals.
Elisa Crouch of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been following the ongoing dispute in St. Louis Public Schools regarding teacher pay. For seven years, teachers in St. Louis have been stuck at the same level on their salary schedule and have not received a raise. Recently, the unionized workforce rejected a proposed 3.5% salary increase, calling it a slap in the face.
I’m not sure how this dispute will pan out, but now is the time for school district administrators to consider alternatives to the single-salary schedule.
For starters, they should consider alternatives that allow great teachers to be rewarded. A single-salary schedule is quality blind. Now, I’m not talking about simply tying pay to test scores or some mechanistic rating system, but real management and feedback; pairing data with professional judgement.
They should they take into account not only quality, but also the broader labor market. My 2012 study, “The Salary Straitjacket,” demonstrates how math and science teachers make less than P.E. teachers, despite a shortage of math and science teachers. This isn’t a knock on P.E. teachers, but teachers with Math and Science training who don’t feel adequately compensated are likely to have more lucrative options outside of teaching than P.E. teachers. Districts have to take this into account when determining wages, or there will always be shortages.
One of the downsides to a single-salary schedule is that it dictates wages to the district. The salary schedule doesn’t factor in the financial health of the school district. It mandates that teachers earn X more next year, regardless. A much smarter approach would be for the district to determine how much they have available for salaries and then figure out how they want to distribute that money among teachers. Such an approach would facilitate better management of scarce financial resources.
Teachers certainly deserve to be treated like professionals, which is why administrators should start thinking about wholesale changes to the way they pay teachers. Professionals deserve professional pay.