There are many suggestions for improving America’s public schools:
More standardized tests.
New academic standards.
But one reform you hardly ever hear about is this: pay teachers more.
Isn’t that funny?
We’re willing to try almost everything else but that.
Isn’t it shocking that no one is willing to invest more money into the actual act of educating children?
Consider this: full-time employees making minimum wage earn between $15,000-$20,000 a year. (Some states have voluntarily raised the minimum wage above the federally mandated $7.25 to as much as $10 an hour.)
Compare that to a teacher’s starting salary.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the low end for teachers entering the field is around $30,000. That’s a mere $10,000 above the most generous minimum wage.
There are places in this country where going into debt earning a four year degree in education, serving an (often unpaid) internship in the classroom and agreeing to teach the next generation gets you a few notches above fry chefs and WalMart greeters.
This isn’t to disparage burger cooks or grocery clerks. I, too, love a crispy French fried potato and a sincere greeting. But which profession is more important to our future as a nation? The quality of our service industries or the education of every single child in the country – all our future doctors, lawyers, politicians and… well… EVERYTHING!
Average starting salary for teachers nationwide is only $37,000, according to NACE.
Compare that to other professions.
Computer programmers start at $65,000. Engineers start at $61,000. Accountants (mathematics and statistics majors) start at $54,000. Even philosophers and priests (philosophy and religious studies majors) start at $45,000.
Are they more important than teachers? Do they provide more value for society?
I humbly suggest that they do not.
Who taught the programmers how to program? Who taught the engineers and accountants how to add and subtract? Who taught the philosophers how to think logically? Who taught the priests how to write their sermons?
TEACHERS. That’s who.
Yet if we judge purely by starting salary, we certainly don’t value their services much.
To be specific, they make 14 percent less than those from professions that require similar levels of education, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Sadly, it only gets worse as time goes on.
According to a report by the Center for American Progress, the average base salary for a teacher with 10 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree is $45,000. That’s a mere $800 annual raise. No wonder more than 16 percent of teachers have a second or third job outside of the school system. They simply can’t survive on the salary.
They can’t buy a home or even rent an apartment in most metropolitan areas. They can’t afford to marry, raise children, or eke out a middle class existence.
What effect does this have on students?
Well, for one, it often leaves them with inexperienced or exhausted teachers.
Nationwide, 46 percent of educators quit before reaching the five year mark. And it’s worse in urban districts, where 20 percent quit every single year!
That translates to more students learning from educators who are, themselves, just learning how to teach. If we took pains to keep them in the profession, think of what a positive impact that would have on the quality of education the nation’s students receive – Teachers learning from experience and improving their practice every year instead of a continual flux of novices just trying to figure out the basics and survive!
But it’s not all intangibles. It costs bookoo bucks to constantly find and train new teachers – roughly $7.34 billion a year, to be exact. Imagine if we could invest that money into salaries instead.
This is exactly what they do in many other countries.
We’re always comparing ourselves with nations in Europe and Asia where students average higher standardized test scores. Yet we rarely enact the policies that got them these results.
Many of these countries recruit the top graduates to become teachers. How? By offering sweeteners and incentives to become a life-long educator.
In Singapore and Finland, for example, they actually cover the cost of the college coursework needed to become a teacher. And when it comes to salary, they leave us in the dust. In South Korea, they pay educators an average of 250 percent more than we do!
For many people, education is a calling. You feel drawn toward the job because it holds meaning to you. But how many people ignore that calling because of simple economics? There are plenty of things you can do with your life; If you can’t earn a living doing one thing, you may opt for something else.
How many more excellent teachers would we have in this country if we prized and rewarded those practitioners we already have?
It doesn’t take a deep dive into the news to see how teachers are treated in American society far beyond the low pay.
Everything that goes wrong in our public schools is laid at their feet whether they have any control over it or not. Child poverty, inequitable and inadequate resources, regressive and nepotistic policy, backward education legislation – it’s all somehow the teacher’s fault.
Imagine if we saw teachers as part of the solution! What effect would that have on teacher turnover?
Look no further than our foreign counterparts. In South Korea, turnover is only 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, it’s 3 percent.
It’s certainly worth a try.
As reforms go, this is one with more evidence behind it than 90 percent of the garbage that comes floating out of partisan think tanks.
Pay teachers more.
Starting salary should be at least $65,000. End pay after 30 years should be at least $150,000.
THAT would boost educational outcomes.
And, please, don’t give me any nonsense about summer break, teacher tenure, the power of unions or whatever else you heard on talk radio or the corporate news media. Teachers average 53 hours a week August through June – making up for any downtime in the summer, tenure doesn’t mean a job for life – it means due process, and unions aren’t evil – they just ensure workers more rights than the bosses would like.
Moreover, don’t tell me we can’t afford it. We spend more on the military than the next 8 nations combined.
Imagine if we put a priority on raising our own children instead of guns and missiles. Imagine if we spent more on life than death.
Imagine if we tried the one reform left in the box – increase teacher pay.