Education Chat

Chat Transcript:
Education Week/ERS Report on Salary and Wages

Nancy Protheroe, director of special research projects at the Educational Research Service, and Mike Podgursky, Middlebrush professor of economics and chair of the University of Missouri department of economics, take questions based on the results of the Education Week/ERS National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools.

The Topic: Education Week/ERS Report on Salary and Wages

April 20, 2005

NOTE: The newest postings appear at the bottom of the page.

Jennifer Park (Moderator) Welcome to Education Week‘s TalkBack Live chat on the salaries of public school personnel. Education Week/ERS Report on Salary and Wages for Public School Personnel is based on the National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools conducted annually by Educational Research Service, a nonprofit organization that produces research on K-12 education. These nationally representative data on school personnel salaries span the full scope of public school employment from bus drivers to superintendents.

We’re pleased to have a couple of guests for this afternoon’s chat. Nancy Protheroe is director of special research projects at Educational Research Service. Nancy has more than 20 years experience in research in K-12 education, including compensation issues. Mike Podgursky is the Middlebrush professor of economics and the chair of the University of Missouri department of economics. Mike is a leading thinker in the area of teacher compensation and has published numerous articles on topics ranging from labor market policy to teacher training.

We thank you for joining us and look forward to an informative and interesting discussion. Let’s start answering your questions . . .

Question from Jennifer Park:
Nancy, can you first tell us a little about the National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools that your organization conducts?

Nancy Protheroe:
For the past 32 years, Educational Research Service has selected samples of school districts and asked personnel in each of these to supply salary data on a variety of positions--central office and school level, professional as well as support. Our “universe” of districts included only districts enrolling over 300 students--with this universe enrolling 98-99% of students in public schools.

The sampling approach used selected all districts enrolling 10,000 or more students since these districts employ a high percentage of all school employees in the U.S. The smaller districts were then sampled.

Question from Mark Carter, Teacher, Clayton County Public School:
Presently, most public school systems reward educators for leaving the classroom (administrators, specialists). I know teachers can get additional pay for obtaining a Master/Phd but I the pay increase in minimal in many cases. Are there any proposal to change the financial system to provide a greater incentive for teachers to remain in the classroom?

Mike Podgursky

You hit the nail on the head. The Milken Family Foundation is working with quite a few schools around the country to implement what they call the Teacher Advancement Program. This creates a job ladder, culminating in master teacher status that pays a lot more than entry level earnings. You might check out their web site. Denver Public schools is working on a merit pay system. You can read about it in Ed. Week or on the web. Of course, bonuses for National Board certification are meant to address the same problem. I’ve been somewhat skeptical of these, given their financial cost and their very large time burden for teachers. However, it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Best. Mike.

Question from Deborah Perkins-Gough, Senior Associate Editor, ASCD:
How do the salaries scheduled for beginning teachers in urban school districts compare with those suburban and rural school districts? Same question for salaries of more experienced teachers.

Nancy Protheroe:
That’s an interesting question and it’s one that highlights the complexity of salary data in education.

Let’s start first with the average salary paid teachers. There are definitely differences seen by community type--with teachers in suburban districts, for example, paid more than those in rural districts. And there also are differences by region of the country and by per pupil expenditure of the district. Of course, there are also relationships between these characteristics. One region might include states with generally low per pupil expenditures--and with lower average salaries for teachers.

Moving on to the salaries paid beginning teachers, however, we have seen the gap between high-paying and low-paying districts lessen over the last decade or so. That makes intuitive sense. Many states--as well as districts--have recognized the importance of market sensitive salaries for beginning teachers and have made efforts to shift those salries up. However, there are still substantial differences among differences at the upper end of the schedule--the salaries for experienced teachers.

Question from Allen Hughes, President, GACE:
How many average hours are worked per year for teachers?

Nancy Protheroe:
Good question--but I can only provide you with a partial answer. ERS asks districts to report “days on duty” of various positions as specified in contracts. These vary by position--for example, the average work year for senior high school principals is 232 days compared to 187 days for teachers.

In addition, the work years for teachers vary by region of the country--from an average of 184 days in the far western states to 196 days in southeastern states.

Question from Dr. Wright Professor Lewis University:
Equity in schools is a hot topic today. In many cases there exist wide gaps in funding and salaries that vary from district to district. My question is how can we create equity within salaries of “Public School Personnel” to reflect a balance in all school districts?

Mike Podgursky:
Starting with the Serrano decision in CA in 73 there have been long series of “equity” school finance lawsuits wherein state courts overturned state school finance systems. These have moved states a considerable way toward equalizing spending. While there is still considerable intra-state inequality in spending per student, the correlation between race or wealth and spending per student within states is much smaller, and in some states has actually flipped (e.g., spending goes up with percent minority). Of course, arguments remain about need. Should LEP, IEP, or FRL students get a higher weight in the per student calculations etc. Nonetheless great progress has been made.

Far less attention has been paid to the role of teacher salary schedules and CB agreements in creating unequal resource allocation >within< school districts. In almost any urban district you will find a negative correlation between teacher experience, teacher education and school poverty rate. This is due to the fact that the district salary schedule applies to all schools in the district with no adjustment for working conditions. This means that you are spending more per student, salary-wise in the low poverty schools within the district.

If you equalize pay you disequalize teacher quality. If you want to equalize teacher quality within school districts you need to disequalize pay. We need “combat pay” for high quality teachers to go in to tough schools.

Question from Eugene Williamson, substitute, Lincoln County Schools:
What evidence do we have that higher salaries would produce higher quality teachers? My experience is that a person who cannot teach will not suddenly become able to with the addition of higher salaries.

Nancy Protheroe:
As a researcher, my focus is on looking for relationships--and I realize that many of these relationships won’t be simple ones of cause and effect.

So when I look at the ERS salary data--plus a great deal of other research and writing about the teaching profession--I’m interested in questions such as whether school districts would have greater success attracting and retaining all the qualified math and science teachers they need if salaries paid were more in line with what people could get in professions outside education.

Another topic of interest in some states and districts is whether there is a way to accurately identify particularly successful teachers--and then compensate them at a higher level. I view ERS data as providing good baseline information for all these discussions.

Question from Sonya Mull, Parent Counselor, Memphis City Schools:
During the glory days of the Clinton administration, former Secretary of Education, Ed Riley, stated during his state of education address that research revealed a correlation between academic progress and teacher salaries. He referenced the state of Connecticut, where test scores and teacher salaries are highest in the nation. Unfortunately, this was at the end of the administration, and I have heard nothing of this research being continued. Mr. Riley spoke of placing a premium on the field of education, as in other professional careers. Competitive wages would help to encourage individuals into the field who would otherwise seek to utilize their talents in a more financially lucrative environment. As a result, we could see a difference in the quality of education. Is there any discussion of this research occurring today? I work in the educational field, but I am not a teacher. I have worked at the school and district levels. My work as a support personnel is extremely undervalued, as is represented by my meager salary. The “system”, which is completely centered around teachers, does not reward those who lay the foundation for teachers to do the work that they do. If teachers would unify their cause with those who support the process of education, the benefits would be greater for all who endeavor to serve the needs of our world’s most precious and vital resource. (sorry that this wasn’t so concise)

Nancy Protheroe:
There is definitely a great deal of research, discussion, etc., today focused on salaries in education--and the possible links of those to student achievement.

One aspect of the discussion typically focuses on whether salaries of public school teachers are competitive with those paid employees in other industries. And there are many aspects to this. For example, I had already mentioned in response to another question the issue of a shortage of math and science teachers. Addressing this could require changing the single salary schedule approach used in most school districts.

Another focus--and I had also mentioned this previously--is the possibility of rewarding teachers who demonstrate higher than average levels of success in teaching children.

However, research aboput either of these areas still wouldn’t address one of your primary concerns--that of salary levels for others in education. That’s part of an even larger question of where to put the limited resources available to education.

Question from William L. Bainbridge, Ph.D., SchoolMatch Institute:
When do you believe we will ever move to marketplace pay for teachers based on well-known and common-sense practices that reward individuals whose skills are in the greatest demand ? Most people know specialists in more demanding college majors are generally paid more than generalists. People in technical fields like chemistry, physics and mathematics typically make more than history, sociology or physical education majors.

Mike Podgursky:
I sure hope so.

I think that teachers need to understand that the types of differentials you describe are part of being a “professional.” I think this idea is beginning to take root, slowly.

In higher ed, economists make more than historians and finance profs make more than economists. Our pay is performance and market based. We know that’s true in medicine, law, dentistry and most every other profession.

There are cracks in the single salary schedule dike. I think that pretty soon we are going to see major leaks.

(Economists aren’t so great with metaphors.)


Question from Pat Fayo, student, Early Childhood Education:
Why is it that there are never any issues addressed about wages, benefits, retirement etc for educators of preschool age children? I know preschools are privately owned but they are the most important teachers as we know the first three years of a child’ s life is where they really learn. Also, when teachers do inservice classes and they get pay increases for them and the government reimburses the school districts for them. People who work in preschools have to do 30 hrs a year in continuing classes but either the person pays for it themselves or the employer pays it. Why is it required the people who work in preschools do not get the same benefits? I think we as a society do not place enough emphasis on the importance of how and what children learn before they enter kindergarten.

Mike Podgursky:
It’s too expensive.

The economics boils down to the client/professional ratio. A doctor or lawyer sees hundreds of clients per year. Even an elementary school teacher has 25 or so students. What is the student teacher ratio in pre-school? 10:1? That makes you very expensive. You’re bumping into a very serious productivity barrier.

Having said that, the research suggests that pre-school experience (home or elsewhere)has a bigger effect effect on child IQ and ability than later interventions.

You need to team up with an economist and make a cost-benefit argument.

Question from Jennifer Park:
Nancy, can you discuss why the ERS survey does not cover the salaries of educators of preschool-aged children?

Nancy Protheroe:
When the project was first developed over 30 years ago, the intent was to collect data on public school employees--and there were few preK programs then. Even today, a high proportion of preK children are attending programs outside the scope of public schools, so we would not capture information on their salaries.

However, the issue of preK education currently is receiving a great deal of attention, and there has been a recent effort to collect data on staff salaries in these programs. I just did a quick Web search and found this site ( that includes links to a variety of resources on salaries paid to early childhood educators.

Question from DB Bearden, Director Executive Travis Rural Area Inc.:
Teacher salaries in charter schools are across the board lower than in school districts. The fear among teacher’s unions was that charter schools would serve as union busters. Why have unions failed to organize charter school teachers?

Mike Podgursky:
Supply and demand. (What else would an economist say?)

On the demand side there are compensating differentials for charter school teachers. Survey data shows they are more satisfied overall than their non-charter peers. They have more job control, better relations with colleagues and supervisors, better identify with the mission of the school, etc. Also, some of the lower salary comes from lower seniority of charter teachers. At least to date there really doesn’t seem to be much interest in charter schools among the teachers.

Teachers are sorting in the market. Those who want job security and CB agreements take jobs in the school district. Those who prefer greater risk and autonomy work in charters.

Of course, I’m sure that most charter school operators aren’t keen on seeing their school organized either, so they have an incentive to be good employers.

On the supply side, organizing (and then servicing) charter schools is costly for teacher unions. The union would prefer to negotiate and service one district (with one contract) and fifty schools, rather than 50 separate charter schools. I’m sure they’re devoting some resources to organization but it in cost benefit terms it’s probably not worth it to devote a lot of resources to the effort.



Question from Jean-Anne McKiernan, CEC New York:
According to your report there is a broad range of salary lines across regions, districts, ect. Doesn’t the UFT set certain guidlines and if so, why is there so much variation in salaries?

Nancy Protheroe:
There is no national salary schedule, so variation across state lines is a natural result of differences in the cost of living, financial resources of different levels of education, etc. There are also no statewide salary schedules in most states, although there are salary-related requirements in some states.

For most districts in the U.S., school boards look at a variety of factors in establishing salaries. They review the funds available, salaries paid teachers in neighboring districts that are their competitors for good teachers, increases in the cost of living, etc.

Question from Bob Brewster, Consultant:
When can we expect the teachers to rise up and stop union control over pay scales?? In our district beginning teachers get $450 and 18-year teachers get $4,200.

Mike Podgursky:
That’s the problem with voting on pay. The teachers who didn’t get hired because starting pay was too low don’t get a ballot.

I assume you are talking about pay increases. You are right that one often sees these kind of backloaded pay raises.

In fairness to the teachers who have “topped out” in salary schedules, this just illustrates another dumb facet of the single salary schedule. These teachers are forced to lobby for longevity adjustments. What we need is a system that is more performanced based. Senior teachers who continue their profession development or who perform valuable service by mentoring younger colleagues and taking on other imporant responsibility as leaders of teams deserve increases. The current system rewards teachers for living another year.

Of course, the real problem is school administrators who agree to this type of backloading. Perhaps we should require them to earn MBA’s rather than Ed.D.'s.


Question from Artemis Boynton, SPED Teacher, Boston Public Schools:
In your opinion, are public school systems heading toward a compensation system for teachers in which compensation (bonus/salary) are directly connected to his/her students’ performance on the high stakes tests?

Mike Podgursky:
A qualified yes, but as the saying goes, there are many slips twixt the cup and the lip.

The single salary schedule is very inefficient and is going to have to give way to something that is more market and performance-based. However, putting all or most of the weight for a teacher bonus on student achievement gains is probably not a good idea. There should be multiple factors entering an evaluation, not just test scores. (Obviously a problem for SPED teachers.) Moreover, at least some part of the bonus should be school-wide or perhaps for a team of teachers given test gains. (Test scores, as you are aware, have a lot of measurement error, so basing a pay decision on a small N of students is a problem.)

However, we’ve got to get beyond paying teachers for living another year and accumulating graduate credits that may be of no value whatsoever in their professional development for the performance of the schools.



Question from Kelly Gross, Teacher, Woodland Park Schools:
Is the salary for teachers with a master’s degree met in reference to their degree?

Nancy Protheroe:
I’m not sure I understand your question--and feel free to post another question if I don’t address it.

Most school districts in the U.S. have a salary schedule for teachers that takes into account two factors: education and number of years experience. In terms of education, the schedules often have an intermediate level between bachelor’s and master’s degree--perhaps something like bachelor’s plus 15 hours of graduate credit.

Question from Alicia A. Datz, Ayden-Grifton High School-NC:
At my high school, if a teacher works a “duty” (football or basketball game) he or she is awarded “comp time,” which can be used on certain teacher workdays. I have always thought of this as a rewarding practice, but questioned the benefit of it only being used for athletics and administratively mandated activities. Our PLT has agreed on allowing “comp time” for other activites. It seems like this may be a rewarding avenue for schools to investigate as an additional benefit to teachers, for often we are at school beyond the 8-3. What are your thoughts, if any? The school enviornment is so volitile, I wonder where is the personal reward for your personal time?

Mike Podgursky:
If I understand what you are saying, teachers get time off the regular school for after school duty time.

Other things being equal, I’d prefer to just see teachers paid for the duty time. Teacher absentee rates are already high relative to other professions. Having substitute teachers fill in not likely to help schools reach AYP goals.

However, the economics of this is simple. If you want someone to do something it’s usually a good idea to reward them for doing it. I think bonus pay would be better.

Question from Dan Otter, teacher and author of Teach and Retire Rich:
Is anyone familiar with the problems facing teachers as it relates to their 403(b) retirement plans. Forbes magazine documents these problems in their current issue:

Nancy Protheroe:
I took a minute to scan the Forbes article. Thanks for the citation--I’ll definitely read it after this chat is over.

I don’t have another source for you although I’ve read a little about problems such as this outside the field of education. I’m also curious now about the number of school employees who have access to 403(b)'s.

Question from Donald J. Levine, Health and Physical Educator, Jack Jackter Elementary School:
With the “No Child Left Behind” Law, pressures are evident on the public school level to perform on mastery tests and the like. Would it be prudent for our Federal Government to provide funds to enhance salaries in our lower paying districts throughout the country? Being in Connecticut I’ve heard that some districts pay in the $80,000 range where as some districts are in the $50,000 range.

Mike Podgursky:
Yep, the pressure is on.

The case you make would be strengthened if the pay increases were tied to NCLB improvments -- individual, team, or schoolwide bonuses for achievement gains.

Question from Masoud Moallem, Professor of Economics, Rockford College:
Would you please compare the salary and benefits of an educator with the ones of government employees and private sector employees with the same level of education and years of service. Take into account that the teachers’ day does not end with school. Thanks

Mike Podgursky:
The BLS computes hourly pay for teachers and other professions based on scheduled hours of work. see the National Compensation Survey

However, total hours as you mention is trickier. Obviously other professionals work at home as well. However, I’m skeptical of all survey measures of “home work hours.” I think about economics all the time while I’m at home (I’m sure you do too). Is this “work” or “leisure?” Most mornings at 5:30 am on my treadmill I think about the day ahead. Becker talked about “productive consumption.” Theoretically nice but empiricaly hard to measure.

Question from Mardi Montgomery, Deputy Secretary, Education Cabinet of Kentucky:
Does a comprehensive state comparison survey exist which includes, but is not limited to the following: Base Salary, Health Insurance (pre and post retirement), Life Insurance, Retirement, Tuition Tax Credit, Social Security Participant

Nancy Protheroe:
Not to my knowledge--although it’s an important topic. Districts, teacher unions, etc., would be interested in data comparing the kinds of benefits offered as well as the cost of these benefits.

Question from Clarise A. Brooks, Regional Instructional Supervisor of High School Literacy, Region 10 of the New York City Department of Education:
How can I obtain a copy of this report of national salaries in education?

Nancy Protheroe:
Work on the 2004-05 edition is almost completed. If you would like to be notified when it is available, email and we will provide you with ordering information.

The interesting thing about this new edition is the addition of a section with data weighted in a way that allows us to estimate nationally representative salaries. However, tables similar to those that have been reported in previous editions will also be included for people who are interested in trend comparisons.

Jennifer Park (Moderator):

We’ll have to end the discussion there. I’d like to thank both Nancy Protheroe and Mike Podgursky for taking the time to answer questions this afternoon.

You can read more about the new salary data and access further information about the ERS salary survey at:

Thanks to all for participating!