Equal Work, Unequal Pay

February 01, 1990 5 min read

When education levels, experience, and other factors were accounted for, women teachers in public high schools on average earned $1,134 less than their male colleagues. In Catholic schools, women teachers were paid $1,670 less, and in private schools they made $2,582 less.

Valerie Lee, assistant professor of education at the University of Michigan, together with Julia Smith, a research assistant, examined salary data from a random sample of 8,894 teachers in 377 high schools compiled during the 1983-84 school year as part of the U.S. Education Department’s ongoing High School and Beyond study. The sample included 309 public schools, 47 Catholic schools, and 21 private schools.

Lee says that she conducted the study to test the “common belief’’ that teaching is one of the few professions in which men and women are paid equally.

The findings for private and Catholic school teachers are not surprising, says Lee, because private school teachers negotiate individually for their salaries, and Catholic schools’ faculties frequently include members of religious orders.

But Lee says that she was taken aback by the discrepancy between male and female public school teachers. “In public schools, they have rigid salary schedules,’' she explains. “The only pay criteria are education and experience. They are arrived at by collective bargaining. One would believe that between men and women, things were fair.’'

The study used a statistical method that allowed for adjustments for differing labor-market conditions among schools and districts, which Lee says had not previously been done in studies of wage discrimination. The data were adjusted to account for teachers’ years of experience in their current and former jobs. Their educational levels also were taken into account.

“People have noted that women’s salaries are, on average, lower than men’s, but they’ve also noted that women, on average, have less experience than men and assumed that explained it,’' Lee says. She found, however, that while women teachers, on average, had somewhat less experience than men, the difference accounted for only part of the salary differential.

The study considered which courses the teachers taught, in order to take into account bonuses that sometimes are paid to teachers of mathematics and science, who are more likely to be men. It also examined whether teachers received extra pay for coaching a sport or taking on extra duties, or from merit-pay programs.

Other factors that “might justifiably account for lower salaries’’ for female teachers were considered, including varying market conditions for teachers and the number of women in a particular school. “All of that is adjusted,’' Lee says of the factors that could explain the wage gap, “and it still won’t go away.’'

Before adjusting the data for such variables, the study found that male teachers in public high schools were paid an average of $2,600 more than females.

Men teaching in Catholic high schools received $2,300 more than their women colleagues, and men in private high schools made $3,300 more than similarly employed women.

Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, says the pay gap could be explained by schoolboard policies governing the hiring of experienced teachers. Many such teachers are women moving to a new district with their spouses, Geiger notes. Very few, he says, are given full credit for their experience on the new district’s salary schedule.

Instead, he says, school boards typically give credit for a maximum of five years’ experience. “Boards of education want the cheapest employees they can get,’' Geiger says. “I hate to say it, but it’s true. Few districts will give incoming teachers the maximum years of experience.’'

The union leader notes that his wife did not receive full credit for her experience when she was hired as a teacher in Fairfax County, Va. “The only way we can rectify that is to make sure when teachers move from one district to another, they are given maximum years,’' he says.

Jeremiah Floyd, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association, says each local school board sets its own policy governing the amount of “external experience’’ it will recognize on its salary scale.

The number is generally below a teacher’s actual experience level, Floyd acknowledges. But such decisions, he adds, are made for “totally financial’’ reasons. “I do not believe that any school board in the nation would countenance sex discrimination in the pay area,’' Floyd says. “It would be against the law.’'

Lee says her study did not seek to explain the reasons for the wage differential she discovered. But she notes: “If the people transferring in from other places are [predominantly] females, then that is a way schools are allowing themselves to discriminate against females.’'

Working women in all fields are paid 66 cents for each dollar earned by men, according to Claudia Wayne, executive director of the National Committee on Pay Equity, a Washington-based advocacy group. Wayne says she is “not surprised’’ by Lee’s findings. “We still don’t have equal pay for equal work,’' she says.

Jewell Gould, director of research for the American Federation of Teachers, says the union has “worked very hard to overcome’’ discrimination against women and minorities by pushing for single salary schedules. Today, he notes, large school districts that are facing a shortage of teachers, such as Atlanta’s and Baltimore’s, have begun to pay more for experienced teachers.

But, he adds, the teachers’ union has been hamstrung in its attempts to negotiate better placement on the salary schedule for experienced teachers by laws that restrict collective bargaining to the working conditions of current employees. Since the placement issue affects future employees of a district, he says, it is considered outside the scope of bargaining.

Both Gould and Geiger say they are confident that teachers with the same levels of education who have taught for the same number of years in one district are being paid the same amount. Lee’s study did not assess that situation.

“Where there is a contract,’' Geiger says, “I know of no instance where male teachers are paid more than female teachers if they are on same level of the salary schedule.’'

--Ann Bradley, Education Week

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1990 edition of Teacher as Equal Work, Unequal Pay