Education Opinion

Put Teacher Salaries in Proper Perspective

By Walt Gardner — September 09, 2016 1 min read
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By now, everyone knows the arguments on both sides of the debate regarding teachers’ salaries. Yet I wonder why so little attention is paid to putting the issue in proper context (“Teachers Are Working for Uber Just to Keep a Foothold in the Middle Class,” The Nation, Sept. 7).

Consider the situation in California. Public school teachers in the Silicon Valley or in San Francisco have to devote an ever increasing portion of their paychecks to their rent or to their mortgage. The latter assumes that they even qualify. Renting is equally impossible. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is now $3,500. Yet the San Francisco Unified School District ranks 528th in teacher pay out of the 821 districts in the state. How far will a salary of $70,000 go under the circumstances?

Yes, teachers can always move to less expensive areas. But what about their students? When exemplary teachers leave, how likely is it that their replacements will be as effective? And if they are, how long can they afford to stay before the same mismatch forces them out? Yet we hardly ever hear about this issue. Instead, the opinion pages of newspapers are full of op-eds maintaining that teachers are overpaid (“Public School Teachers Aren’t Underpaid,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 8, 2011).

The average public school teacher salary in the country was $56,000 in the 2012-13 school year. That compared with $69,000 for nurses and $83,000 for programmers. (“What If America’s Teachers Made More Money?The Atlantic, Feb. 18). Yet nothing is said about the cost of living in connection with those salaries. It’s little wonder, therefore, that teacher turnover is so high. Dedication does not pay the bills. I’m not talking now about the other factors that also cause teachers to flee.

When teachers have to take second jobs to make ends meet, I say something is terribly wrong. The so-called gold-plated pensions awaiting teachers at the end of their 30-year careers in the classroom mean very little. They’re hardly as generous as depicted, and they don’t pay the bills while teachers are still teaching.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.