Teacher Salary Trends

July 01, 2004 2 min read

A survey of national pay trends for school employees over the past decade found that the average teacher salary fell by almost 2 percent to $45,646, while compensation for administrators saw an increase. The figures, collected by Educational Research Service in its National Survey of Salaries and Wages in Public Schools, were adjusted for inflation to reflect real dollars for 2003.

The survey also tracked differences in teacher salaries across districts, finding that location plays a large part in determining teacher pay. On average, teachers working in the Far West and Mideast regions (as defined by the survey) earned more than their counterparts in other states. The measurements, however, do not account for disparities in area living costs, conceded Alicia Williams, director of survey research for ERS, in a recent Education Week online chat. “Geographic variation in the cost of living is an important factor when considering average salaries,” she added.

School systems with larger enrollment and greater per-pupil spending also tended to pay their employees at a higher rate, as did districts in urban or suburban communities, as opposed to rural ones.

Despite the average overall loss, increasing concerns over teacher shortages are affecting changes in compensation practices. Over the decade surveyed, average minimum salaries for entry-level teachers surpassed inflation rates by 3 percent, indicating that districts may be using higher starting salaries as incentives for recruitment. However, those districts may be focusing on attracting new teachers at the expense of their veteran ones, cautioned University of Pennsylvania education professor Richard M. Ingersoll in a recent Education Week article. The current pay structure contributes to teacher turnover because it underemphasizes using salary increases as a tool to boost retention, he said.

In the online chat, Bruce Hunter, associate executive director of public policy for the American Association of School Administrators, speculated on the future of teacher salary trends. Due in part to the influence of the No Child Left Behind Act’s accountability mandates, “the overall school finance system in each state will have to be more results-based or school districts won’t have the funds to be results-based,” he said. However, he was skeptical that the teachers’ unions would agree to any pay-for-performance system driven solely by test scores. In addition, Hunter warned, “we have to keep fairness or the AP teachers could get the raises and elementary teachers won’t based on available data and perceived value.”

ERS survey data were based on responses from more than 500 districts serving at least 300 students, which make up approximately 4.7 percent of the nation’s public school systems of that size.