Fla. Urges Comparable Teacher-Compensation Reporting

By Bess Keller — May 16, 2006 3 min read
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Florida education officials are crying “unfair” about the way teachers’ salaries are reported, and they want the federal government to do something about it.

Meanwhile, the official in charge of federal education statistics has pinpointed teacher compensation as an area that needs work and has begun an effort to improve what the government provides.

“There’s remarkable coherence in what Florida is talking about and what we have identified as major holes, and the work needed to fill them,” said Mark Schneider, who heads the National Center for Education Statistics, or NCES.

He praised Florida for the job it did in producing a review of teacher pay across 15 states.

Salary Perspectives

Florida education officials show how considering state income taxes and mandatory retirement contributions can alter the teacher-salary rankings provided by the National Education Association. Other factors could likely alter the rankings.

*Click image to see the full chart.

Click to enlarge: Salary Perspectives

SOURCE: Florida Department of Education

Issued last week, the report argues that Florida’s average teacher-salary statistic doesn’t do the state justice. Further, according to the report, variations in the ways states tote up their average teacher salaries “preclude accurate and fair comparisons.”

Both national teachers’ unions issue annual teacher-salary reports, and the one produced by the American Federation of Teachers is included in a “condition of education” report put out by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the education-statistics center, an arm of the department, “has tried to report our own numbers, but I’m not happy with them,” Mr. Schneider said.

All this concern for the validity of pay figures is especially pertinent in a state that next year will need to find an additional 11,000 teachers for its classrooms.

“How we look has a great function in terms of attracting young teachers to the state of Florida,” said Commissioner of Education John L. Winn.

“I can’t think of another piece of data more frequently cited in the press and the education world than average teacher salary,” he said last week. “For heaven’s sake, we ought to have an apples-to-apples comparison.”

For example, according to the report, states count teachers differently. Some include anyone who is on the instructional pay scale, while others just teachers in classrooms. Average salary is also defined differently across states, with some including bonuses, extra-duty pay, even parts of fringe benefits, and other states excluding all those.

Not Just the Average

Other problems with getting valid comparisons include inadequate data systems in the states and a collection process that involves little checking, according to the Florida report.

The study recommends that uniform national standards for defining and calculating average teacher pay be set. It further recommends that three levels of teachers’ economic status be required: average salary; average compensation, which would include benefits; and average “market value,” which would consider such factors as retirement contributions by employer, state income tax, and cost of living.

Each of those categories should be reported by higher education degree, says the report, to show how well teachers with a bachelor’s degree fare compared with teachers with advanced degrees.

The differences between such levels can be substantial, figures in the report illustrate. Florida’s average teacher salary in 2004-05 was $41,587, its average compensation was $42,646, and its so-called “market value” was a comparatively whopping $52,416.

Mr. Schneider of the NCES said his agency would not be venturing into the realms that involve gauging tax and cost environments because of the difficulty of doing so fairly. For instance, he asked, if the lack of a state income tax is factored in, should a relatively high sales tax also be considered?

“Our goal is to get good salary data … and good benefits data [for states and some metropolitan areas] in as transparent and defensible way as possible,” he said. If all goes well, he added, states could be asked to report data using conditional definitions and guidelines in the coming school year.

Edward Muir, who heads the AFT’s teacher-salary survey, said he would welcome the success of such an undertaking. “If you get good data and report it,” he said, “there would be some advance in what we know and how we could compare across states.”

But the researcher cautioned that there was no guarantee federal definitions and guidelines alone would produce consistent numbers. “You have to be careful, you have to be patient, and you have to work with the states to get good data,” he said.

Mr. Muir added that the AFT would continue to produce its salary report in any case because the union analyzes its own data in ways that “we might not otherwise be politically able to do.”

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