Performance-based salaries are a reform option for improving teacher accountability in U.S. public schools. Parents and government officials want teachers to be held accountable for their effectiveness, and different pay scenarios have been created both in the United States and in other developed countries to create systems of accountability. Whether or not performance-based pay incentives result in increased student performance has not been proven. Debate continues over how, if performance-based salaries were implemented, teachers' performances ought to be assessed, and how to award salaries.
Keywords Average Income; Global Economy; Gross Salary; Median Income; Merit Pay; Modernization; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB); Performance-Based Pay
School district administrators work tirelessly to balance their budgets. While state and federal governments pay per student enrollment dollars toward those budgets, teacher salaries and pensions take a large percentage of those resources. While the general public may disagree, teachers are not paid higher salaries when compared to employees in other professions. Parents and government officials want teachers to be held accountable for their effectiveness, and different pay scenarios have been created both in the United States and in other developed countries to create systems of accountability. Whether or not performance-based pay incentives result in increased student performance has not been proven.
For many, becoming a teacher is a dream; it is an employment opportunity in which they can practice an education philosophy they have established while positively influencing the lives of children. For others, however, it is an employment opportunity that offers a decent wage, health benefits, a pension, and summers off. For those who are of the less dedicated bunch, employment research may be necessary before a final determination is made regarding a life's work. Studies show that dollar for dollar, teachers do not make as much as professionals in other positions, nor do they (necessarily) focus all of their time on the subject of study they regard so highly.
Teachers begin learning their craft in college - for the most part. In addition, many of those teachers graduate and find positions teaching while earning advanced degrees or specialized certifications. They teach and study their field and earn a wage respective of their education and experience. In some districts in the United States, however, teachers are earning a wage depending on their students' academic achievements. Performance-based pay structures have been offered in other nations and are becoming popular in the U.S. if not for the equity they claim to offer among teacher pay than for the controversy they create.
Historically, teacher salary has been an issue among tax-payers. Taxes increase as district budgets compensate for raises, lost state funding, and lower student enrollments. For those on the outside, a work day that lasts from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, and an employment year that only lasts 180-190 days can seem excessively light. On the other hand, helping to develop academically and morally sound individuals is a large task. Each state has its own specific formula for determining district budgets, and teacher salaries and pensions are factored into that formula.
There is nothing universal within the U.S. regarding how much a teacher should earn because state and local funding varies from district to district within and among states. As a result, budget disparity makes it unfair to create a blanket wage for everyone with the same credentials. One thing that does tend to be universal is the way teacher salaries are misinterpreted and misrepresented. $45,000 per year for someone who works less than half of it seems like a pretty good buck. When seriously considered, though, much more than dollars needs to be examined. Bracey (2007) responds to a paper written by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters summarizing the pay of public school teachers in the United States for the 2005 year. Greene and Winters break down a comparison between teachers, economists, and architects, and Bracey (2007) criticizes them for not reporting accurate information based on the statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Compensation Survey (NCS).
How do We Measure Teacher Salary?
Bracey's (2007) biggest complaint is that the respective salaries are interpreted by the hour, and teacher salaries do appear to be greater when compared to that of other professions in that light. Hourly, the rate of pay for the three professions is broken down showing teachers earning an estimated $34.06, architects $30.22, and economists $33.85. When calculated by hours worked per year, however, the figures flip with architects earning $65,108, economists $72,810, and teachers $46,995. Greene and Winters claim that teachers are paid better than most other professionals based on their hourly salary; their claim is not clearly substantiated, and Bracey points out their reporting limitations (Bracey, 2007).
In addition, the data original to that used by Greene and Winters came from an analysis of over sixteen professions broken down into the following "skill criteria":
Knowledge needed, supervision received, guidelines applied, complexity, scope and effect, personal contacts, purpose of contacts, physical demands, work environment, and supervisory duties. When these researchers compared teachers' salaries to 16 other occupations that had similar total numbers on the criteria, teachers trailed all but one, the clergy. They trailed architects by $275 a week (Bracey, 2007, p. 364).
Leaving the Profession
A teacher new to the profession doesn't begin a career expecting it to end within a few years. However, those who left the profession in 2004-2005 outnumbered the teachers who moved to different schools (or from the public to the private sector) in the same year. That statistic shows the highest rate of teachers leaving their profession since data started being collected through a survey from the National Center for Education Statistics in 1988-1989 (as cited in Bracey, 2007, 364). Furthermore, teachers with less than three years or more than twenty on the job, those younger than thirty or older than fifty, and those making less than $30,000 or more than $40,000 were more likely to be the ones who leave (as cited in Bracey, 2007, 364). Finally, teachers working in both public and private school cited similar reasons for leaving their schools: dissatisfaction with working conditions and administrative support. While public school teachers changed schools, private school teachers were more likely to leave the profession entirely and change careers (as cited in Bracey, 2007, 365).
The Case in New York …
Something to note with this data is that the private sector generally requires less credentials for their teachers. In New York State, a teacher working in public schools has three years following the acquisition of a bachelor's degree in which to earn a master's degree. Many candidates work provisionally while gaining that second degree, and are required to maintain professional development standards in the way of recertification after receiving teaching permanency. In contrast, many private schools require no education past the bachelor's degree level. It may be that once teachers in the private sector leave their schools, they have limited options within the teaching profession and that is the reason they change careers. The private sector in New York State also pays a wage considerably less than that of the public sector.
That being the case, teachers in the New York City public schools fare much worse than their counterparts in nearby counties. For the fiscal year ending in 2005, educators in New York City were actually working with a negative percent change from the previous year. While nearby counties - as well as the state as a whole - saw median salaries increase from 2004-2005, New York City teachers' salary medians declined by more than $2,000, decreasing from just over $55,000 to just under $53,000 ("2007 City Facts"). For the nation's teachers, the average salary for 2004-2005 was $47,602, and to make that average comparable to other professions (while not citing architects or economists specifically), the American Federation of Teachers insists that the salary for educators needs to increase thirty percent by 2010 (Honawar, 2007).
… And Elsewhere
The past three years have brought teacher pay raises in Iowa and West Virginia, pension buyouts in Colorado, and negative adjustments in New York City as salaries lower than that of nearby counties were identified by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). Making state history, Iowa teachers will receive the largest pay raise for the profession
over the next two years, an increase of $5,000 to the annual average of $42,900 (Klein, 2007). Although West Virginia teachers received a three and a half percent increase, they wanted six and walked off the job for a day earlier this year....
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