Off Topic: Teacher Salaries

Valleywag has a snarky and sarcastic post about a comment Google co-fonder Sergey Brin reportedly made about teacher salaries:

“Another important factor that nobody talks about is teachers’ salaries,” Brin said. “Teachers are among the lowest-paid professionals. At Google, we’ve been paying our teachers 25 per cent more, but even with that, they’re among the lowest-paid employees. I think it’s really important to have a living wage for teachers.”

Brin is correct. This is perhaps the most critical profession in society from a variety of perspectives but one of the lowest paid. Here is a snapshot of average US teacher salaries:

Roughly half of US K-12 teachers leave their jobs within five years (National Education Association, 2006). There are recruitment and other costs associated with replacing them. Why do teachers leave? They leave because of the challenges of teaching, the conditions in public schools and the pay in most cases.

The decline of public schools and the flight of affluent parents to private schools, which has been going on for years, is very negative. (Insert a long discussion on the value of public education for individuals and the society.)

Here’s my suggestion: The Gates Foundation (which presides over $38B) should take several billion dollars and set up a separate fund specifically for education. That fund would award the top 10% of US teachers (as measured by peer and student evaluations and class performance) a bonus at the end of the year (it should be tax free). According to the US Census Bureau there are 6.2 million teachers in the US. Ten percent of that figure is 620,000.

Doing the math, the numbers get pretty large pretty fast; you have to provide a meaningful financial incentive to teachers and that runs into the billions quickly. But there’s probably a way to do something like this to help reward and retain tearchers.

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3 Responses to “Off Topic: Teacher Salaries”

  1. Ratgrl Says:

    I have been teaching for over 20 years (high school– which is the same thing as “secondary”– don’t know why they’re differentiated above), and I would rank “conditions” far and above the main reason teachers leave the profession. This includes our expertise not being valued — valued emotionally, intellectually, not necessarily monetarily. We are treated is if we are not the ones with the expertise to make important decisions, that they need to be made by “community” or “administration,” which is a steaming load of future fertilizer. It’s also why schools are so often performing below potential.

    Yeah, you can pay me more — but I’ll take increased power and control over increased pay any day (I make slightly lower than the national average, in a part of the country where cost of living is very high, BTW).

    I do hope “class performance” above means a teacher’s performance in the classroom as measured by innovative technique, wise use of time, creative planning and assessment, etc., and not the performance of students on an outsider’s test. No other person but a student himself or herself can control his or her performance!

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thanks for your comments. My suggestion about class performance is mostly about peer and student ratings and less about test scores.

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