Should we pay teachers more? | The Tylt
According to the National Education Association, the average public school teacher salary for the 2015-16 school year was just over $58,000. And according to some economists, after adjusting for inflation, teacher salaries have been in decline for years. Teachers rose up throughout 2018 and 2019, striking in order to demand things like adequate pay and smaller class size. Despite public support for higher teacher salaries, some argue a significant raise for teachers is not realistic. What do you think?
Should we pay teachers more?
According to a 2018 poll, more than half of Americans support increasing teachers' pay. The public acknowledges how important teachers are to society; without them, our very foundation—education—is lost.
Yet, current teacher salaries fail to recognize the magnitude of teachers' contribution. The Washington Post refers to Nínive Calegari, the founder of the Teacher Salary Project, on the subject. Calegari builds context for the question at hand:
Most teachers pay for their own graduate school and ongoing professional training, and over 92 percent buy supplies for their students out of their own pockets. But over the past few years, we’ve seen over 60 percent of teachers working second jobs, dining with their children at food banks, and even selling their blood to make ends meet.
Teachers deserve to be compensated for the effort, time and skill required to educate the next generation. The gap between what teachers ought to be paid and what they are paid is dizzying. Calegari writes:
Had salaries grown proportionally to our classroom spending, the average salary would now be $120,000. Instead, a teacher’s starting salary is, on average, $39,000.
According to Calegari, teacher pay also leads young, would-be teachers to rethink their career options.
When we undervalue a profession, we also tell the next generation of bright educators they shouldn’t bother teaching—or that if they do, they must take a vow of poverty...talented college students who are passionate about teaching, but seeking a stable future, opt out before they even begin.
I know we all want to live in stable, thriving communities. A thriving community is connected to a strong school system, and a strong school system depends on good teachers — professionals who have deep knowledge about the subject they teach, a scientific understanding of how people learn, and an ability to manage and motivate kids in a classroom. Great teachers are also important for our democracy. People need to be able to read and think in order to be active, thoughtful participants in a democratic society.
Teachers deserve to be compensated adequately for the work they do, if not for their contribution to society at large. Roughly $58,000 per year does not even come close to covering it.
But some argue that although it would be great if teachers could be paid more, the current system simply does not make such an adjustment possible. In her critique of the film, American Teacher, Slate's Dana Goldstein points out that a six-figure salary for teachers would mean massive change for every American:
...any such increase in teacher pay would require either that we drastically raise taxes or rearrange spending priorities—exceedingly unlikely—or that we cut other major expenses in school budgets. Should class sizes be much larger? Should sports programs be canceled? Will administrators agree to take a pay cut?
The public might be in support of paying teachers more in theory, but if it comes down to paying more in taxes or increasing classroom size, one has to wonder whether the positive benefits will net out.
Think Progress' Matthew Yglesias adds to Goldstein's argument that increasing teacher pay would result in a new host of problems when it comes to staffing. According to Yglesias, it is impractical to give all teachers across the country a raise at the same time. Doing so would have a questionable impact on the job market for teachers. Yglesias writes:
If you have a workforce and then you give a raise to your workforce, then post-raise you still have the same workforce you had the day before the raise. It’s true that the average quality of your future job applicants will go up, but since the quit rate of the staff will also decline, the turnover here is going to be very slow.