A recently-released study that examines the salaries of teachers at 113 school districts, employing around 20% of the nation's public school teachers, shows that teacher pay differs from district to district by how much time it takes a teacher to climb the income ladder.
The report, Smart Money: What teachers make, how long it takes and what it buys them, discovered that there is much more to a teacher's salary than what the starting and ending figures show.
On average, it will take a teacher 24 years to reach a salary of $75,000. However, in districts such as Boston Public Schools, teachers may reach this threshold in as few as 7 years, while teachers in other districts such as Wichita Public Schools will spend over 30 years trying to reach that milestone.
The report shows how misleading starting and ending salaries can be. While Rochester teachers start at $42,917 and end at $120,582, they only make $1.92 million over a 30-year career, whereas teachers in Milwaukee, who start at $41,070 and end at $78,143, will earn $2.04 million over the same 30 years because it takes less time for them to reach their max salary level.
In addition, that maximum salary can range greatly across districts. Teachers in Oklahoma City will see their salaries reach $52,325, while teachers in the District of Columbia can reach salary levels of $106,540.
Disparities in teacher salaries exist even after adjusting for cost of living. While teachers in Albuquerque Public Schools need to work 30 years to reach a particular salary bracket, teachers in Shelby County Schools in Tennessee reach the same adjusted salary in only 10 years.
The report looks into areas such as which districts allow for teachers to climb the salary ladder the fastest, which offers the highest total salary, and which districts offer the most "bang for the buck" after adjusting for cost of living.
"In many districts, teachers are working for years and years under a system of small, incremental raises. We know it doesn't have to be this way. There are districts that allow teachers, especially exemplary teachers, to more quickly reach their top salaries," commented Kate Walsh, President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy organization dedicated to ensuring every classroom is led by a quality teacher. "While some of these districts are able to do so because they converted to a performance pay system, like Washington, D.C., some do so using a traditional model of teacher compensation, like Chicago and Milwaukee."
Districts are also ranked by available lifetime earnings adjusted for cost of living. Three rankings are offered to each district in order to accommodate performance pay. One ranking is based on what would most likely be the lifetime earnings of a teacher who earns an average evaluation rating, a second based on the teacher who is rated above-average, and a third based on teachers who are rated as exemplary.
The report found that the top five districts for lifetime earnings include Pittsburgh and the District of Columbia, Columbus, Atlanta, and Jefferson County, Kentucky. In contrast, the five districts that offer the lowest earnings, each with a high cost of living, are Hawaii, New York City, San Francisco, Newark and Oakland.
The report, prepared by the National Council on Teacher Quality, suggests that teachers and unions spend more time looking at potential lifetime earnings rather than starting and ending salaries. If a teacher is unsure how long they are planning to stay in the field they should at least examine earning potential over a five-year span.