The Intent to Leave: Impact of Eroding Teacher Salaries
“The number of people available to teach is positively related to the level of teachers’ salaries and negatively related to the level of salaries in alternative occupations. The likelihood that an individual will leave teaching for another occupation has been found to be positively related to the amount by which the individual is underpaid as a teacher. Trends indicate that more people enter teaching when they expect salaries to rise”–David Stern, University of California, Berkeley, 1986
After 1972, the level of teachers’ salaries declined not only relative to inflation but relative to salaries in other occupations requiring a bachelor’s degree. Even by 1987, starting teachers’ salaries lagged other salaries in various fields like computer sciences, math and physical sciences and business management. Below is a chart comparing starting teaching salaries to other occupations by 1987:
As a result, individuals who chose to teach over other fields did so at a considerable financial cost as real maximum teacher salaries decreased by 15% between 1970 and 1980. Additionally, survivability rates in the teaching force declined during the mid-1970s. Studies (Murnane, Singer & Willett, 1987, 1989) showed that highly specialized instructors who taught classes like chemistry and physics were most likely to leave teaching jobs for higher salaries in business and industry after an average of six years. Backloading practices that were used by union leaders to allocate a disproportionate amount of available funds to veteran teachers also left little room for starting salaries to grow.
Consequently, low starting teacher salaries ushered in a different caliber of beginning teachers. There was a 33% probability that first year teachers would leave their jobs while this likelihood was only 16% in the 1960s. Nearly 25% of pre-service teachers who completed a training program never entered the field. Ultimately, the teaching profession reemerged as the noble profession where individuals were expected to remain faithful to the profession despite lack of economic security and respect.
By the early 1990s, however, the profession started to rebound. Some teachers who had left teaching during the 1970s actually returned to the field in the late 1980s and early 1990s since teachers’ salaries and public school enrollments improved.
As public education policy threatens teachers’ job security and compensation, public school enrollment in the United States is growing. Unlike decline during the 1970s and 1980s, public school enrollment is not projected to decline which will underscore the need for quality teachers in public school classrooms. However, the latest barrage on public school teachers through educational policies in states like Nevada further increases the chances that public school teachers will become alienated from the profession and leave their jobs for greener pastures.
In late March, AB555 was introduced to the Nevada Assembly Ways and Means Committee. The bill outlines policies to eradicate tenure; however it also introduces measures that would radically alter teacher compensation. The bill highlights the following provisions:
- Effective July 12, 2012 a performance evaluation system will require the evaluation of an individual teacher or administrator as highly effective, effective, minimally effective or ineffective
- By July 12, 2012 50% of teacher and administrator evaluations will be determined by student achievement
- On July 1, 2012 each licenses employee of the school district is employed on a contract basis for a one-year period and has no right to employment
- Reduction in the workforce of teachers must be based on the effectiveness of that teacher to improve the academic achievement of pupils and on the evaluations of that teacher
- Prohibits the board of trustees from increasing salary or wage rate or other compensation of a teacher based on years of service or receipt of a master’s or doctoral degree.
States like Florida have already passed bills eradicating teacher tenure. This is the first bill, however, I have seen that has threatened to revoke longevity increments and compensation from teachers seeking advanced degrees. The Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI), a conservative think tank, has aggressively promoted the market-based values that are reflected in the bill. Policy analysts from NPRI often use fiscal conservatism and austerity to support their arguments to slash teachers’ compensation.
Specifically, NPRI policy analysts often stress that research indicating that teachers holding advanced degrees result in additional student achievement does not exist. Although studies have been inconclusive in elementary settings, numerous studies (Goldhaber & Brewer, 2000; Monk & King, 1994; Wayne & Youngs, 2003) have indicated that students in the areas of high school mathematics have experienced higher achievement gains with teachers who held master’s degrees or took additional courses in mathematics.
Additionally, NPRI analysts also make the mistake of believing that schools are solely made up of teachers when in fact schools are also made up of specialists. Children can only be successful when professionals collaborate to evaluate and support the whole child–socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively. Subsequently, teachers should be compensated when obtaining advanced degrees in much needed areas like school psychology and special education. Most outsiders and so-called experts overlook that some children need additional services to achieve in school. When children live through disabling conditions, parents will want professionals who hold advanced degrees from reputable institutions to evaluate and support their children. Current subject area and general classroom teachers who are interested in going into these much needed areas should not be economically punished for pursuing a degree outside of their instructional area.
Throughout this debate, outsiders need to keep in mind that schools are complex organizations and contain various layers of instruction and support. Many public schools do need teachers to pursue advance degrees in areas like math and science to teach high level courses. These teachers should be compensated for their efforts or else they will seek higher paying jobs in private industries much like they did during the 1970s and 1980s.
Teachers who left the profession in the 2000s often felt undervalued and experienced little administrative or collegial support. The treatment of the teaching career as a noble profession coupled with eroding salaries will undoubtedly change the caliber of beginning teachers entering the field and will also increase the likelihood that fewer teachers will remain committed or survive in public schools. Public education policymakers need to understand that quality teachers are needed to educate a growing population. Elected officials have to evaluate the impact of their educational policies on the outlook of teaching as a profession.
Goldhaber, D.D. & Brewer, D.J. (2000). Does teacher certification matter? High school teacher certification status and student achievement. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 22(2), 129-145.
Monk, D.H. & King, J. (1994). Multilevel teacher resource effects on pupil performance in secondary math and science: The case of teacher subject-matter preparation. In R. Ehrenberg (Ed.), Contemporary Policy Issues: Choices and Consequences in Education (pp. 29-58). Ithaca, NY: ILR.
Murnane, R.J., Singer, J.D., & Willett, J.B. (1987). Changes in teacher salaries during the 1970s: The role of school district demographics. Economics of Education Review, 6(4), 379-388.
Murnane, R.J., Singer, J.D., & Willett, J.B. (1989). The influences of salaries and opportunity costs on teachers and career choices: Evidence from North Carolina. Harvard Educational Review, 53(3), 325-346.
Wayne, A. & Youngs, P. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review. Review of Educational Research, 73(1), 89-122.