Why have teacher salaries not risen as fast in North Carolina as they have in other states?
It’s a question that’s been asked a lot in the past several months.
Of course people interested in the issue point to the lack of pay raises . Two recent pay raises totalling 9 percent have boosted salaries. However prior to that average salaries have been relatively flat. Teacher advocates point to the results of the annual NEA Rankings & Estimates. To NEA’s credit, researchers who put together Salary & Rankings have offered numerous caveats about using the data for comparison purposes. However , the overwhelming majority of reporters and media types who use the data promptly ignore the limitations of the data.
That said, Salary & Rankings, cobbles together self-reported data in numerous education and staff categories to provide a snapshot of where states rank. For good or ill, the NEA Rankings have become the single data point that has propelled the teacher pay debate.
There are plenty of problems with how Salary & Rankings is put together. For example, the data is self-reported, doesn’t take into account differences in the cost of living nor does it consider the composition of the teaching field.
It’s a criticism others and I have noted (see here) .
It’s also a subject that Kristen Schmitz at Education Next tackles in a recent blog post. Have changing workforce demographics helped to keep teacher pay relatively flat over the past two decades? From 1989-90 until 2009-10, teacher pay only grew $1,791, when accounting for inflation.
But average salaries also depend on the distribution of teachers at each step on district salary schedules. If the teacher workforce looked exactly the same today as it did in the past, this wouldn’t matter. But the teacher workforce has changed over time, and teacher experience levels today look dramatically different than what they did 20 or 30 years ago. If you asked a teacher in 1988 how many years of experience he or she had, you’d be most likely to hear 15 years. If you did the same in 2008, the most common answer would have been one year of experience. The numbers have shifted a bit since 2008, partly in response to a fall in teacher hiring in the wake of the last recession, but there are still far more new teachers in the classroom than there were two decades ago. . . This shift—from a veteran-dominated profession to one more heavily tilted toward newcomers—also has implications for calculating average teacher salaries. Because veteran teachers earn higher salaries than less experienced teachers, changing teacher experience levels account for some of the stagnation in overall teacher salaries.
So why does this matter?
Schmitz describes much of what has happened in North Carolina. Remember North Carolina, is a state that has experienced signficant growth in the last decade. As such, it would necessitate the hiring of many new – and oftentimes first-time — teachers. That’s substantiated if you review the number of teachers by experience for the past several years (See Highlights of North Carolina Public School Budget, Classroom Teacher Education & Years of Experience (p.18) – for various years) . The number of younger teachers has increased in recent years. This would work to tamp down average salaries in North Carolina.
The recently passed budget included pay raises for teachers averaging about 4.7 percent. Since most of that raise will be targeted on experienced teachers. The average teacher pay is not likely to increase signficantly until the distribution changes. When those changes occur, expect the average salary figure to rise commensurately.