NEA Teacher Salary Rankings – a few caveats
It’s an annual rite of spring: The National Education Association (NEA) releases its data on average teacher salary and state spending, the media run a flurry of stories and talking heads comment on how North Carolina teachers need higher salaries. You know how it goes.
The 2018 version of this annual play kicked off earlier this week. Results from National Education Association (NEA) Annual State Teacher Salary Survey were released. North Carolina ranked 37th for teacher pay and 39th for per-pupil spending. The results set the whole process in motion.
While the NEA surveys and estimates can provide useful information, they come with caveats. Here are a few:
Salary figures fail to account for cost-of-living. This is one of the most significant criticisms of the NEA teacher salary data. Obviously $65K will go further in New Bern than in New York City. Terry Stoops, my friend at the John Locke Foundation, drove home that point recently in a blog post. After adjusting salaries for cost of living, Stoops found North Carolina teacher salaries ranked 29th in the nation, a full eight places before the initial unadjusted figures with ranked North Carolina teacher salaries 37th.
Average salary figures are tied to the composition of the teacher workforce. While average teacher pay is important information, that figure is significantly influenced by the composition of the work force. For example, states with high-unionization among faculty and less population growth will have older and better paid teachers than non-unionized states or states with high growth rates. This requires state and communities to hire more teachers, many of which are new or have little experience in the classroom.
Quick changes make NEA rankings inaccurate. The ranking of NEA teacher salaries offers a snapshot in time. However, within months many states can and do move up and down the rankings based on new laws approved by legislatures and governors. As legislatures meet at different times during the year, these changes greatly impact the rankings but are not reflected in the “snap shot” of teacher salary rankings.
Teacher pay also involves benefits. NEA teacher pay figures do not include benefits. Teachers receive retirement pay, health insurance benefits and social security benefits. Health benefits per teacher: $5,869; retirement is 17.13 percent of salary. If average teacher salary is $51,214, the average retirement benefit is $8,773. Social Security is 7.65 percent of salary. With an average teacher salary of $51,214, the social security benefit is $3,918. Adding together health insurance, retirement and social security benefits the total value is $18,560.
NC average teacher pay has increased. In 2011 average teacher pay in North Carolina was $46,605. In 2018, North Carolina average teacher pay is $51,214, an increase of 9.8 percent over 7 years.
NEA teacher salary rankings provide useful information. However, it’s even more important to know the limitations of the data and the context in which the teachers work and are paid. The NEA report itself cautions:
…no set of tables tells the entire story of a state’s education offerings. Consideration of factors such as a state’s tax system, provisions for other public services, and population characteristics also are needed. Therefore, it is unwise to draw conclusions based solely on individual statistics in this report.
Sadly, our discussions have successfully ignored those considerations for years. It’s time to change.