Teacher Pay Review

Liam Julian

Florida Department of Education
May 2006

Florida gets a lot of grief for its low ranking in national surveys of average teacher salaries. But this study by the state's education department posits that such comparisons of teacher pay are unfair and don't account for the wide variations in how analysts calculate average salaries. The report examines studies of teacher salaries-including those by the NEA, AFT, and NCES-and also investigates how fourteen other states (some in the Southeast, others with demographic similarities to Florida) calculate their average teacher pay. It found that "valid and reliable comparisons of states' teacher salaries continue to elude statisticians and researchers across the country." Why? Because states arrive at their individual average teacher salaries in wildly different ways. Seven of the fifteen states surveyed (Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) include bonuses in their calculations, and four (Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee) include supplemental pay. And all but two of the states in question (Florida and Texas) have state income taxes. Thus, the average teachers in those thirteen taxed states have take-home paychecks thousands of dollars lower than their reported salaries suggest. Further complicating matters is that states not only vary in their definitions of "average salary" but also in their definition of "teacher." Florida counts all instructional staff-librarians, social workers, guidance counselors, etc.-in its average teacher salary calculations, while Georgia and North Carolina count only classroom educators. In short, the report illustrates that valid cross-state comparisons of average teacher salaries are nearly impossible with current data. Commendably, the authors put forth a concrete example of a simplified system that would make such calculations easier, unified, and useful. Let's hope that other states are receptive to the idea. As it now stands, comparing teacher salaries in Alabama and Connecticut is akin to comparing apples and prunes. Read the report here.