(submitted in response to the June 28, 1999 Plain Dealer editorial "the Value of a Teacher")
June 28, 1999
The opening line to your “The Value of a Teacher” editorial, “These days are good ones to be a teacher—at least from a pocketbook perspective,” is misleading and does not tell the whole story. According to the U. S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ October 1998 publication The Condition of Education 1998, average teachers’ salaries (when adjusted for inflation in 1997 constant dollars) have fallen since 1991 from $39,678 to $38,921 in 1997. Even worse, this represents about the same amount that teachers received in 1973 ($38,171). Steady increases from 1982-1991 (from $32,894 to $39,678) have barely made up for the sharp declines of 1974-1981 (from $37,009 to $32,713) and relative stagnation of 1992-1997 ($39,584 to $38,921). The eighties might have been great days to be a teacher from a pocketbook perspective, but not the nineties.
While the editorial did point out that these figures represent teachers with years of experience (an average of 14.3 years in Cuyahoga County), it neglected to mention three key factors of teachers’ pay scales. The first is that most scales stop at about 15 years of experience. This means that most teachers are already at the top of the scale and can never go any higher which largely explains the decrease in real wage earnings over time. The second is that the starting salaries on such scales are usually one-half of the 15 year maximum or $22,000 to $25,000. This makes it very difficult to attract recent college graduates who can immediately earn 50-100% more in other professions.
The third and most influential factor in these scales is that the highest degree earned is even more important than years of experience. If a teacher decides not to pursue a Masters degree, he or she will usually be “frozen” much earlier (at 5-7 years experience) on the pay scale. The top of the scale (double the starting salary) is usually reserved for teachers with a Masters degree and 12-15 years of experience. Not surprisingly, nearly half of all teachers in Cuyahoga County (49.54%) and statewide (45.25%) hold at least one graduate degree. This fact makes it difficult to keep quality teachers because, again, these salaries pale in comparison to those of other professionals with advanced degrees.
Thus, when discussing the “hefty” county average of $46,032, one must keep in mind that four of the state’s five top paying districts are included in this average (Beachwood $55,825, Cuyahoga Hts. $53,201, Orange $52,338, Shaker Hts. $51,733). These districts rank among the highest in teachers with Masters degrees (Shaker Hts. 78.96%, Orange 69.1%, Beachwood 67.59%, Cuyahoga Hts. 59.33%) and most years of experience (Cuyahoga Hts. 17.5, Beachwood 17, Shaker 16.4, Orange 15.1). Not surprisingly, Cleveland and other districts with the lowest average salaries (Maple Hts. $37,632, Brooklyn $41,397, Berea $42,044, Cleveland $42,453) also rank among the lowest in teachers with Masters degrees (Maple Hts. 32.97%, Brooklyn 35.38%, Berea 35.7%, Cleveland 44.02%) and fewest years of experience (Maple Hts. 10.8, Cleveland 13.8, Brooklyn 14.1, Berea 14.6).
Milton Alan Turner