Teachers’ Base Salary and Districts’ Academic Performance: Evidence From National Data, García & Han, 2022

Anyone within a stone’s throw of my social media or who knows me personally would likely place a bet on my reaction to this new study by García & Han.

<Insert expletive of your choosing> Yes!

But it sure is lovely to have researchers arguing my point. #PayTeachersMore is a rallying cry that more and more non-educators are seeming to get behind. And that, it turns out, is a good thing for children. While admittedly, the authors cannot claim a causal relationship between a higher salary for teachers and improved test scores, due to confounding factors, García & Han state that their “estimates appear to offer strong evidence on the positive relationship between teacher salaries and district performance”. They found significantly higher math and English test scores in districts that offer a higher base salary. Quantifying this, the authors found a 10% increase in teacher salary was associated with + .2 points in test scores for both subjects. My over-caffeinated, highly-reductive response to this is: we should continue raising teacher salaries and measuring impact on broader, more longitudinal measures such as student mental well-being and career and college readiness measures. Who’s with me?

But, let’s step back and take a moment to examine teacher salaries between 2002-2017 on their own. Teacher salaries are low, and in most places, have only marginally risen over the past two decades. I’ll recycle some previously shared data here to emphasize a point: The wage gap between teachers and the rest of the comparably educated workforce was about 21% in 2018. That disparity was a much smaller 6% back in 1996.” Why is that? How has our society moved forward while abandoning the folks we depend on to educate the next generation? This mindset seems pretty backward for a country embracing capitalism, dependent on the skills and knowledge of each successive generation. Perhaps with more solid data connecting teacher pay to student success, the needle will move in the right direction.

This is an obvious starting place for anyone who has ever taught. The load is heavy and the days are long. I will leave you with that before I spiral into how this connects to the teacher shortage (feel free to dive in yourself by reading another one of García‘s writings here).

Say it with me, we need to #PayTeachersMore.

I would be remiss if I omit a critique of the language used within the publication:

  1. The term minority, when describing non-white communities, is simply not an accurate depiction of the world’s composition. It is a demeaning term, rooted in systems of oppression, and operates in a deficit-based fashion, and while this study focuses on American teachers and students, it really has no place in an education publication.
  2. Additionally, I was under the impression that we canceled the term, “achievement gap.”  As the problem statement from non-profit change-agent, One Goal, states, “Potential and talent are equally distributed, but opportunity is not.” Let’s center resource and opportunity distribution rather than the effect it has on student achievement.