Why Do Teachers Make Less Money?

It is my opinion that public school teachers have lost ground in pay equality over the past 15 years.  No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001 with bipartisan support from Congress.  I personally believe that the passage of this act changed the way money was spent for schools at the state and local level, and because of this, less money has been available for teacher pay.  The requirement for standardized testing attracted the attention of big businesses, which entered the education world.  

Standardized testing requires a state-wide standardized curriculum, and states and school districts have had to pay for test development every year since 2001.  The state pays teachers to create the standardized curriculum and develop standardized tests that will be given to every child in the state in all four core subjects.  The school division has to pay teachers supplemental pay to develop units and lesson plans from the state's requirements.  At both the state and local level, that is a K-12 process for reading, writing, social studies, math, and science.  Teachers have to monitor their curriculum and "update" and "upgrade" it yearly.  They have to analyze their units and the questions students are missing the most so that they can change/enrich their lesson plans for next year to help insure that more students have passing scores. 

Basically, for a teacher it is an analysis of how well they taught this year and what they can do next year to better their students' scores. It's a very intentional process. For a department, it is an analysis of how well did students do in a subject and what can teachers do to improve scores in that subject. Then principals and central office staff work on bettering scores across the school and the division.  (What are teachers doing right that can be shared with others?   Thus, more funding is spent on professional development at the school/division level). 

In addition, scores have to be tracked to ensure that students have passed the tests required for graduation.  This requires data disaggregation at both the state and local level for every grade K-12 in all four core subjects. Disaggregation of data drills down to analysis of individual questions on each unit test in each subject.  Most subjects have 8-12 units per year, and there are usually 25-50 questions per unit test. 

Remediation plans have to be developed at the local level K-12 in all four subjects for each unit.  This requires supplemental pay for development of such plans, plus the cost of online data disaggregation systems.  Online data systems require more computers and teacher training.  Professional development has to be provided to teach everyone how to mine, read and understand the data. Most school systems now have "data" management departments which was not the case in the past. In fact, it is not unusual for many schools have additional data positions. 

Online testing for students requires more computers in schools.  At the central office level, technology departments have been added with support staff to maintain the equipment (computers, printers, other instructional technology).   Professional development has to be provided so everyone knows how to use the technology. 

The growth spurt for increased technology has led to increased costs for divisions including equipment and maintenance.   Technology is in addition to traditional textbooks. More teachers are using technology but since a rural county like Orange doesn't have a wireless infrastructure to support online access at home, there is still a dependence on traditional texts since online texts can't be accessed at home. 

When I retired, textbooks for high schools cost about $100 (AP books are higher--$135-$150 range; K-8 were $60-85 range).  Couple that cost with cost of technology, and you have increased costs for divisions in the instructional materials budget lines too.  Materials, technology, curriculum development, data management systems, increased number of personnel--all add to costs for state and local school administration. 

With increased costs at the state and local level, less money is available for teacher pay raises for a whole variety of reasons that are no one's fault.  However, it is now time for states and divisions to make teacher pay a priority. Because of a teacher's importance in the learning process, we have to have the best teachers possible, and quite frankly, low wages do not attract the best and brightest who can go into other occupations and make more money.  In rural divisions without a hearty tax base, wages have stagnated over the past 15 years.  Many teachers aren’t receiving a pay raise that meets costs of living increases.

Pay raises are complicated when there is a limited budget at the federal, state, and local level.  To free up funding, state and federal governments are going to have to remove some of the mandates or provide more financial support at the local level since local boards of supervisors will not solve the problem by continually raising taxes every year or two.  I admit too that schools have to be more financially efficient than in the past. Schools have a tendency to solve learning problems by hiring more personnel.  To me, that is not the answer.  Hiring more people doesn't always help.  It's hiring the best and brightest who care about students and who teach compassionately and effectively the “first” time--before the tests and retests and remediation cycle begins.  Hiring quality takes money.  Schools have to be able to compete financially with the business sector for personnel.  It's that simple really.  But where does the money come from in an age that demands standardized testing?  

So let teachers strike. They deserve to make an honest living without having to work multiple jobs and their conversations about the quality of education in an age of standardized testing need to be heard.