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Wash. Math, Science Teachers Paid Less Than Colleagues, Study Finds

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Washington state pays its math and science teachers, on average, lower salaries than other teachers, in what appears to undercut plans by that state's leaders to invest more heavily in the quality of math and science teachers, a new analysis concludes.

The analysis, released today by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, faults the structure of the salary schedule for the disparity. It hypothesizes that math and science teachers may be leaving the teaching profession for other, more highly paid opportunities, thus resulting in a less-experienced and less highly paid cadre of educators in those subjects.

Like most salary schedules, Washington's rewards teachers for longevity and credentials, but not for other factors.

Researchers Jim Simpkins, Marguerite Roza, and Cristina Sepe analyzed data from the state's 30 largest districts, from 122 high schools in which more than 7,150 teachers worked.

They discovered that in 19 of the 30 districts studied, the average base pay of math and science teachers lagged that of their peers. And in 21 of the 30 districts, math and science teachers' years of experience fell behind their peers'. That's problematic because research has shown that teachers typically grow in effectiveness their first five years in the classroom.

"Washington state, despite its earnest commitment to high school math and science teaching, actually ends up spending less per teacher in the two subject areas it wants to emphasize," the authors write. "If a salary schedule instead tied wages to some measure of labor market value, ... we might expect to find that math and science teachers routinely ended up with higher pay than their peers."

The paper doesn't deal with other states, but it's logical to assume that similar patterns could sprout up in other locations that don't offer premiums for high-need fields.

Meanwhile, the issue of subject-specific pay represents one of the big differences in the way the two national teachers' unions approach compensation issues. The policy of the National Education Association—the parent of the Washington state affiliate—eschews higher pay for math and science teachers (though some affiliates have bargained it). The American Federation of Teachers, meanwhile, remains open to the practice.

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