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What's Behind the Gender Pay Gap Among Educators?

Female teachers, principals, and superintendents in Pennsylvania earn significantly less money than their male counterparts, a new study shows. Gender pay gaps have also been found among educators in Illinois as well as nationally.

"For teachers and school leaders, the evidence tells a troubling story," said James Sadler, a doctoral student in the school of education at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who co-wrote the study with fellow doctoral student James Carter III. "Women are earning less than their male counterparts even though salary schedules are largely determined by education-level and experience, which we accounted for in the study."

The study looked at the salaries of 124,000 district employeesteachers, principals, assistant principals, superintendents, assistant superintendents, and charter school CEOsof Pennsylvania public schools. The data come from the 2016-17 Professional Personal Individual Staff Report issued by the Pennsylvania education department, which lists information including salary, years on the job, and highest degree attained for everyone who works in the district. 

Wage Gap Findings

The researchers found that female educators (including teachers on up to superintendents and CEOs) in Pennsylvania earn $4,395 less on average than male educators when only accounting for gender differences. After accounting for education level, experience, school district, and job title, female teachers earn $505 less than men, and women principals earn $2,206 less. Women superintendents earn $4,014 less than men in the same roles after accounting for education level and experience.

The smallest gap, the $505 difference between what male and female teachers with similar education and experience make, is still remarkable, Carter stressed. "It adds up over time," he said in an interview. "Not only that, it's around the same amount of money teachers shell out of their own pockets each year for school supplies." (The average teacher spends $479 of her own money each year on classroom supplies, according to federal data.)

When researchers zeroed in on individual districts, they found a good deal of variation. Some districts like Pittsburgh have large gender wage gaps. Female Pittsburgh teachers earn $1,626 less than men, even after accounting for education, experience, and job title. Other districts, like Philadelphia for instance, have no evidence of significant gaps. These findings lead researchers to believe that district policy, official or otherwise, may be contributing to the salary differences between male and female educators, according to Sadler. (More on this later.)

For Pittsburgh teachers, the gender pay gap largely disappears only at the highest step on the salary schedule—or among teachers with more than 10 years of experience.

Still, officials at the Pennsylvania State Education Association are heartened by the Pittsburgh finding, saying that it confirms statewide analyses, which find no gender pay differences after about 17 years. At that point, "most female teachers have reached the top of the scale and are paid the same amount as their male counterparts," Wythe Keever, the assistant communications director at the Pennsylvania State Education Association, told Education Week.

The new study shows that the teacher salary schedule is actually working, according to Keever. "While the study does attempt to document gender pay gaps in Pennsylvania public schools, that gender gap is still substantially lower than pay gaps found in many other occupations," he said. "This shows the strength of the single-salary schedule in reducing gender pay differences."

Negotiations a Culprit?

The researchers can't say exactly why the gender wage gap exists based on their data set, but they do pose a hypothesis that merits further study. The salary differences could come down to salary negotiations. Superintendent salaries, for instance, are largely negotiated with school boards while teachers and principals with prior work experience may be able to negotiate which step on the salary schedule they start on, depending on district policies.

Early in the study, Sadler and Carter thought pay for performance programs, such as the one used in Pittsburgh from July 2010 to August 2017, might be playing a part in the gender wage gap, but eventually determined the merit strategy didn't have any significant impact.

Future researchers might look at staffing and salary schedule placement in high-needs subject areas like math and science, Keever suggested. One question he said researchers might ask: "Do school districts hire more men for math and science teaching positions and place them higher on the salary schedule to solve their shortage problems?"

Sadler and Carter account for staffing by subject areas like math and science, but their study does not directly analyze whether men are hired more in math and science positions and, if so, if these men are paid more than the average female teacher. But gender gaps still remain even after accounting for placement on the salary schedule based on job assignment. Sadler's conclusion: "We know job assignment plays some role in the salary gap based on our models, but it certainly doesn't explain all or even most of it."


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