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Let's Increase Teacher Base Pay


Megan M. Allen

I fell out of my chair this morning. Right there at the breakfast table as I was sipping my morning coffee (and no, my collapse wasn't due to lack of caffeine), my eyes had landed on a blog post going viral among teachers and parents alike, by National Board-certified teacher Erica Speaks of North Carolina.

Speaks examined changes in the average public school teacher's salary in each of the 50 states over the past decade. Her beautifully crafted infographic made me sick to my belly. I wasn't queasy because these facts were new—it was just a little more painful to see them spelled out in black and white. A couple takeaways from her research:

• Only 19 states have had a percentage increase in average teacher salary in the last 10 years.
• Of those, 5 states have had an increase of less than 2 percent.
• That leaves a whooping 31 (gasp!) states that have had a decrease in salary.
• My state of Florida? A 7.3 percent decrease.
• Even more upsetting? North Carolina in last place with a whopping 15.7 percent decrease (I fell on the floor again reading this).

And folks, we're not factoring in cost of living increases.

Nothing new. But an urgent message: We must allocate time, money, and attention to teacher compensation. ASAP. As educators, we shouldn't be afraid to get compensated for the detailed and intricate work we do, both in and outside the classroom.

I've spent a lot of brainpower on this monster issue. Once with a group of teacher leaders across Florida, taking our report to the governor's office and having a press conference on the steps of the state legislature (to no avail ... yet).

But this time, I want to focus on a starting point: base pay. Why? It is essential to recruiting the best, elevating our profession, and retaining effective teachers.

Let's start by comparing national average starting salaries earned by new graduates with different degrees:

• Education: Between $35,672 and $40,000.
• Health sciences: Almost $50,000
• Business: About $54,000
• Engineering: Almost $60,000
• Finance: $57,000

Next, a question: You're a high school senior, graduating at the top of your class. The world is your oyster. You seek a profession that will someday enable you to support yourself, buy a home, afford a little social life on the weekends, and put some moolah into retirement. What career avenues would you be looking into?

Probably not education.

It's time to take the lead of countries such as Singapore, Finland, and South Korea—countries that raised the floor for base pay for teachers right out of the gate and saw tangible results in student gains and the health of the teaching profession. So come on. Let's take the leap. We can't afford to wait.

Megan Allen is a 2012-13 teacherpreneur with the Center for Teaching Quality and Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida.

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