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Researcher: Math and Science Teachers Should Get Higher Pay

New research from the Brookings Institution provides empirical backing for the widely held notion that math and science teachers can generally find higher paying jobs outside of education.

The study, according to a blog post by co-author Martin R. West, a Brookings nonresident senior fellow, looked at the employment records of some 32,000 teachers in Florida over a seven-year period. It found that math and science teachers who left the profession for a new job "earned 15 percent and 12 percent more, respectively, than did former English teachers after leaving." In addition, science teachers were "heavily over-represented" among teachers who left for new jobs.

The results, West says, bolster the argument that schools need to modify "teacher compensation systems to offer larger salaries for math and science teachers as a means to improve teacher quality—and student achievement—in these subjects." He argues that, though well-intended and understandable, efforts to value teachers equally across subject areas may ultimately be hurting schools:

[T]he outside labor market is a reality that school districts cannot simply ignore. By not allowing teacher compensation to vary with outside earnings opportunities, we implicitly ask individuals with strong math and science skills to make a larger financial sacrifice to enter and remain in the profession. It is students who lose out when too few of them prove willing to do so.

West acknowledges, however, that recent surveys show that both educators and the American public are generally not in favor of differentiating teacher pay based solely on subject area.

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