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Jackson, Mississippi, USA skyline over the Capitol Building.
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The Bottom Line Overworked, Underappreciated, and Underpaid?

In Mississippi, where public schools continue to struggle, the House of Representatives has raised teacher pay on average by $4,000, starting in 2020. However, the final approval reduced the increase to $1,500 in the first year of the raise. It is now up to the Governor to approve or veto the raise for the state’s public school teachers.

In Jackson Free Press, author Ashton Pittman outlines the situation at hand: “Mississippi ranks near the bottom for teacher pay nationally, and the legislature consistently underfunds education. That has led to an exodus of teachers from the state, creating a growing teacher-shortage crisis.” Undoubtedly this is a significant issue and it surely is hurting Mississippi’s children. But what if there was a different approach?

Is the root of the problem really that teachers are overworked, underappreciated, and underpaid? If you were to ask those in the profession, many would say they believe this to be true. However, if you look more closely, the problem with teacher pay is not a matter of compensation at all, but a matter of underemployment.

Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Don Nielsen’s example from his book Every School illustrates the issue. He states “The average teacher in most states is paid a very attractive hourly wage. For example, average teacher pay in Seattle is $77,239 for a ten-month work year. That is low for the annual compensation of a trained professional. However, that same teacher is actually making $58.51 an hour, plus a generous package of benefits that few private-sector employers can match. Teachers in Seattle are employed for 1,320 hours per year, regardless of how many hours they might actually work. If that teacher were employed for a standard year of 2,080 hours, at the same hourly rate, their annual salary would be $121,710, a very competitive salary for a college graduate.”

This analysis clearly shows that what we have is an employment problem, not a compensation problem. The way for teachers to make more money is to work more hours in the year.

However, even with more work and greater compensation, another major problem exists with the current educational system. Mediocrity prevails over excellence. The current system pays more to teachers based on seniority or college credits or degrees than from a teacher’s proven effectiveness to educate children.

As Nielsen states “teachers should be paid based on their ability, not on their years of service.” Teachers whose students learn under their instruction should be paid more than teachers who fail to educate children successfully. In fact, an ineffective teacher should not be permitted to continue in the classroom, wasting students’ precious learning time.

A career ladder is one mechanism to ensure good teachers are rewarded for teaching performance, as well as providing clarity, structure, and direction for the profession. As Nielsen explains, “A career ladder would include job titles corresponding to levels such as Apprentice Teacher, Teacher, Senior Teacher and Master Teacher. A teacher would be promoted to the next level only after a certain number of years and a series of positive evaluations. Such a program would reward performance, and would give teachers the opportunity to increase their income while remaining in the profession. Teachers who did not get promoted beyond an apprentice level after a few years would be invited to leave the profession.”

Changing the way we select, train, and compensate our teachers is a big part of the system change necessary in educating all of our children. Teaching is one of the most important professions but the current system discourages our best and brightest from entering the profession, which in turn deprives our children.

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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