When and how teachers receive raises can be just as important as how much they are paid at the start and end of their careers, according to a new report on teacher pay from the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Paying teachers more, sooner, adds up to greater earnings over their lifetimes and can keep good teachers from leaving the profession for more lucrative careers, the report states.
The report used 2013-14 salary data to study more than 100 of the country’s largest school districts, including two in Washington (Seattle and Spokane) and looked at what teachers make, how long it takes for them to make it and what it buys them.
The average U.S. teacher works for 24 years before reaching a salary of $75,000, which is roughly the maximum salary a teacher earns over a 30-year career.
In Seattle, a teacher will make that much after 11 years, according to the report. In Spokane, it will take a teacher more than 30 years to reach the $75,000 mark.
Other professionals such as lawyers and doctors start earning their maximum salaries far sooner. Teachers are typically rewarded for their experience with small, incremental increases. That translates into significantly fewer earnings for teachers over their lifetimes.
Districts should consider that fact when setting salary schedules, said Nancy Waymack, the National Council’s managing director for district policy.
Looking only at starting and ending salaries can be misleading, she said, because it can cover up big discrepancies in lifetime earnings between school districts.
“When teachers are looking for jobs, they should certainly consider not only where their pay would start but also how quickly it would grow,” she said.
A teacher in Rochester, N.Y., for instance, will make more at the start and end of her career than a teacher in Milwaukee, Wis., the report states. But after 30 years, the Milwaukee teacher comes out ahead by about $125,000.
Seattle falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to how much its teachers make over a career after adjusting for cost of living. An average teacher here will make $1.9 million over a 30-year career, while an average teacher in Columbus, Ohio — at the top end of the report’s findings — will make $2.4 million. New York City teachers fell close to the bottom of the report’s income scale with lifetime earnings of $1.4 million after taking cost-of-living into account.
Offering high starting salaries is not enough to shape teaching into the sustainable, professional career it deserves to be, the report concluded. Instead, it said, districts should allow teachers to reach their peak salary earlier.
Correction: This post, originally published at 5 a.m. Dec. 3, was updated at 5:45 p.m. Dec. 11. Due to flaws in an analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality, the original version included several incorrect figures regarding the lifetime earnings of teachers nationwide.