Need Teachers? Show Them the Money

Jennifer Gross talks with new teachers during orientation at Seven Oaks Elementary School in Odenton, Md., in 2007.
Jennifer Gross talks with new teachers during orientation at Seven Oaks Elementary School in Odenton, Md., in 2007. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By J.H. Snider
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Many teachers are woefully underpaid. But to recruit the best teachers, why not disclose and promote how much they could earn? Consider Anne Arundel County, which is one of the 50 largest school districts in the United States and considers itself poor compared with neighboring school districts in Montgomery and Howard counties.

In 2001, the Anne Arundel public school system spent $11,000 for a teacher recruitment billboard on Route 50, the major artery leading from the county to Washington. The billboard read: "Be a Hero; Teach With Us." Today, when Maryland and Anne Arundel County education leaders are asserting that the public schools face a crisis in finding enough teachers, an effective billboard to recruit teachers should read: "Earn $100,000; Teach With Us."

As of June 30, about 111 teachers and guidance counselors in Anne Arundel earned more than $100,000 a year in salary, with the top salary being $131,475. A family headed by two experienced spouses teaching in Anne Arundel could earn income among the top 5 percent of American families -- and in a recession-proof occupation.

These salary figures exclude benefits, where teacher compensation has the greatest advantage over the private sector. These include outstanding health, dental and vision family benefits totaling more than $15,000 a year. But the most extraordinary benefits are retirement benefits. Teachers retiring at age 52 with 30 years of eligible service and two years of accumulated unused paid leave are promised, for the rest of their lives, health-care benefits (up to $10,892 a year) and a guaranteed pension (up to $66,700 a year, plus an annual cost-of-living adjustment). If such a teacher lives to an expected age of 82, that results in more than $2.3 million in retirement benefits -- approximately $1 in lifetime retirement benefits for every dollar of lifetime salary.

Nevertheless, Anne Arundel County still appeals to altruism when recruiting teachers. In the media, school leaders invariably mention the lowest possible starting teacher salaries when the question of teacher compensation arises. Even in teacher job postings, compensation is systematically underreported. During the hiring season for the current school year, for example, job postings for teachers listed the salary range as only $41,383 to $80,949. No mention was made of the numerous bonuses or outstanding benefits now available to teachers.

In Maryland, the Teacher Shortage Task Force, staffed by the Maryland Department of Education, issued a report last June calling for responding to Maryland's teacher shortage with a recruitment campaign based on the tagline: "Transfer Knowledge, Transform Lives" -- again, appealing to the altruism of prospective teachers. The American Federation of Teachers pamphlet addressed to prospective teachers starts with the section "Why Teach?" -- which doesn't even mention pay or job security. The National Education Association tells prospective teachers that "not only do teachers start lower [with lower pay] than other professionals, but the more years they put into teaching, the wider the gap gets." No wonder a recent Education Next survey found that Americans underestimated average teacher salaries in their states by 30 percent.

The SEC posts online detailed compensation data, including benefits and deferred compensation, for senior management of publicly traded companies. The posted data is in a structured, downloadable format, so the public can slice and dice it for comparative analyses. Similar disclosure should be required from public schools.

Too often teachers are underpaid. But residents of Anne Arundel County (and elsewhere) have made tremendous sacrifices to pay for the compensation necessary to recruit the best possible teachers. Hiding the fruits of that sacrifice from prospective teachers is wasteful and damages the quality of our public school systems.

-- J.H. Snider

Washington

The writer is president of iSolon.org. He is a former school board member and has written widely on education policy.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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