Education International
Education International

Education pays a high price for low teacher pay

published 9 January 2012 updated 12 January 2012

One of EI’s US affiliates, the National Education Association (NEA), has reported on a recent cross-country analysis of teacher pay and pupil performance. The study backs up the idea that better teacher pay leads to higher teaching quality and improved student performance.

Peter Dolton and Oscar Marcanero-Gutierrez, Economics professors at the University of London and University of Málaga respectively, have examined the enormous variation in teacher pay across 39 countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its significance for educational outcomes over the last 15 years.

The study If You Pay Peanuts, Do You Get Monkeys? collects data from the OECD annual Education at a Glance reports, as well as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). This data has been analysed to determine the relationship between pay and student achievement.

Dolton and Gutierrez conclude that a 10% increase in teachers’ pay would produce a 5-10% increase in student performance. Additionally, they identify two key factors that determine how professional pay enhances teacher quality. Firstly, higher pay promotes more and better teaching applicants. Secondly, improving pay increases the ‘national status’ of the profession, again making it more attractive to potential recruits.

NEA President, Dennis Van Roekel, said that he found hearing how a high regard for the teaching profession can produce dramatic improvements in student learning. He added: “too many educators have been denied competitive, professional pay for too long: low pay comes at a high cost for schools and kids.”

The issue of teacher pay is at the heart of the current debate on educational policy reforms within the USA and the pressures to reduce public spending in the context of the economic crisis. For instance, last week the journal New York Times invited a few members of the education policy world to answer the question Are Teachers Overpaid?. The underlined question was: Should public schools raise teachers’ pay to attract more of the top students who tend to go into higher-paying professions?

The teaching profession has reached historical rates of turnover amongst young graduates in the US: one-third of new teachers leave the profession within the first three years, and nearly half within five years of being hired for the first time. Therefore, the education unions stress the importance of creating the conditions required to make teaching a respected, well-supported profession, where teachers are viewed positively and compensated fairly.

Towards this goal, strengthening the profession through the collective action of unions is key, as pointed out by Randi Weingarten, President of EI’s other US affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers: “It’s time to stop talking about the importance of teacher quality. It’s time to start building a high-quality education system by cultivating high-quality educators—from excellent teacher colleges, with deep experience.”

Weingarten also highlighted the importance of guaranteeing “on-going professional support throughout a teacher’s career, in an environment that encourages respect.” She ended with a challenge: “To any doubter who wants to criticise our profession, I invite you: Come and teach!”

To read the report summary of the study If You Pay Peanuts, Do You Get Monkeys? please go here.