In theory, the quality of teacher impacts the quality of education students receive. In the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954, the USSC rejected the argument that students in unequal schools could receive equal education. However, if teachers are important, then how do we reconcile the Court’s decision with these findings:
- There’s a huge disparity in teacher pay between school systems. Affluent districts pay much higher salaries than others.
- Charter schools, which are supposed to be the road to improve education, pay much lower salaries than most public school districts.
New Jersey treats teachers as public employees, and their salaries are public information. Without going into detail on all 650 public school districts and charter schools in the state (available at reference 1 below), here’s the outlines of the situation:
- The median salary in 2016 for a school teacher in NJ was $66,117 per year.
- Northern Valley Regional district in affluent Bergen County paid the most, with a median salary of $105,650.
- Teachers in the Edison Township school district in Middlesex County had a median salary of $95,432.
- At the other end, Milford Township in Hunterdon County had a median salary of $48,007.
New Jersey just isn’t that large geographically. The cost of living is relatively uniform across the state.
Many/most of the charter schools are worse: for example the Jersey City Global and Red Bank charter schools both have median salaries of $42,000. Of course, the charter schools haven’t been around as long. We could expect salaries to increase with teacher seniority. However, the need to generate profits at many of these schools may restrict what goes into the classroom.
If you were a capable teacher, where would you want to teach? Where would you expect the best teachers to go? How does this reconcile with equality of educational opportunity?
By comparison, NJ is one of the best-paying states for teachers in the US. The only states that pay as much or more are Alaska, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts and New York. Maryland pay is lower than NJ, but close. (2) Conversely, South Dakota and Mississippi are at the low end of teacher pay, paying less than 65% of what New Jersey pays.
Again, where would the best go?
- Tom Davis, “NJ Median Teacher Salaries, Highest To Lowest: How Much Does Your District Pay?” NJ Patch, 24 April 2017. https://patch.com/new-jersey/princeton/s/g3o6z/n-j-median-teacher-salaries-highest-to-lowest-how-much-does-your-district-pay?utm_source=alert-breakingnews&utm_medium=email&utm_term=weather&utm_campaign=alert
- National Center for Education Statistics, 2013. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_211.60.asp