RALEIGH — An average North Carolina public school teacher draws more than $59,000 in annual compensation — $4,000 more than an average peer across the country. That’s the conclusion of the John Locke Foundation’s latest annual report on teacher pay.
“Adjusted for pension contributions, teacher experience, and cost of living, North Carolina’s adjusted annual teacher compensation is $59,252, high enough for North Carolina to rank No. 14 in the United States,” said report author Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “That’s $4,086 higher than the U.S. adjusted average and $674 higher than the average of states ranked by the Southern Regional Education Board. These numbers refute the cliche that North Carolina has underpaid schoolteachers who are victims of miserly, unappreciative, and ignorant taxpayers.”
Teachers have fared far better than other government employees in recent decades, Stoops said. “North Carolina’s average teacher pay nearly doubled between 1988 and 2008 — climbing by 93 percent,” he said. “On the other hand, state employees had pay increases totaling nearly 56 percent.”
The report recommends that North Carolina leaders shift their focus away from across-the-board teacher pay raises. “Despite multimillion-dollar increases in teacher pay, it has become clear that across-the-board raises unrelated to performance serve to reward both good teachers and mediocre ones, thus doing little to help students learn,” Stoops said. “A recent study from the University of Arkansas points to merit pay for teachers as one education reform that shows promise for raising student achievement.”
Now is the time to begin implementing a comprehensive teacher pay program that attracts and rewards excellence, Stoops said. “Education leaders can look at Guilford County’s Mission Possible as an excellent model for what a high-quality merit pay program should look like.”
Merit pay would mark a major change, Stoops said. “For years, lawmakers have ignored the facts and responded instead to misleading information put forward by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union,” he said. “That group has published teacher pay data that contain no adjustments for cost of living, pension contributions, or teacher experience. The NEA’s numbers have helped perpetuate myths about underpaid teachers.”
Annual NEA reports that understated North Carolina teacher compensation led to a misguided goal of “raising” the state’s average teacher pay to the national average, Stoops said. “While the teacher unions and their affiliates praise these efforts, raising salaries to an arbitrary goal like a national average produces positive media coverage, not better teachers.”
“Once the data are adjusted correctly, it’s clear North Carolina teacher compensation does not fall below the national average,” he said. “Plus there is no evidence that reaching an ‘average’ salary level would produce a significant increase in teacher recruitment and retention or student performance.”
Stoops’ report highlights the gap between the NEA’s numbers and the true picture. “The latest NEA report ranks North Carolina 30th in average teacher pay, with salaries $5,300 lower than the unadjusted U.S. average,” he said. “But even the union admits its rankings will not produce apples-to-apples comparisons of teacher pay across states.”
It’s easy to spot the problem with NEA data comparing unadjusted teacher salaries in North Carolina to those of states with high costs of living, such as Connecticut, New Jersey, and California, Stoops said. “Anyone who’s ever lived in a state with a higher cost of living knows better than to compare unadjusted salary figures across state lines.”
Useful comparisons also depend on data that factor in teachers’ years of experience, Stoops said. “Whether they deserve it or not, teachers are paid on a scale that increases their salary for each additional year of employment,” he said. “So states with a more experienced teacher workforce will post a higher average salary. On average, North Carolina’s teachers are less experienced than peers across the country. The NEA’s salary figure artificially deflates the state’s average teacher compensation when compared to other states.”
Once cost-of-living, pension, and experience factors are added to the raw data, a more accurate picture is easy to see, Stoops said. “Compared to our peers, teacher compensation in North Carolina is above average.”
Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “Annual Report on Teacher Pay: N.C. teacher compensation is more than $4,000 higher than the national average,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].