January 23, 2008

RALEIGH – An average North Carolina public school teacher earns $5,400 more than her average peer across the country, once cost of living and other factors are weighed correctly. That’s according to a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

Click here to view and here to listen to Terry Stoops discussing this Spotlight report.

“When adjusted for pension contributions, teacher experience, and cost of living, North Carolina’s adjusted annual teacher compensation is $55,731, the 10th-highest teacher compensation total in the United States,” said Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “That’s $5,401 higher than the U.S. adjusted average and $3,683 higher than the average of states tied to the Southern Regional Education Board. While some people say North Carolina is in danger of falling behind other states, this report shows North Carolina teachers earn substantially more than the national average.”

The report recommends that the state shift its 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 January 2007 study from the University of Arkansas points to merit pay for teachers as one education reform that shows promise for raising student achievement. Policymakers and elected officials in North Carolina should work toward discontinuing across-the-board pay increases and begin to implement a comprehensive teacher pay program that attracts and rewards excellence.”

Merit pay would mark a change in course. The education establishment has campaigned for years on the theme that teachers are “victims of miserly, unappreciative, and ignorant taxpayers,” Stoops said. “The data do not support that argument. The push for higher teacher pay amounts to conciliatory public relations, not sensible public policy. There is no evidence that reaching an ‘average’ salary level will produce a significant increase in teacher recruitment and retention or student performance.”

Misconceptions about North Carolina’s teacher pay spring from a report released each year from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, Stoops said. “The latest NEA report ranks North Carolina 25th in average teacher pay for 2006-2007, with salaries $4,400 lower than the U.S. average,” he said. “Too many people cast an uncritical eye on those numbers. The NEA’s unadjusted figures are misleading because they ignore important differences between states. The NEA does not take into account major differences among states in cost of living, pension contributions, and teacher experience levels. The NEA admits that its rankings will not produce apples-to-apples comparisons 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.”

The impact of teacher experience is also important, he said. “Teachers are paid on a scale that increases their salary for each additional year of employment — whether they deserve more pay or not — so states with a more experienced teacher workforce will post a higher average salary,” Stoops said. “On average, North Carolina’s teachers are less experienced than the national average, so 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, Georgia and Alabama are the only Southeastern states that rival North Carolina’s adjusted teacher compensation, Stoops said. “Compared to our peers, teacher compensation in North Carolina is superb.”

Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “Annual Report on Teacher Pay: N.C. teacher compensation is more then $5,000 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].