School administrators may be unable to halt one of the biggest pressures on the education labor market: the growing “pay penalty” that keeps what teachers earn well below the rising salaries of comparable private sector professionals.
Teacher salaries are not only well below those of other professionals but have been falling further behind for years, according to the online job site Zip Recruiter in its 2024 Labor Market Outlook for education. Only about a decade ago, government employees (more than 50% of whom are educators) earned about the same amount as all other workers, the analysis found.
“Arguably, teacher pay should have risen faster than that in other occupations following the pandemic, to compensate teachers for the increased burdens of their roles: a new virus risk, setbacks in test scores and mental health, understaffing, and the relative improvement of other occupations where work has become more flexible,” the authors of the report contend.
The pay gap for teachers has now grown to more than 25% as retirements outpace enrollment in teacher training programs, the report warns. But, as most district leaders know, that is not the only stressor.
Heavy workloads, difficulty achieving work-life balance, disruptive student behavior, lack of resources and limited advancement opportunities, are also straining the K12 workforce. On the other hand, workers continue to be attracted to education by ongoing learning opportunities and the security of set contracts.
Education labor market trends
The fastest-growing education job titles (or, the positions most in-demand) include:
- Instructional systems specialist
- Special education teacher
- Physical education teacher
- Academic tutor and mentor
- School psychologist
Even as administrators grapple with shortages, interest remains high in the broader field of education outside of school districts. ZipRecruiter is seeing strong interest in education consulting, tutoring, online education, curriculum design and employee development. “Teaching talent exists—it just tends to seek more autonomy, greater flexibility, and higher pay than the typical school provides,” the report contends.
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Rapid innovations in online learning could lure more educators away from traditional K12 education while students could be lured away by the convenience. The global online education market is projected to be a $319 billion industry by 2025, the report notes, as developers further gamify their platforms and integrate virtual and augmented reality.
Administrators wary of increased competition for staff from the private sector should also be aware that large corporations such as Lowe, McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are investing billions in upskilling their workforces. These companies are increasingly providing tuition assistance, training and other benefits.
Along with working with state policymakers and school boards to close pay gaps, districts can compete by offering “less common benefits that are popular with college-educated workers.” This includes tuition and loan repayment assistance, two perks that are listed in just 0.2% of education jobs posted on ZipRecruiter.