Teacher wage gap: K12 is no different than the wider workforce

Female teachers, who make up the majority of the teaching ranks, earn about $4,000 less than men in the profession with similar characteristics and in similar contexts.

When experience, education level, and school characteristics are similar, a sizable teacher wage gap disadvantages women in the K12 workforce.

Most administrators should not be surprised that women make up a majority of the teaching ranks. What may be shocking is that female teachers earn about $4,000 less than males in the profession and discrimination may be among the reasons, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization. “This means a 7% bonus paid to women only would be needed to fully equalize pay between genders,” the authors of the report said. “These wage gaps are real and pervasive across many settings.”

All of the report’s comparisons were based on female and male teachers with similar characteristics and in similar contexts, and teacher wage gaps were evident in both base salary and supplemental compensation. Male teachers make about $700 more in base pay and $1,500 more in supplemental compensation. One reason is that male teachers are somewhat more likely to take on extra duties and get paid for them, and this gap is even wider in schools with male principals, the study asserts.

Why is there a teacher wage gap?

At the top of the K12 ladder, female superintendents earn about the same as or more than male leaders, according to a new survey released last week by AASA, The School Superintendent Association. The Brookings report may give superintendents and their more insight into what’s going on with compensation at the classroom level when.

“Gaps due to women’s personal choices to work less after school hardly merit a policy response, though a response is warranted if men are getting paid more than women for the same after-school work,” the report’s authors assert.

Here are the report’s three key findings:

1. All school income sources show gender wage gaps: Wage gaps narrow when adjusted for teaching assignments, school, and state differences. Further discrepancies can plausibly be explained by labor supply factors in which men tend to choose to work in more competitive and higher-paying settings. Gaps that remain after these adjustments are more attributable to discrimination, which was most evident in compensation for activities outside a teacher’s main responsibilities.

2. Differences in extra duty pay suggest discrimination: Signs of unfair pay practices emerge most obviously in how male and female teachers are—or aren’t—compensated for extra work. Male teachers are more likely than females to take on additional duties between ages 21 to 36, when women are most likely to be having children. Still, this does not explain when men are more likely to be compensated for extra work. “Similar patterns of women disproportionately performing extra work (often uncompensated) to support employer needs are also observed among college professors and in laboratory settings,” the report attests.

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3. Gender wage gaps shape-shift depending on the union context: Teacher wage gaps exist in states with and without collective bargaining, regardless of the size of the district or its teachers union. The largest disparities exist in the small districts in non-collective bargaining states. The gaps were smallest where unions have the biggest influence—in large districts in collective bargaining states.

How schools can achieve equal pay

The are several steps that the report suggests district leaders take to close teacher wage gaps:

  • Increased pay transparency: Regularly collecting and reporting high-level patterns in payroll data, with a focus on gender equality, would make a district’s compensation practices more transparent. Leaders could create supplemental pay policies that prescribe extracurricular sponsors’ expected qualifications, skills, duties, and compensation.
  • Strengthening collective bargaining: Only six state mandate that these agreements cover supplemental compensation, the biggest driver of K12 wage gaps. Gender disparities widened in Wisconsin classrooms after recent changes to state bargaining laws.
  • Salary history bans: These policies prohibit employers from accessing information about a new hire’s past compensation. If a teacher has been unfairly compensated in the past, using salary histories could perpetuate gaps across districts.
  • Participatory budgeting: With this relatively novel approach, schools invite parents, community members, and teachers into the decision-making process.
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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