Math and Science Teachers Earn Less Than Other Teachers, Study Says

Aug 19, 2010
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.
Wendell Woods, a Detroit middle school special education teacher, protests merit pay, class size and extended school days with the Detroit Federation of Teachers. (Photo: Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

For years, America has been relinquishing its grip on the top spots in education rankings.

Blaming fingers point at standardized tests, lazy teachers, unmotivated students, underfunded schools—you name it.

At the elementary level, the downward slide has principals, parents and administrators worrying over the trajectory of their students as they pass from grade to grade.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times reported on a teacher who was panicked at the prospect of calling parents to inform them their children no longer qualified as "gifted," after only 65 percent of students passed revised, and tougher, math and English tests.

At the high school level, the lag bleeds into college readiness. The Wall Street Journal reported today that, "In the recent [ACT test] results, only 24 percent of the graduating class of 2010 scored high enough on the ACT in math, reading, English and science to ensure they would pass entry-level college courses."

Today, in response to a question regarding the "education crisis," President Obama told Columbus, Ohio, residents that he wants "the federal government to work with school districts to improve the quality of K-12 education, particularly math and science." 

Core competency is a goal on many educators' minds—and even people outside of education—but how do we get there?

In Washington state, where lawmakers and state officials often echo President Obama's sentiments, the actions of schools are incongruous: a new study from the University of Washington (UW) says math and science teachers are paid less than their collegues.

According to the study (pdf) conducted by UW's Center on Reinventing Public Education, "Nineteen of the 30 largest districts in the state spend less per math or science teacher than for teachers in other subjects."

The study also said math teachers in Washington state have high turnover rates, resulting in less experience among them, and cites “existing salary schedules” as part of the reason Washington students are falling behind.

This isn't the first time teacher pay has been questioned.

The media went ballistic when the Austin Statesman reported in 2006 that coaches in Texas schools were making more than teachers (an average of $30,000 a year more); lost its marbles in 2008 when head of Washington, D.C., public schools Michelle Rhee proposed six-figure salaries for teachers who forfeited tenure; got worked into a froth in 2009 at New York's announcement that it would be doling out $27 million in bonuses to its public school teachers.

But the underlying message of the UW study was, undoubtedly, that the goals of improved math and science scores are impeded by lack of payroll equity:

What do lower math and science teacher salaries imply for Washington State? Simply this: the current compensation system invests less in teachers who teach math and science than teachers of other subjects. At a time when policy rhetoric espouses prioritizing STEM subjects, the current salary schedule works to do the opposite.

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