The image of teachers as underpaid and overworked, laboring in the trenches of an increasingly ramshackle public school system, has become a staple of American popular culture.
It turns out, it’s not just us. A new global study finds that elementary and pre-school teachers across 34 developed countries make about 22% less, on average, than their full-time counterparts with similar education levels who have chosen to do pretty much anything else with their lives. The numbers are similarly dismal for for middle and high school teachers, whose salaries have largely stagnated since the 2008 financial crisis.
The 2015 report, “Education at a Glance,” is put out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and covers all 34 OECD countries, as well as “partner countries,” like Argentina, Brazil, China, India, and Russia. It found that average government spending on education fell by more than a third worldwide between 2010 and 2012.
The report goes on to point out the obvious: it’s hard to attract the crème de la crème of college graduates to the teaching profession when pay is so uniformly low, and it’s hard to keep the good ones that are already in the classroom.
According to a new report by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, 68% of public schools in the U.S. today have at least one vacancy and 15% of schools report that those openings are either “very difficult” or nearly impossible to fill. While that marks an improvement from the late ’90s and early 2000s, when 83% of schools had vacancies, and 36% reported difficulties filling them, it’s hardly hopeful.
Other non-salary factors, like bigger class sizes, less institutional support, fewer amenities and safety also factored into prospective teachers’ career decisions, the report found.
As of the 2012-2013 school year, the average national starting salary for teachers was just over $36,000, according to the National Education Association. The average salary for all teachers of all experience levels was $56,383, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In 27 states, the average teacher’s salary today has declined by about 1.3% since 1999, and in some states, it’s declined dramatically. In Indiana, teachers are now paid on average 10% less, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than they were at the end of the 20th century; in North Carolina, it’s 15% less. The remaining 23 states have increased average teacher pay in the last fifteen years, with Wyoming, Montana, and Massachusetts leading the charge.
A 2010 report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company polled 900 college students graduating from top-tier U.S. universities and found that the vast majority would consider going into the classroom if salaries were higher. Nearly 70% of those polled said they would teach if they could take home $150,000—nearly three times what the average American teacher makes today.