In most societies jobs with the highest prestige generally get the most money.  According to a new book, “The Teaching Penalty” written by Lawrence Mishel (President of the Economic Policy Institute), Sylvia Allegretto (an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Sean Corcoran (an assistant professor of Economics at New York University) public school teaches earn considerably less than comparably educated and experiences people and less than people in occupations with similar educational and skill requirements.

When compared with other professionals, teachers earn, on average, about $154 less a week or 14.3% than people similarly qualified people.  According to the researchers, nowhere in America do teachers earn more than those comparably educated.

Some will argue that it is difficult to compare teaching with other professions.  Teachers receive health insurance and retirement benefits.  The authors took that into account and found that side benefits narrowed the pay gap by just 3 percentage points in 2006.  “In other words, the 15 percent weekly pay disadvantage based on wages alone translates to a 12% disadvantage when you factor in benefits.  And the authors compared a week of work, rather than an entire year.

In the past, teaching was a default occupation for women. Back in 1960, women teachers were paid 14.7 percent more than other women with similar educations.  But that is no longer the case.  Women are being offered higher paying, less stressful jobs.  And the pay gap that was a 4.3 percent shortfall in 1996 became a wide gap by 2006 when it was 15.1 percent for all teachers.

Educators know in advance that the salaries in education are not good but they enter the field anyway.  They enter the field because they love children.  But loving children and low wages do not pay for food, other necessities or gasoline.

Research has shown that good teachers are the single most important factor in the academic success of children.  But America needs to attract and hold onto 2.8 million new teachers in the next 8 years.  The rising pay gap will make it difficult to attract teachers and even more difficult to hold onto the ones we presently have.

Both Republicans and Democrats have told us that education is important. The message has come from governors, mayors, legislators and presidents.  But educators can no longer be paid in platitudes of the good intentions of our policy makers.  While money alone will not make the difference in improving education, it will go a long way to show our educators how valuable their services are really valued.