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CJ Commentary: Average teacher pay number comes under attack

Recently, senior political analyst Mitch Kokai published a commentary piece in Carolina Journal on teacher pay. Specifically, his article is about the criticisms of the statistical average of NC teacher pay made by many protesters in the May 1 teacher union march in Raleigh. Kokai explains their issue with the number as:

Critics at an advocacy group called the Public School Forum of North Carolina label the $53,975 figure as having been “reported by” the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. In a statement quoted at WRAL.com, the forum contends that the DPI figure “includes calculations that inflate the state ‘average,’ which results in a misrepresentation of what teachers actually earn in most districts.”

Among the primary concerns is the use of an average local salary supplement figure. That average “obscures the substantial differences in local salary supplements from one district to another, resulting in large disparities in average teacher pay depending on location,” according to the forum. For example, the average in Dare County, the state’s highest-paying system, reaches $59,223. The lowest-paying system, Swain County, offers an average of $47,554.

In the piece, Kokai does examine the validity of this criticism, but he states the conclusion of his piece thusly:

Their attempts to explain away that average fall short of the mark. But the criticism reminds us about the limited usefulness of the statewide average as a guide to good public policy.

Perhaps the key takeaway from this discussion is the limited usefulness of one single number for average N.C. teacher pay. Politicians from both parties have latched onto the figure. They have suggested that a higher average is necessarily better — especially in comparison with other states.

But the statewide average has its drawbacks. Most importantly, it focuses attention squarely on an education input rather than an outcome. That includes the most important outcome: student achievement.

Read the full piece here. Learn more about teaching in North Carolina here and more on public school finance here.

 

Brenee Goforth / Marketing and Communications Associate

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