An analysis of teacher compensation in America

Educators are essential to America’s future, so why don’t we treat them as such?

Peter Forte
Age of Awareness
Published in
22 min readApr 3, 2019


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

In the United States, public education typically finds itself in the news for all the wrong reasons: American students testing poorly against its peers; stark inequities between schools based on neighbourhood; teachers — across an increasing number of states — constantly on the verge of striking.

Many of the issues in the US education system are systemic, which is a major reason why actual change, as is so often the case with policy in general, is far harder to come by than talked-about change. States may flip colours, administrators may get reshuffled, and new acts may bring forward some structural reform, but at the front-line, the insidious decline of K-12 education steadily continues.

Although the issues may be systemic, they are also interconnected in such a way that a marked improvement in one area could lead to a cascading of additional benefits elsewhere. So instead of focusing on complex, multi-faceted education reform — which just leads to endless bickering and minimal action — the conversation should be about centring efforts around the single area that could impact the most across the entire system. After all, you can get a paint job, buy top-of-the-line tires, and even put in a DJ-worthy sound system in your car, but you aren’t going to go anywhere with a broken engine.

And the broken engine of the US education system is a group of professionals who have been overlooked for a generation: teachers.

So any 2020 candidate who wants to effect change in education should first focus on the long-standing, well-documented issue of how (and how much) we compensate American teachers.

Fix the engine, fix the system.

No matter how you cut the numbers, teachers in America are, and have been, grossly underpaid when you compare them to other OECD countries. The numbers are already not great when looking at gross salary, but the neglect truly shines through when you compare what teachers make to what other university-educated professionals are making in the US (coupled with the fact that teachers have dealt with historically bad wage stagnation — earning less on