One in Four New York State Teachers Outside NYC Get Six-Figure Salaries

Published January 14, 2020

A quarter of the public-school teachers in New York State outside of New York City received more than $100,000 in pay over the 2018-2019 school year, a new report states.

The highest pay went to four staffers at Central Islip Union Free Schools, on Long Island, who received around $500,000 each.

The proportion of educators receiving six-figure incomes nearly doubled over the past decade, New York State Teachers’ Retirement System data shows, according to a press release from the Empire Center on October 21.

“The statewide percentage of NYSTRS members earning six-figure pay has almost doubled in the last 10 years, although employment has decreased 4 percent, from 382,545 to 365,440, the latest data show,” the press release stated.

High Hourly Pay

“Low teacher pay” is an issue in nearly every election cycle, but the conventional wisdom that teachers in government schools are overworked and underpaid is not based in reality, says Lennie Jarratt, project manager of the Center for Education Opportunities at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

“To do a fair comparison of teacher compensation against other professions, you need to break it down to hourly,” Jarratt said. “When you do this, it is clear the average teacher compensation is on par or sometimes higher than other professionals’.”

Low teacher pay is only an issue for teachers getting started in the profession, Jarratt says.

“Long-serving teachers are typically highly compensated, with high salaries and high retirement benefits,” Jarratt said. “Even the National Education Association (NEA) admits average teacher compensation costs a district more than $100,000. The public, and teachers, underestimate the average teacher salary.”

Politics Influence Pay

The average teacher in New York makes $80,000 per year, the highest in the nation. One reason is that New York is an expensive job market, says Lance Izumi, senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.

“Part of the reason is because New York State and New York City in particular have higher costs of living compared to other places in the country,” Izumi said. “But California has similarly high costs of living, and the average salary in California is $73,000.

“Part of the reason why New York salaries are higher is because of the political situation in New York, with union-friendly New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio giving the United Federation of Teachers a generous contract, and much of the state controlled by liberal politicians,” Izumi said.

Paid for Seniority

High teacher salaries in New York have not necessarily attracted higher-quality teachers or improved educational outcomes, Izumi said.

“Teacher pay in New York is based mostly on years worked,” Izumi said. “The longer a teacher works, the higher his or her pay will rise. However, years of service does not guarantee that a particular teacher is an effective teacher who is raising the achievement of students. What that means is that New York teachers are getting paid their high salaries regardless of how their students are performing.”

Boosting pay doesn’t mean better teachers, Jarratt says.

“Higher teacher compensation will not necessarily lead to high-quality teachers,” Jarratt said. “If you tied teacher compensation to student performance with a bonus structure, that would be more beneficial.”

Poor Results

Many school districts in New York fail to teach students basic math and reading, and the students lag far behind children in other states, Izumi says.

“Not surprisingly, on the recent 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 68 percent of New York students failed to score at or above the proficient level in eighth-grade reading, and 66 percent failed to score at or above proficient in eighth-grade math,” Izumi said. “That’s a lot of money to be spending on teachers who are producing those types of results.”

One of the best predictors of education outcomes is teacher subject matter mastery, Jarratt says.

“To increase the number of knowledgeable teachers in the classroom, the fastest way is alternative teaching certification paths that allow industry professionals to rapidly enter the teaching profession,” Jarratt said. “These professionals do not necessarily need additional college degrees to share their knowledge in the classroom.”

Ashley Herzog ([email protected]) writes from Avon Lake, Ohio.

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