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Compared to other countries, U.S. flunks in teacher pay

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Snapshot for April 2, 2008.

Compared to other countries, U.S. flunks in teacher pay

by Joydeep Roy with research assistance by Lauren Marra

Recent research has highlighted the important role of teachers in fostering student achievement. However, the United States lags significantly behind other countries in teacher compensation, which adversely impacts efforts to recruit high-quality teachers.

A recent study by McKinsey and Co. argues that good starting salaries are an essential ingredient for getting the right people to become teachers.1 Though people who enter teaching often cite a number of reasons, surveys find that unless school systems offer salaries commensurate with that on offer in other career opportunities, the teaching profession will not attract equivalent candidates. The McKinsey study shows that starting salaries in the United States are much lower than in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (see chart).

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Value of the U.S dollar, major currency index, and Other Important Trading Partners (OITP), 1989-March 2008

In South Korea and Germany, starting salaries for teachers are about 141% of per capita GDP, while the figure for the United States is only 81%. In fact, all countries in this sample pay their teachers a significantly higher relative wage as a starting salary compared to the United States. Additionally, students in countries with higher paid teachers did at least as well as their American counterparts in international tests in science and mathematics.

Recent work by the Economic Policy Institute has also highlighted the fact that teacher pay in the United States has been losing ground in recent years as compared to other professions.2 The ability to effectively educate the nation’s children hinges on the quality of our teachers, and increasing teacher compensation to attract high-quality teachers should be a top priority.


1. See McKinsey & Company. How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top. September 2007.

2. See Sylvia Allegretto, Sean Corcoran, and Lawrence Mishel. The Teaching Penalty: Teacher Pay Losing Ground. Economic Policy Institute, March 2008.

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