Should Math and Science Teachers Be Paid More?

I spend a good deal of time interviewing and hiring teachers, which often leads me to wonder…Should math and science teachers be paid more than other content area teachers? Math and science are considered “hard to staff subjects”. I would also categorize Special Education teachers as hard to staff.

In California, there has been a steady decline in enrollment at teacher credentialing programs across the spectrum of universities. According to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the decline has been steady and ongoing for the past 8 years. In 2016, there were 12% fewer educators who earned a teaching credential than the previous year.

Recently, my colleagues and I looked at a detailed 2016 report published by the California Department of Education, which listed each university’s teacher credentialing program. For each university, the numbers were broken down specifically by how many students graduated from each teaching credential program major(i.e. Single Subject Physics).

As we looked at the data, we faced a rude awakening. While we knew from anecdotal data that there were fewer physics teacher candidates than social science candidates, we were shocked by the fact that there really are very few physics teacher candidates available, not only in Southern California, but across the state. I would be willing to bet that this shortage is a problem nationwide.

In a nutshell, I would wholeheartedly support paying science and math teachers (and arguably special education teachers) more than other subject area teachers purely from a supply and demand perspective. If there are only 50 physics teachers (newly credentialed) and there are 100 physics teacher openings, the math doesn’t add up. Clearly, there is shortage. Moreover, the quality of teachers is a whole other issue that often falls by the wayside because of the shortage. Unfortunately, a sub-par science teacher will be hired somewhere because there are always openings for science teachers.

Why aren’t science teachers and other hard to staff subject matter teachers paid more than others? The main reason for this is the teachers union and union negotiated contracts. From a bargaining perspective, the teachers union is one unit. So it would go against the spirit and nature of a union to negotiate separate salaries for different subject area teachers. While this makes sense, it does not help to solve the problem. In most charter schools, unions are not an issue since they are non-unionized. For this reason, these charter schools are able to to be more creative in their hiring practices, such as a signing bonus.

For a new teacher, whose average starting salary is $45,000/year in California (not much to live on given the cost of living here), a $2000 signing bonus is real money, which can make a job offer more attractive, despite whatever else that district may not offer, such as new teacher support and coaching. This past summer, our organization lost a couple of candidates to charter schools who wooed them away with a signing bonus.

Public schools must find a way to adjust with the free market economy of supply and demand. In the private sector, if there is a high demand and low supply of social media marketing applicants (which currently happens to be the case), they adjust by increasing salary and benefits to compete in the free market of attracting and retaining high-quality employees. Public schools must do the same. The reality is teachers of hard to staff subjects have to be paid more. The rules of supply and demand require this in order to attract math and science majors to enter and remain in the teaching profession.

What are your thoughts about science teachers and other hard to staff subject matter teachers being paid more than other subject matter teachers? Do you have any other suggestions for attracting more math and science majors to enter the teaching profession? As always, thank you for reading!