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Did you know that people in the private sector with comparable SAT and GRE scores to teachers are paid less? The recent NY Times Room for Debate feature titled, “Are Teachers Overpaid?” asked whether this means that teachers are overpaid or if public schools should pay more to attract top applicants.

I propose a third solution: let people know how much teachers are paid, so they can regard teaching as an economically prudent choice.

The prevailing consensus in this country is that teachers are underpaid. This is why hardly any of my college classmates considered a career in teaching. Fortunately, it’s not true, and there are numbers to prove it.

The Sacramento Bee recently published a tool called, “See how well your district pays its teachers, superintendent.” It allows you to search an online database by California region, county and school district to see average teacher salaries. When you combine that with the NY Times “What percent are you?” tool, which allows you to see what percentile an income represents for a given geographic region, it becomes clear that teacher salaries are well within the top half for our state.

The chart below shows where teacher salaries for some California districts place teachers compared to all households. I’ve included two columns for the percentiles, since many households have dual incomes. For rough comparison purposes, I’m doubling the teacher salary to be the household income. I know some teachers who are sole wage earners, and some who are married to people who make quite a bit more than they do, so this is just a rough estimate.

District Average
Percentile if
Household Income
is Twice as High
La Cañada Unified $70,964 Los Angeles Top 39% Top 13%
Pasadena Unified $65,714 Los Angeles Top 43% Top 15%
South Pasadena Unified $74,956 Los Angeles Top 37% Top 12%
San Marino $70,574 Los Angeles Top 40% Top 13%
Los Angeles Unified $67,084 Los Angeles Top 41% Top 15%
Glendale Unified $70,145 Los Angeles Top 40% Top 13%
Arcadia $79,664 Los Angeles Top 34% Top 10%
Monrovia Unified $70,287 Los Angeles Top 40% Top 13%
Baldwin Park Unified $75,020 Los Angeles Top 37% Top 12%
Glendora Unified $74,056 Los Angeles Top 37% Top 12%
Highest paying school districts in California:
Montecito Union Elementary $101,066 Santa Barbara Top 27% Top 7%
Mountain View-Los Altos Union $100,530 Santa Clara Top 40% Top 14%

Bear in mind that these figures do not reflect that teachers enjoy far more vacation than most workers and get far more generous benefits than most private sector employees.

I don’t believe that teachers should be paid any less. Children are our future, and we need to value the people who teach them. However, we also need to be sure that our teachers are of the highest caliber.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently gave figures showing the vast difference in caliber between people entering the teaching profession in Finland compared to those who enter in the U.S.:

At the University of Helsinki, a mere 6.7% of those who applied to be primary school teachers were admitted this year to the education school.

That’s a lower acceptance rate than the 10% of applicants admitted to the University of Helsinki’s schools of law and medicine.

By comparison, the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee accepted 96% of undergraduate students who applied for the 2011 year, and 88% of post-baccalaureate applicants.

Perhaps if people realized how well teachers are paid, more higher-qualified applicants, particularly those in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) would enter the profession.