As the details continue to emerge from the Chicago teacher’s contract negotiations, one thing that has already been settled is the shape of the teacher salary schedule. Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed down from his plan to create a performance-based compensation system, so the existing step-and-lane salary schedule will continue. As the Chicago Teachers Union’s summary makes clear, every “step” in the salary schedule will get a 3 percent, 2 percent, and 2 percent raise, respectively, over the next three years. There will be even larger increases for career teachers who reach 14, 20, and 25 years of experience, although we don’t know yet exactly how large these will be.
During coverage of the strike, news outlets alternated between reporting the average teacher salary in Chicago–$76,000—and the median teacher salary—$71,000. Some outlets even showed the salary trajectory for current Chicago teachers (see the salary slopes for the largest districts in the country here). No one, as far as I know, looked at how this has changed over time.
Using NCTQ’s Teacher Rules, Roles, and Rights database, the chart below tracks the last seven years of teacher salaries in Chicago. Each line represents the slope of the teacher salary schedule in a given year for full-time teachers with bachelor’s degrees (the lines for teachers with Master’s degrees looks nearly identical, except that they’re roughly $3,000 higher, depending on a teacher’s experience level). Each year includes an across-the-board 4 percent raise, plus new increases for longevity in 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12.
There are two important points to glean from this graph: First, across-the-board raises don’t raise everyone’s salary equally. If you look at the left half of the chart, it’s clear that the slopes of the higher lines are steeper. That is, with each passing year of across-the-board raises, teachers at higher salary levels get higher annual raises in terms of actual dollar amounts. Every district that commits to across-the-board raises is doing the same thing.
The second is the longevity increases. Chicago calls them “steps 14, 15, and 16” but they actually correspond to 14 years, 20 years, and 25 years of experience. In 2009-10, Chicago built in a $1,040 raise for 14-year veterans. In 2010-11, they built in an additional $1,010 raise for 20-year veterans, and in 2011-12, they added another $1,000 raise for 25-year veterans.
These increases are not based on what we know about teacher effectiveness over time. In fact, the research on experience suggests teachers improve dramatically in their first years on the job. But a teacher with 4-5 years of experience is virtually indistinguishable from a teacher with 20-25 years of experience. Chicago and other districts with late-career raises built into their salary schedules are merely rewarding longevity, not effectiveness or performance.
The other thing that’s worth pointing out here is that every step of the Chicago teacher salary schedule did better than inflation. Inflation increased a cumulative 18 percent from 2005 to 2012. Beginning teachers in Chicago saw their pay increase 26.5 percent. Because of those late-career raises, teachers with 14 years of experience were paid 28.3 percent more, and teachers with 25 years of experience were paid 31.6 percent more.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the discussion above is about all teachers in Chicago with the same level of experience and the same academic credentials. It does not account for the salary growth of an individual teacher. Here’s what the salary of an actual Chicago teacher, with a bachelor’s degree and 8 years of experience, would have looked like from 2005 to 2012:
Last year, this teacher would have made nearly $26,000 a year more than in 2005-6—a 47 percent cumulative pay increase over seven years.
As details emerge, we’ll know more about how this will play out in Chicago, but it’s already clear that the recent trend of back-end salary increases will continue. Younger teachers, and the general public, should pay attention to how these issues play out in their districts.