I’ve written several times here about Milwaukee Public Schools and the problem with the teachers, the administration, the pay, and the cost structure in general. MPS is not alone. Today Chicago teachers are on strike because city officials won’t agree to raise their salaries 19% or 25% or 30%.

Teachers often complain about their working hours and their pay. But the bottom line is that when you factor in the hours they work, teacher compensation is at or above that of many other professional positions.

Chicago Public Schools reports that the average teacher salary in the district is $76,000 per year. Yet the teachers are striking because CPS isn’t meeting their demands. They initially wanted a 30% increase in salary this year (bringing the average to $98,800), and a 25% increase over the next two years (which would put the average at $111,150 and $125,044).

Last week the Chicago Teachers Union revised their demands to include “only” a 19% raise this year, which would bring the average salary to $90,440. The city offered teachers a 2% raise, which would put the average salary at $77,520.

Remember, teachers work substantially less than other professionals. When compared to other professionals, public school teachers are paid handsomely.

But part of the dispute centers around an attempt to extend the school day in Chicago by 90 minutes. The average school day in Chicago Public Schools was just over 5 hours long, one of the shortest school days in the country. The increase puts the school day at just over 6.5 hours. Instead of complaining that they’re being asked to work more without additional compensation, it seems that teachers in Chicago should be thanking the district for how little they were allowed to work for their paychecks all these years.

How do the numbers shake out?

Public school teachers report working 43.7 hours per week (during the school year) and other professionals report working 44.8 hours per week (year round). What does that work out to on a per-hour basis? Nearly all public schools are in session for 180 days, which equals 36 weeks (5 days of school per week). Add on another 3 weeks for other teacher responsibilities (which is probably overestimating the amount worked), and you’ve got a job that requires teachers to show up 39 weeks a year.

This year’s salary demand of $98,800, divided by 39 weeks, divided by 43.7 hours equals hourly pay of almost $58 per hour. And let’s not forget that government unionized employees have much more generous benefits packages than most in the private sector.

Teachers can often be overheard saying that it’s “all about the children.” I don’t believe it. A money grab like this has nothing to do with the children. The Chicago school district, like many around the country, is essentially broke because of years of high wages and high benefits costs. You can’t get blood out of a turnip. There is nothing left to give them.

But even if there was, the truth is that more money paid to teachers does not improve education. During a time when unemployment is high, people with jobs are seeing no increase in salary, and school districts are broke, you’d think the teachers in Chicago would be thankful to have stable jobs with very nice pay. You would be wrong.


  1. Steve 09/25/2012 at 12:26 am - Reply

    It’s never about the children. It hasn’t been about the children since about 1968. If it were, teachers would provide a quality product in the classroom for the greater funding they have received over the last 50 years. The actions of teachers over the last few years here in Wisconsin and in other places (like Chicago) have only hurt their cause. Most Americans have seen what schools and teachers unions are all about…and it’s not the children.

  2. proffwen 10/08/2012 at 10:24 am - Reply

    lets see, when I started teaching back in the 60’s, I got a first year salary of $5250. That would buy 100 acres of South Dakota Ranch land. That same ranch land would cost $450,000. I borrowed $4500 and had a $800 Scholarship to get my degree. What would today’s prospective students end up in dept to achieve a degree? Cigarettes were $0.35 today they are $6.34 or about 18 times as much, so how much are teachers worth?

    • Tracy Coenen 10/08/2012 at 10:27 am - Reply

      Based on their failure to actually educate children, I’d say they’re worth about $7.15 per hour.

  3. Pinkiu 11/11/2012 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    I have to disagree with your math. You have not calculated grading, planning, and family contacts that occur outside of the 43.7 hours. I am an instructor at a University in the school of education. I see on a regular basis from teachers who work in different schools and districts, what their real workload is. Try adding a minimum of an additional 10-15 hours per week for those activities that teachers include but are not compensated specifically for. There is no time during the paid day for those things to occur. Planning time is taken up with organization and meeting. If you have 30 students (elementary) or possibly 150 (high school, how much time would it take you to grade one day’s worth of assignments? Now multiply that times 5. Many teachers also attend intensive professional development trainings in the summer or go back to school for their master’s degree. Add onto the stress of meeting the needs of students, uninvolved parents, politicians, and administrators and most people would not survive the career for more than a month. This year alone I’ve seen teachers leave after the first week in some of our schools. Veteran teachers are telling me that most new teachers last no more than 5 years because of the incredible stress of high stakes testing. Veteran teachers only stay now because of the pension.

    Teaching has become a teach to the test environment. Standards have replaced creativity and innovation. No more is a teacher able to be the teacher we see in the movies. Their hands are tied. If you had a teacher act like the one in Stand and Deliver, he’d be fired soon because when the principal comes in for daily snapshots and the teacher isn’t on the spot teaching a standard for that grade, they get a low grade. If you accumulate multiple low grades because of not teaching the exact tasks the district or state mandates for that week, too bad for you. I teach my pre-service students about project based learning. In one of our mentor teacher classrooms he sighed wistfully while telling me that he’s a little jealous that my students can come into his room enacting PBL but he’s not allowed to do it as a teacher. That’s where we are in education – cookie cutter curriculum.

    The last issue is that because of the focus on high stakes testing of content knowledge, there is little emphasis on character,social, and emotional skill building. Knowing content does not get you to success in life except for a low number of careers. However, knowing how to argue effectively, to mediate conflict, how to hold a conversation, how to self-regulate, how to monitor oneself, how to initiate activities, how to express emotions acceptably, etc. are just as valuable in the work place as knowing content.

    • Tracy Coenen 11/12/2012 at 6:33 am - Reply

      43.7 hours worked per week by teachers is not my number. It is a number developed by the Census Bureau through independent studies, and DOES include time spent grading papers. Sadly, the “I grade papers at home” argument has long been used to suggest that teachers work very long hours. This statistic proves that on average, teachers do not work very long hours.

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