Colorado Teachers Paid Above Average, But Performance Still Not in Equation

Are Colorado teachers underpaid, overpaid, or compensated about right? Many people have different opinions on the matter, but it’s always good to root opinion in fact when possible. In its most recent estimates the National Education Association ranked Colorado 29th in average teacher salary at $48,707, just a hair under the national average of $48,969.

But as Terry Stoops explains in his new John Locke Foundation report (PDF), even the NEA admits that these data aren’t very good for apples-to-apples comparisons. So he went a step further and factor in cost of living, pension contributions, and average experience to see which state’s teachers are getting the most compensation value for their work.

What did Stoops find? Colorado ranks 21st at $56,529, or 2 percent above the national average of $55,387.

His methodology clearly is more useful and more telling than NEA’s raw data. But is it the best way to measure average teacher pay on a state-by-state basis? Since it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to also compare the value of non-pension fringe benefits (e.g., health insurance) from different states, in one sense Stoops’ methodology may be as good as we can do.

At least insofar as our state’s teacher compensation systems are geared to compensate teachers primarily based on education degrees and years of experience. Therefore, we have no way of knowing for sure, but many individual Colorado teachers are underpaid, many individual Colorado teachers are overpaid, and many likely are paid about their market value.

As Stoops astutely concludes:

Despite multi-million-dollar increases in teacher pay, it has become clear that across-the-board raises unrelated to performance serve to reward both good teachers and mediocre ones, thus doing little to help students learn.

It’s time to focus the debate more on how teachers are paid, rather than how much.