Federal data shows public school teachers earned more than private school teachers in 2020-21


Public school teachers earned more than their private school counterparts in 2020-21, according to federal data released Tuesday, extending a long-standing trend related to licensing requirements and other factors.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics survey, full-time public school teachers earned about 30 percent more than private school teachers and earned an average annual base salary of $61,600 compared to $46,400.

The center’s report, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, also highlighted the increasing difficulties in hiring teachers for special education and several other subjects in 2020-21, the first full school year during the pandemic.

The persistent pay gap between public and private schools is likely worsened by lower employee benefits, since public school teachers also tend to do better in this area, said Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and director of the National Education Policy Center.

Research shows that private school salaries vary significantly and are often related to the size and type of school, he said. Smaller schools tend to pay less, and elite independent schools tend to pay more. Still, it’s not always easy for private school teachers to transfer to public schools, Welner said, unless they have the necessary credentials.

The National Teacher and Principal Survey collected data from October 2020 through August 2021. Nearly 10,000 public schools with 68,000 teachers and 3,000 private schools with 8,000 teachers were part of the study sample.

The survey also found that teachers continued to work more hours than their contracts required — an average of 52 hours per week for full-time staff in public and private schools, even though contracts required 38 or 39 hours.

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Teachers who worked longer did not mean more classes for students. Compared to 2015-16, full-time public school teachers spent two fewer hours teaching — 25 hours in 2020-21, up from 27 hours five years earlier.

About 17 percent of full-time teachers in public and private schools had outside jobs — at a time when the turmoil and hardships of the pandemic increased the burden teachers and their students had to bear.

“The 2020-21 school year has been quite challenging for educators,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “Efforts to keep students safe and learning have resulted in long hours for teachers and school leaders across the country – shifted priorities, additional instructional support, more communication with parents and much greater challenges to school staffing. During this period, a large proportion of public and private schools were affected by vacant teaching positions.

The pay gap between public and private school principals was similarly large: an average salary of $105,900 versus $78,600. Public principals worked an average of 58 hours per week on all school-related tasks, slightly more than private principals who worked almost 55 hours.

Staffing shortages have stumped educators during the pandemic. The new data showed that public schools found it significantly harder to fill teaching positions in special education, computer science, foreign languages, music or arts, and English or language arts in 2020-21 compared to 2015-16.

Staff shortages continue to plague schools, data shows

The faculty and main workforce was not diverse — another long-standing trend. In public schools, 80 percent of public school teachers were White, 9 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Black, and 2 percent Asian — similar to private school staff. Three quarters were women with an average age of 43 years.

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