The Teacher Salary Penalty in Computer Science, Math and the Physical Sciences – In Two Graphs

The nation needs more strong secondary teachers in computer science, math and science, particularly in physics.  But we will not successfully address this severe shortage until we address the salary penalty that young people in these fields pay for choosing a teaching career over other options.

How big is that penalty?  The graphs below provide an answer.  The first is a plot of average salaries for recent college graduates with computer science, math and physical science graduates from FiveThirtyEight.com.

The second plot is of average starting teacher salaries from 2012-2013, listed by state, courtesy of the NEA (and thank you to the APS’s Monica Plisch for pointing these out).

There are always some who dispute the idea that the low salaries we pay middle and high school teachers discourage students from choosing these fields.  Such folks would look at the plots below and ask, “If salaries were really that important in convincing students to choose teaching careers, then New Jersey would be cranking out lots of physics teachers!”  Well, yes.  During the period 2009-2012, New Jersey colleges and universities graduated an average of 162 bachelors’ degrees in physics per year.  In 2011-2012, New Jersey graduated 31 students with physics bachelors’ degrees from its teacher education programs.  In other words, about 19% of New Jersey’s new bachelors’ degree grads in physics went into secondary teaching in 2011-2012.  Compare that to Florida, where five (yes, 5) students with physics bachelors’ degrees graduated from teacher education programs in 2011-2012.  Colleges and universities in Florida graduated an average of 199 bachelors’ degrees in physics per year from 2009-2012.  So about 3% of Florida’s new bachelors’ degree grads in physics went into secondary teaching in 2011-2012.  QED. (All the statistics in this paragraph were gathered by Monica)

We can talk all we like about the satisfaction of a teaching career.  But for a talented young person who wants to start a family, there is no substitute for a good salary.

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