Teacher Trendline

Tr3 Trends: Teacher Salaries, Urban vs. Suburban

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June 2013

Welcome to Tr3 Trends, NCTQ's monthly newsletter designed just for school district officials.  Each month we use data from NCTQ's Tr3 database to highlight the latest trends in school district policies and collective bargaining agreements nationwide.  Tr3 contains teacher policies from 114 school districts, including the 50 largest districts, the largest district in each state, Broad Prize winners, Gates investment districts and members of the Council of the Great City Schools.  Teacher policies from all 50 states are also included.  Subscribe here.   

Conventional wisdom would tell us that suburban schools can typically pay higher teacher salaries and enroll more affluent children than their urban counterparts.  But, since the 1990s, suburban poverty has increased at a faster rate than poverty in cities, and by 2011 there were three million more poor people living in suburbs than in cities, according to the authors of the new book Confronting Suburban Poverty in America.  How does this population change affect school districts?  Is conventional wisdom out of date?  This month we look at whether teacher salaries vary with a school district's geography.

We compare teacher salaries in four types of school districts: urban, high-poverty suburban, low-poverty suburban, and "mixed" districts.  A mixed district includes both a city and county, such as Wake County Schools in North Carolina (home to Raleigh) and Clark County School District in Nevada (home to Las Vegas).  Suburban districts with free/reduced lunch rates higher than 50% were classified as high-poverty. Of the 114 school districts in our Tr3 database, 70 are urban, 14 are low-poverty suburban, 10 are high-poverty suburban, and 20 are mixed.

Here's what we found when we compared these districts' teacher salaries:

Average starting salaries in urban and suburban districts barely differ; larger differences emerge towards the end of a teacher's career, when teachers in low-poverty suburban districts fare the best.

Teachers in "mixed" districts have the lowest salaries, on average, at both the beginning and end of their careers.

We should note that we did not factor cost of living into our analysis, which might affect the trends we see if cost of living were to vary by type of district.  We noticed, for instance, that most of the districts we classified as "mixed" are in the Southeast (Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, to name a few states); if the cost of living in these areas is significantly less than elsewhere, that might contribute to mixed districts' lower teacher salaries.

We zoomed in on five metro areas for which we have detailed data for both urban centers and suburban areas: D.C., Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.  All but Chicago buck the trend, with the core cities offering salaries about equal to or greater than those in surrounding suburbs at both the beginning and end of teachers' careers. 

The Chicago area, on the other hand, mirrored the overall trend for teachers near the end of their careers.  While Chicago Public Schools offers the highest starting salary compared to nearby suburbs we looked at, a nearby low-poverty suburban district offers about $15,000 more for teachers with master's degrees on the highest salary step.

Click here for a look at teacher salaries in all 114 school districts in our Tr3 database.

Go to Tr3's custom report page to access all the data we use in Tr3 Trends and to compare teacher policies in 114 school districts nationwide.  Send feedback to gmoored@nctq.org.