- - Monday, September 15, 2014

Some of the highest paid teachers in the country reside in Los Angeles and New York City. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the two largest cities in the United States have high teacher pay, especially since the cost of living is also pretty high in each of these areas.

What may be surprising, however, is the city that has even higher pay than New York and L.A. According to a recent study from the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy and the National Center for Policy Analysis, elementary teachers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, receive the highest pay among 60 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. (Disclosure: I am director of communications at MacIver.)

A simple look at elementary teacher pay cannot show a true comparison of how much teachers are actually able to purchase with their salary, though. To provide an apples-to-apples comparison, the report adjusted teachers’ pay for cost of living in each metro area. The results? Both Los Angeles and New York drop from second and third, respectively, to 17th and 59th out of 60.

But those teachers in Milwaukee hold onto the No. 1 spot. When adjusted, Milwaukee elementary teachers make $73,078 a year, down slightly from their nominal median salary of $74,540.

It is important to know that the study looked at median teacher salary in each city not including fringe benefits. Those benefits can add even more to teachers’ take-home pay. In fact, teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools received an average benefits package of $41,591 during the 2011-12 school year.

With elementary teachers in Milwaukee getting paid more than teachers in any other city analyzed in the MacIver/NCPA study, one may expect similar results when looking at student performance. Unfortunately, having the highest paid teachers does not lead to having the highest performing students.

Only 24.1 percent of Milwaukee fourth-grade students are proficient in math and only 16.8 percent of fourth-grade students are proficient in reading, according to the latest available data from Wisconsin’s standardized tests. Both are about half of the statewide average.

Milwaukee does not perform very well nationally, either.

In fact, when compared to overlapping cities with available scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) – also known as the Nation’s Report Card – the four cities with the highest adjusted pay for elementary teachers had the lowest test scores.

Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Fresno, California and Milwaukee all have adjusted teacher pay above $63,000 annually, but their students perform well below the other 15 cities with available data.

All of the metro areas that performed better than Milwaukee had median adjusted elementary school teacher salaries that are at least $16,115 less.

When it comes to educational reform, this study proves that simply paying teachers more is not a solution. I am not opposed to paying teachers more, but I want to know that they are improving student achievement.

If this country intends to better prepare students for college and careers, policymakers need to look beyond just teacher pay and toward a variety of reforms.

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