(This is part three of a four-part series comparing the Pittsburgh Public School District with other school districts in Allegheny County.)
The average salary for a teacher in Allegheny County is $56,000. While this can range anywhere from $35,000 to $90,000, based on career length and degree attainment, teachers in the Pittsburgh Public School District start at a lower base salary then those in surrounding districts like Mt. Lebanon, where the lowest paid teacher makes $44,000 with two years of experience.
When looking at the difference between urban districts like the PPS and suburban districts or between districts with high-poverty rates and low-poverty rates, several factors can account for differences in achievement. Among them are teachers.
All public schools and some private schools in Pennsylvania require their professional employees to be certified by the State Board of Education. However, differences arise between teachers in districts with a variety of salary ranges, student to teacher ratios, and racial makeup of teachers within a district.
Across Pennsylvania, all teachers in schools receiving state funding must adhere to the same certification requirements. However, differences arise between districts with a variety of salary ranges, student to teacher ratios, and racial makeup of teachers within a district.
Some argue that urban districts like the PPS and high-poverty districts in Allegheny County should pay teachers more because these districts present unique challenges. However, when comparing high-poverty districts to others, the top salaries for teachers in these districts falls at least $10,000 behind the top salaries of more affluent suburban districts.
Despite salary disparities between high and low poverty districts, the most recent teacher contract signed by the PPS seeks to improve the salary trajectory for prospective teachers and those already working in city schools. The district is also working to ensure they attract teachers most able to deal with the unique challenges of urban and high-poverty students.
“We’ve got a selection process that we used. It’s been modified to get to our goal of hiring effective teachers. We want to be screening for those teachers who demonstrate a high competency in urban environments,” said Jessica Brazier, HR engagement manager. “We use a points system. For example, we consider Philadelphia an urban district and we give points for that.”
Part of the district’s effort means having a teaching workforce that’s more representative of the students. However, while 57 percent of PPS students are Black only 15 percent of the teachers reported being Black.
When applying for a position, teachers are not required to report their race because of anti-discrimination laws. Eleven percent of new hires for the current school year were African-American.
“We do score essays and see if candidates have philosophies that match our district. Our commitment to hiring diverse teachers is front and foremost,” Brazier said. “We visited historical Black colleges and universities to recruit from them. Our students represent a diverse population and to the extent possible we want to present role models for our students. We really tried to reach out to men as well. One of our African-American hires is a retired military officer.”
Some attribute the success of charter schools around the country to higher teacher salaries as compared to other public schools, but in Pittsburgh this doesn’t appear to be the case. According to data from 2010, teachers at Northside Urban Pathways start out at $32,000 with one year of experience and go as high as $68,000 with eight years of experience. Teachers at City High Charter School started slightly higher at $35,000 and the highest salary for a classroom teacher was $77,000 with eight years of experience.
Although Wilkinsburg and Penn Hills would not be considered urban districts, they both have higher concentrations of African-Americans and areas of high-poverty than other suburban districts. In Wilkinsburg while teachers can start out at $37,000 with one year of experience, the highest paid teacher in 2010 topped out at $76,000 with 37 years experience. In the Penn Hills School District, which has markedly less poverty, the highest paid classroom teacher makes $82,000 with 34 years experience and teachers can start at $39,000.