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Unequal pay among genders

Published on -4/17/2014, 10:25 AM

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How can pay be unequal for male and female teachers of identical experience when there is only one uniform pay scale at each unified school district?

Each Kansas school district negotiates a salary base for teachers. The starting salary for a teacher fresh out of student teaching establishes the base. The scale then extends downward in steps adding increments, often $500 each year. Horizontally, the scale adds a roughly similar amount for increases in college credit, usually with steps at bachelor's degree plus 15 and 30 hours, master's degree, and 15 and 30 credit hour steps up to a doctorate.

Larger rich school districts might load more pay for advanced degrees because they want a more highly trained and specialized faculty. Rural schools that need broadly trained teachers often load their salary scale with greater increments for staying through time.

But there is only one salary scale -- not two separate scales for men and women teachers. Therefore, why do surveys of public school teachers -- based on the same years of experience and education -- show an average lower pay for female teachers doing the same job?

The answer is not in added pay for coaching or sponsoring student government or other activities, because those are paid "add-ons." And while historically more money was available for coaching boys' sports than girls' sports, that disparity is shrinking due to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. That statue prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. And that is having a great pay off for our female students. But salary surveys also exclude those ancillary duties.

Some years ago, a veteran female teacher sat down and explained her situation to me. Her husband was in an industry that moved its offices. She therefore had to leave the school where she had been an exemplary science teacher for more than a decade. She applied in the new district where she now lived. This is common for teaching spouses. Teaching is considered a portable occupation. And science teachers are in demand nearly everywhere.

In her interview, the discussion went as follows: Mrs. Smith (not her real name). We really are impressed with your teaching record and really need you here at such-and-such high school. But we have two applicants fresh out of student teaching. We know they will not bring your experience. But our school is on a tight budget, and we simply cannot afford you at your level of 12 years experience. Now if you would only claim two years of experience, we could offer you the job.

So she was faced with a dilemma. If she wanted a job teaching in her new home district, she would have to take a pay cut that would cost her more than $5,000 each year. And she would be shorted that amount on the pay scale, compounded for the rest of her career -- more than $50,000 each decade.

This practice is wrong. Unethical. Despicable.

And that school district was not in financial exigency.

This coercion does not occur when male teachers move to new districts. This reflects the male chauvinism of an older generation of male administrators who only see the man as the "bread winner." Yesiree! Nursin' and teachin' is "women's work" in their eyes.

This attitude deserves utter contempt. I suspect and hope this practice is becoming less common as this 1800's attitude retires off. As more women move into administrative positions, the practice should decline. But even if the practice were to stop today, it would take 40 years for the pay disparity and injustice it causes to flush from our system.

Unfortunately, there are simple-minded politicians today who wave the single pay scales and proclaim there is no distinction on paper between pay for male and female teachers and therefore no discrepancy. Their ignorance of what has occurred in the field perpetuates this injustice.

John Richard Schrock is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences

at Emporia State University.

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