Professor Alison Sanchez Evaluates Teacher Pay Stagnation with Analytics

University of San Diego Professor of Economics Alison Sanchez
begin quoteDescriptive analytics can reveal what teachers may need higher salaries and which groups or demographics of educators are under performing. They can reveal what caused stagnation in the first place, like new policies impacting wages or benefits.

Can predictive and prescriptive analytics be used to evaluate issues such as teacher pay stagnation? In this special guest feature with insideBIGDATA, Assistant Professor of Economics Alison Sanchez argues that economic questions like these can be answered through large-scale data analysis. Professor Sanchez is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow who combines her research in behavioral economics with techniques and insights from neuroscience, psychology, information theory and machine learning. 

Article as it appears in insideBIGDATA (written by Assistant Professor of Economics Alison Sanchez)

Teacher Pay is Stagnating. Data and Analytics Could Give it a Boost

Wage growth for workers in the United States economy has lagged over the past few decades. The Pew Research Center notes how, after inflation, today’s real average wage has the same purchasing power as it did four decades ago. For teachers, the wage situation is even more dire. Average weekly pay for public school teachers has actually decreased by $27 from 1996 to 2017, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

There is not one single answer or explanation behind this widespread salary drop for teachers, but data and analytics can reveal individual causes of teacher pay stagnation and provide customized solutions to address them.

How analytics can be used to address teacher pay gaps

In education, data and analytics are already being used to evaluate student performance and develop methods for academic improvement. Analysis of annual grade book data could reveal a certain teaching method or educational tool was successful or inefficient. Steps could then be taken to implement that successful initiative or remove the inefficient component on a larger level.

These same analytical steps and procedures could be applied to scenarios regarding teacher wage stagnation. For example, descriptive analytics can reveal what teachers may need higher salaries and which groups or demographics of educators are under performing. These analytics can reveal what caused stagnation in the first place, like new policies impacting wages or benefits.

Predictive and prescriptive analytics can show probable effects of certain policies or programs that were put into action, such as district-wide pay increases for teachers or individual performance-related initiatives. The district-wide pay increases could boost larger overall pay but ignore individual discrepancies within schools. The performance initiatives could help alleviate individual gaps but not the larger reasons why they exist. But we’re able to see the benefits and drawbacks of these potential initiatives through these analytics.

One doesn’t have to be an established data analyst with an advanced degree to uncover these insights. With a firm understanding of fundamental data and analytics procedures, teachers and education administration professionals can help evaluate this information alongside data professionals.

Next steps after insights are revealed

These insights can then be incorporated by education officials on the next decision-making level. For an individual school, that may be the principal or a school board. For a school district, it may be the superintendent or some larger government body or agency.

The insights are only valuable, however, if they compel decisionmakers to make actionable change. Policymakers may question if the economic benefit of a certain policy, such as raising teacher wages by $5.00 per hour, outweighs the initial cost of such a move, and leave what may have been a groundbreaking proposal on the table.

Those same policymakers may also question why it is so imperative to raise teacher wages. Here, analysts and education officials can present data and analysis that illustrates how the negative economic benefits of this pay stagnation extend beyond teachers themselves.

These can include how educators who take on side gigs to make ends meet can be overworked, or how lack of promising wages prevents the most talented candidates from seeking employment in the industry. And with teachers having less money to spend, that means less overall economic activity.


Renata Ramirez
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