I have waited a few years to publish this case. The administrator involved has retired. And since I have worked with teachers from border to border in Kansas, no one should attempt to guess which school I describe.
She was a veteran biology teacher with 15 years of experience in the Kansas classroom. Her husband worked in a corporate office in the same community. But his corporation moved its offices to another city, still in Kansas. While he transferred to the new facilities over Christmas break, she remained to complete the school year and also to help sell their house.
Fortunately, the high school in their new community had a biology vacancy. This was an opportunity to continue as a biology teacher in a school not far from their new home. And this was not a high-poverty school district.
However, in her job interview with an older male administrator, she was told bluntly: With your track record, you are by far the best teaching candidate. But with 15 years experience, you are too expensive. Several applicants who just finished student teaching would enter at the bottom of the pay scale. But if you re-apply and only claim five years of teaching experience, we could afford to hire you.
To refuse the offer could mean taking a more distant vacancy and driving several counties away each day, if such vacancies became available and were not taken by new graduates. She felt she had no choice but to agree to teach at the five-years-of-experience salary scale.
Kansas salary scales vary but annual pay steps average about $500 per year. So she was receiving approximately $5,000 less in pay per year than her co-workers with equivalent experience. That amounts to about $125,000 less in her 25 remaining years of teaching!
This practice is downright wrong and unethical. I have never heard of a male teacher being asked to claim fewer years of experience. This is a Neanderthal attitude that only men are valued breadwinners. The attitude that work by women is not as important or worthy of equal pay is an 1800s attitude that should never have seen the light of the 1900s, let alone survive into the 21st century. The few cases I know have always involved an older male administrator.
Unfortunately, our nationwide, profession-wide gender pay gap is still 17 percent; that is, women receive 83 cents when a man is paid one dollar for equal work and experience. I hope that there are no coercive offers being made today. But without doubt, some women teachers in Kansas classrooms are still being paid less than male teachers with equal tenure due to past coercion to claim less experience.
This inequity should fade away and teacher pay should become equal for several reasons. First, the older generation that included some male chauvinist administrators should be retiring off. In addition, we are seeing more women superintendents; we would hope that they would not resort to this bigotry. And the rapidly growing teacher shortage means that there are no cheap rookies waiting in the wings. Today, a qualified woman teacher is likely to be the only qualified applicant. (However, there is no one in the Kansas Department of Education who comes around to confirm that each districts’ teachers are indeed credentialed and fully paid according to actual experience.)
This inequity across all employment should have ended nearly a half century ago when the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by both the Congress and the Senate. But 38 states still had to ratify the amendment. And I am proud that Kansas was the sixth state to ratify the ERA on March 28, 1972. Unfortunately, the ERA fell short with just 35 states ratifying it before 1982.
Hiring women teachers below salary scale should have stopped by now. But the past injustices continue for the lifetimes of those teachers. To the extent colleagues become aware of pay inequity, this can also become a factor discouraging future women students from entering the teaching field. Fortunately, with the ability to provide retention bonuses, a school that discovers that they have teachers working lower on the pay scale than their experience merits can not only restore the correct pay level, but can increase compensation for those teachers’ remaining careers to partially make up for that injustice.
Make up of denied fair pay — is the right thing to do.
John Richard Schrock is a distinguished professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Emporia State University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org