National Center for Education Statistics

Leveraging Economic Data to Understand the Education Workforce

The Digest of Education Statistics recently debuted 13 new tables on K–12 employment and wages from a data source that is new to the Digest—the Occupational Employment Wage Statistics (OEWS) program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). NCES’s Annual Reports and Information Staff conducted an extensive review of existing and emerging data sources and found that BLS’s OEWS program provides high-quality, detailed, and timely data that are suitable to inform policymaking in education and workforce development.1 In this blog post, we share why we added this new data source, how we evaluated and prepared these data, and our future plans to expand on these efforts.


Need for Education Workforce Data

NCES recognized that education stakeholders need more granular and timely data on the condition of the education workforce to inform decisionmaking. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, school districts are looking to address critical staffing needs. According to NCES’s School Pulse Panel, entering the 2023–24 school year (SY), just under half of U.S. public schools reported feeling understaffed and had a need for special education teachers, transportation staff, and mental health professionals.

Since staffing needs and labor markets vary from district to district and state to state, it is important that we create national- and state-level tabulations for specific occupations, including those of special interest since the pandemic, like bus drivers, social workers, and special education teachers. Similarly, we want to be able to provide annual data updates so stakeholders can make the most up-to-date decisions possible.

Annual Digest table updates, coupled with detailed occupational and state-level data, will provide relevant and timely information on employment and wage trends that will be valuable in current and future efforts to address teacher and staff retention and recruitment. See below for a list of the new Digest tables.

  • National-level employment and annual wages
  • Selected teaching occupations (211.70)
  • Selected noninstructional occupations (213.70)
  • State-level employment and annual wages
  • Preschool teachers (211.70a)
  • Kindergarten teachers (211.70b)
  • Elementary school teachers (211.70c)
  • Middle school teachers (211.70d)
  • Secondary school teachers (211.70e)
  • Kindergarten and elementary special education teachers (211.70f)
  • Middle school special education teachers (211.70g)
  • Secondary school special education teachers (211.70h)
  • Substitute teachers (211.70i)
  • Teaching assistants (211.70j)
  • All occupations in the Elementary and Secondary Education industry (213.75)


Strengths of OEWS

OEWS and the Digest tables are aligned with the Federal Committee on Statistical Methodology’s Data Quality Framework, specifically the principles of objectivity (standardization), utility (granularity and timeliness), and integrity (data quality).


OEWS produces employment and wage estimates using standardized industry and occupational classifications. Using the North American Industry Classification System, establishments are grouped into categories—called industries—based on their primary business activities. Like industries, occupations are organized into groups or categories based on common job duties (using the Standard Occupational Classification). Occupations that are common to K–12 schools can also be found in other industries, and the OEWS provides both cross-industry estimates and industry-specific estimates for just Elementary and Secondary Education industry. To provide the most relevant and comparable data for education stakeholders, NCES chose to focus on distinct occupational estimates for the Elementary and Secondary Education industry, since all establishments (e.g., school boards, school districts) provide the same services: instruction or coursework for basic preparatory education (typically K–12).2     

Another advantage of the OEWS data is the ability to examine specific detailed occupations, like elementary school teachers, secondary school teachers, and education administrators. Digest tables include estimates for specific instructional and noninstructional occupations, which allows users to make comparisons among teachers and staff with similar job responsibilities, providing opportunities for more targeted decisionmaking.


In addition to data on detailed occupations, OEWS data provide data at national and state and levels, allowing for comparisons across geographies. National-level Digest tables include estimates for public and private education employers.3 Publicly funded charter schools run by private establishments are included in private ownership estimates, as they can be managed by parents, community groups, or private organizations. Public ownership is limited to establishments that are run by federal, state, or local governments. State-level Digest tables provide more localized information covering labor markets for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Timeliness and Data Quality

OEWS data are updated annually from a sample of about 1.1 million establishments’ data collected over a 3-year period. The OEWS sample is drawn from an administrative list of public and private companies and organizations that is estimated to cover about 95 percent of jobs.4 When employers respond to OEWS, they report from payroll data that are maintained as a part of regular business operations and typically do not require any additional collections or calculations. Payroll data reflect wages paid by employers for a job, which has a commonly accepted definition across employers or industries. This allows for more accurate comparisons of annual wages for a particular job. In contrast, when wages are self-reported by a respondent in person-level or household surveys, the reported data may be difficult to accurately code to a specific industry or detailed occupation, and there is greater chance of recall error by the respondent. Additionally, OEWS provides specialized respondent instructions for elementary and secondary schools and postsecondary institutions that accommodate the uniqueness of what educators do and how they are paid. These instructions enable precise coding of the occupations commonly found in these industries and a more precise and consistent reporting of wages of workers with a variety of schedules (e.g., school year vs. annual, part time vs. full time).   

OEWS uses strict quality control and confidentiality measures and strong sampling and estimation methodologies.5 BLS also partners with state workforce agencies to facilitate the collection, coding, and quality review of OEWS data. States’ highly trained staff contribute local knowledge, establish strong respondent relationships, and provide detailed coding expertise to further ensure the quality of the data. 

After assessing the strengths of the OEWS data, the Digest team focused on the comparability of the data over time to ensure that the data would be best suited for stakeholder needs and have the most utility. First, we checked for changes to the industrial and occupational classifications. Although there were no industrial changes, the occupational classifications of some staff occupations—like librarians, school bus drivers, and school psychologists—did change. In those cases, we only included comparable estimates in the tables.

Second, all new Digest tables include nonoverlapping data years to account for the 3-year collection period. While users cannot compare wages in 2020 with 2021 and 2022, they can explore data from 2016, 2019, and 2022. Third, the Digest tables present estimates for earlier data years to ensure the same estimation method was used to produce estimates over time.6 Finally, we did not identify any geographical, scope, reference period, or wage estimation methodology changes that would impact the information presented in tables. These checks ensured we presented the most reliable and accurate data comparisons.


Next Steps  

The use of OEWS data in the Digest is a first step in harnessing the strength of BLS data to provide more relevant and timely data, leading to a more comprehensive understanding of the education workforce. NCES is investigating ways we can partner with BLS to further expand these granular and timely economic data, meeting a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recommendation to collaborate with other federal agencies and incorporate data from new sources to provide policy-relevant information. We plan to explore the relationship between BLS data and NCES data, such as the Common Core of Data, and increase opportunities for more detailed workforce analyses.

NCES is committed to exploring new data sources that can fill important knowledge gaps and expand the breadth of quality information available to education stakeholders. As we integrate new data sources and develop new tabulations, we will be transparent about our evaluation processes and the advantages and limitations of sources. We will provide specific examples of how information can be used to support evidence-based policymaking. Additionally, NCES will continue to investigate new data sources that inform economic issues related to education. For example, we plan to explore Post-Secondary Employment Outcomes to better understand education-to-employment pathways. We are investigating sources for building and land use data to assess the condition and utilization of school facilities. We are also looking for opportunities to integrate diverse data sources to expand to new areas of the education landscape and to support timelier and more locally informed decisionmaking.

How will you use the new Digest tables? Do you have suggestions for new data sources? Let us know at


By Josue DeLaRosa, Kristi Donaldson, and Marie Marcum, NCES

[1] See these frequently asked questions for a description of current uses, including economic development planning and to project future labor market needs.

[2] Although most of the K–12 instructional occupations are in the Elementary and Secondary Education industry, both instructional and noninstructional occupations can be found in others (e.g., Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools; Child Care Services). See Educational Instruction and Library Occupations for more details. For example, preschool teachers differ from some of the other occupations presented in the Digest tables, where most of the employment is in the Child Care Services industry. Preschool teachers included in Digest tables reflect the employment and average annual wage of those who are employed in the Elementary and Secondary Education industry, not all preschool teachers.

[3] Note that estimates do not consider differences that might exist between public and private employers, such as age and experience of workers, work schedules, or cost of living.

[4] This includes a database of businesses reporting to state unemployment insurance (UI) programs. For more information, see Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

[5] See Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics for more details on specific methods.

[6] Research estimates are used for years prior to 2021, and Digest tables will not present estimates prior to 2015, the first year of revised research estimates. See OEWS Research Estimates by State and Industry for more information.

Using Federal Education Data to Inform Policymaking: Part 2–Challenges and Opportunities

In part 1 of this blog series, we highlight the benefits and advantages of using federal education data for policymaking at the federal, state, and district levels. In part 2, we will explore the challenges of and opportunities afforded by using these data.

States, districts, and schools are inundated with requests for data. To manage the volume of requests and avoid overwhelming educators, many districts have established processes to vet and limit the number of surveys allowed in their schools and administrative offices. District clearance processes are also understandably meant to make sure everyone is in compliance with data privacy laws. NCES data collections are sometimes not cleared by district offices, which then means NCES is not allowed to contact schools or educators to learn from their perspectives or experiences.

Since many state or district policymakers prioritize local survey collections, federal surveys are occasionally rejected by district offices that are striving to keep from overburdening their educators with too many survey requests. Without district permission, NCES surveys won’t include the educators in those schools, meaning that those districts’ voices will be missing from the table when decisions are made. This is problematic for the entire education system for a few reasons.

  1. Local data rarely reach federal policymakers. We know state and district decisionmakers derive a lot of value from state and/or district survey collections—since they’re designed to provide detailed local data—and do not always see value in federal data collection and reporting efforts. More localized data are critical to their day-to-day decisions. However, the presence of numerous state-run surveys—in addition to the myriad individualized district surveys that can exist within a single state—has begun to create a data silo where information remains frozen within a state or district system. Since NCES (and therefore the Department of Education and Congress) rarely receives data from state or local collections, these data sources cannot readily be used to generate national policies, which greatly limits opportunities for state and district systems to learn from each other. These data silos can, for example, impact the focus or breadth of federal grants or funding available for schools.

    Federal, state, and district education agencies serve different roles in the education sector but have mutually beneficial responsibilities that should complement and support one another. The solution isn’t to supplant federal data collections with local ones, or vice versa, but instead to supplement local collections with federal collections like the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) so education decisionmakers at all levels have access to necessary information to make good decisions for our schools.
  2. Benchmarking and comparability are limited. Without federal data collections, it can be difficult or impossible for states, districts, and local policymakers to compare their schools and educators with those in other areas because of the lack of common focus and definitions across data collections. Even if the topics being collected are similar, individualized district or state surveys can differ widely in both content and wording.

    National data collections—like the NTPS—are excellent tools local policymakers should use when setting priorities on behalf of the students and staff in their state or district. Since the data from the NTPS are collected from educators in the same way across the entire country, they can be used to establish benchmarks against which local collections can measure themselves.
  3. Lack of participation decreases the representativeness of storytelling. If districts do not approve NCES’s survey research applications, we are unable to reach educators in certain schools, which can limit the kinds of perspectives that are included in the data. To paint a true picture of the education landscape, our survey teams select districts, schools, and/or educators that are as representative of the education field as possible.

    Teachers and principals who participate in NCES studies are grouped in different ways—such as by age, race/ethnicity, or the type of school at which they work—and their information is studied to identify patterns of experiences that people in these different groups may have had. This is what makes our datasets representative, or similar enough to the demographics of the population to able to accurately reflect the characteristics of everyone (even those who aren’t sampled to participate).

    For example, the NTPS is designed to support analysis of a variety of subgroups, such as those by
  • school level (i.e., elementary, middle, high, and combined);
  • school community type (i.e., urban, suburban, town, and rural);
  • teachers’ and principals’ years of experience in the profession; and
  • race/ethnicity of teachers and principals (figure 1).

These diverse subgroups are critically important for both federal and local policymakers who want to make decisions using information that truly represents everyone in the field.

Figure 1. Percentage of K–12 public and private school teachers who reported that they have any control over various areas of planning and teaching in their classrooms, by school type and selected school characteristic: 2020–21 


NOTE: Data are weighted estimates of the population. Response options included “no control,” “minor control,” “moderate control,” and “a great deal of control.” Teachers who reported “minor control,” “moderate control,” or “a great deal of control” were considered to have reported having “any control.”
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public and Private School Teacher Data File,” 2020–21.

Larger datasets allow for more nuanced comparisons by school, principal, or teacher characteristics that aren’t possible in smaller datasets, allowing for more equity in national and local estimates and more distinct answers to key policy questions. But we need district-level support to provide these nuanced data.

Although the NTPS has a fairly large sample to support state representation, it still only includes a small percentage of all schools and educators in the country. Sampling is used to avoid collecting data from all systems, staff, and students, thus helping to limit overall respondent burden on our education system. For this reason, it’s important that all sampled schools and educators participate if selected. Since some districts also have formal review processes—through which a survey must be approved before any schools or educators can be contacted—it is also important that districts with sampled schools grant NCES surveys permission to collect data from their schools.

Both levels of participation will help us collect data that accurately describe a state or population. Otherwise, the story we are telling in the data is only augmenting some voices—and these are the experiences that will be reflected in federal policy and funding.


As the education sector strives to understand the needs of students and staff on the tails of the coronavirus pandemic, trustworthy data are only becoming more critical to the decisionmaking process. NCES datasets like the NTPS are critical resources that federal, state, and district policymakers can and have used for benchmarking strategic goals or conducting analyses on how a topic has (or hasn’t) changed over time.

The catch being, of course, that all data on the NTPS—and many other NCES surveys—come directly from schools, principals, and teachers themselves. These analyses and reports are not possible without district and educator participation. While it may seem counterintuitive that any one person could make such a large difference in federal education policy, the concept doesn’t differ from civic duties such as voting in federal or local elections.

Below is a visual summary of this blog post that can be used in your own professional discussions about the importance of participating in federal education surveys.

NCES would like to thank every district, school, administrator, teacher, parent, and student who has previously approved or participated in an NCES survey. We wouldn’t be able to produce our reports and data products without your participation.

We are currently conducting the 2023–24 NTPS to learn more about school and educator experiences following the pandemic. Find more information about the NTPS, including findings and details from prior collections.


By Maura Spiegelman and Julia Merlin, NCES

Using Federal Education Data to Inform Policymaking: Part 1–Benefits and Advantages

While federal, state, and district policymakers have used education data as the backbone of their policy and funding decisions for years, there’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to highlight the criticality of reliable data and illuminate the gaps in our collective knowledge. 

But where can policymakers find education datasets that are large enough for comparative or trend analyses while still specific enough to measure timely issues in local contexts? How can policymakers extract and interpret information from these education datasets? The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is a perfect resource for these data and information needs.  

In this two-part blog series, we’ll discuss the role of NCES as the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing essential education data in the United States and highlight a specific NCES survey—the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS)—which is designed to support state and district policymakers.

Federal, state, and district decisionmakers need reliable, trustworthy data to inform education funding and policy regulations. In order to enact good laws that best serve all of our students and school staff, they need data that are as diverse and representative as our schools. As a federal statistical agency, NCES fulfills a Congressional mandate to collect, analyze, and report statistics on the condition of U.S. education and is the primary source that policymakers and other decisionmakers rely on for education data. These efforts include administrative data collections and cross-sectional, longitudinal, and assessment surveys that gather information to help the education sector better understand early childhood, K–12, and postsecondary education nationally and internationally.

The NTPS exemplifies the utility of NCES data. NTPS data are available both nationally and by state (via the NTPS State Dashboard and DataLab) and are used by policymakers and researchers to make funding and other policy decisions. NCES also helps decisionmakers, researchers, and the public use and make sense of the data by providing access to NTPS datasets and publishing reports, such as numerous NTPS reports, the Condition of Education, and the Digest of Education Statistics.

The NTPS collects data about school conditions and the demographics of public and private K–12 teachers and principals directly from school staff themselves, providing critical data on educators’ perspectives and experiences in schools every day.

The NTPS has been collected in one form or another since 1987–88—when it was known as the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS)—and was last conducted during the 2020–21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The 2023–24 NTPS is currently being conducted.

Let’s use the NTPS to answer a few common questions about the role of federal education data.

1. Why do federal data matter to district policymakers if states and districts have their own local collections?

In a postpandemic world cleaved into “before” and “after,” policymakers at all levels need information on the condition of education across the country to craft policies that are truly reflective of the needs, challenges, and strengths of students and staff.

Since education in the United States is primarily a state and local responsibility, it can be difficult to make comparisons between states if we don’t have a federal agency collecting the data in a systematic and comparable way across the country. The NTPS, for example, publishes both public school data at the national and state levels and representative public and private school, principal, and teacher data for several characteristics (e.g., type of community in which a school is located; percentage enrollment of students of color; staff characteristics like race/ethnicity and years of experience).  

Figure 1 shows an NTPS-based example of how using common questions across all school systems supports important cross-state comparisons. This is just one of hundreds of similar comparisons that have been made using NTPS data on topics such as teachers’ classroom experiences and principals’ challenges filling needed teacher vacancies. Comparisons can also focus on different school, principal, and teacher characteristics (e.g., type of community in which a school is located; level of training for staff; race/ethnicity of staff).

Figure 1. Percentage of public schools that provide instruction beyond the school day for students who need academic assistance: 2020–21

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Data File,” 2020–21.

The primary responsibility of state or district education decisionmakers is to use trustworthy data to support the needs of their local schools and families Thankfully, state, district, and school leadership don’t need to assume the full financial and logistical responsibility on their own when there are federal data available that can help with state and local data needs. The same federal education data underpinning congressional funding decisions, policy choices, and guidance can be used for numerous state, district, and school policy and practice decisions as well—if education leaders know where to look.

Federal, state, and district education agencies and schools all serve different roles in the education sector but have similar and mutually beneficial responsibilities and goals on behalf of students and school staff (figure 2).

Figure 2. Mutually beneficial relationships

NCES and its predecessors have been congressionally mandated since 1867 to collect, analyze, and report data on the condition and progress of U.S. education for policymakers to use as a tool when making decisions to support our students and our school staff. National and state-level estimates from NCES surveys support state and district data efforts and strategic goals. For example, the California State Senate used state-level NTPS school start time data1 to inform SB:328 (a bill to require California school districts to shift middle and high school start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.), which was passed in 2017 and amended in 2021.  

2. How do federal data benefit everyone in the education sector?

NCES produces unique data and information products that rely on statistics produced from data collected through state or district records and a suite of surveys, the majority of which come directly from responses given by educators, students, and families. For example, NCES produces an annual report to Congress called the Condition of Education. The Condition of Education summarizes and makes sense of data from more than 25 data collections administered by NCES and other government agencies. Federal policymakers also rely on other NCES reports, such as the annual Digest of Education Statistics, Projections of Education Statistics, and Report on Indicators of School Crime and Safety. For an example of the indicators available in the Condition of Education, see the figure below, which is from Characteristics of Traditional Public, Public Charter, and Private School Teachers.

Figure 3. Percentage distribution of teachers in traditional public, public charter, and private elementary and secondary schools, by highest degree earned: School year 2020–21


1 Education specialist degrees or certificates are generally awarded for 1 year’s work beyond the master’s level. Includes certificate of advanced graduate studies.
NOTE: Excludes teachers who teach only prekindergarten. Data are based on a head count of full-time and part-time teachers rather than on the number of full-time-equivalent teachers. Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School Teacher Data File” and “Private School Teacher Data File,” 2020–21. See Digest of Education Statistics 2022, tables 209.10 and 209.21.

The Condition of Education and other NCES reports and data products provide information on key topics in education to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the White House Domestic Policy Council, and senior staff within many federal agencies including the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Justice (DOJ), and Department of Agriculture (USDA). Some of the recent policy initiatives and research initiatives supported by NTPS data include the following:


In part 2 of this blog series, we will present the challenges and opportunities created by using federal education data to inform policymaking at the federal, state, and district levels. 

NCES would like to thank every district, school, administrator, teacher, parent, and student who has previously approved or participated in an NCES survey. We wouldn’t be able to produce our reports and data products without your participation.

We are currently conducting the 2023–24 NTPS to learn more about school and educator experiences following the pandemic. Find more information about the NTPS, including findings and details from prior collections.


By Maura Spiegelman and Julia Merlin, NCES

[1] The California State Senate Bill 328 referenced data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which was the direct predecessor to the NTPS.

Women’s Equality Day: The Gender Wage Gap Continues

Today, on Women’s Equality Day, we honor the many women who fuel the education sector with their dedication to our nation’s students! But, let’s also remember the many ways women are still striving to overcome inequalities in the workplace.

Women made up the majority of public school teachers (77 percent) and public school principals (54 percent) in 2017–18. While overrepresented in terms of public school positions, women were paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

Background Demographics

Compared to 30 years ago, women made up higher proportions of public school teachers and principals in 2017–18 than in 1987–88. According to data from the 1987–88 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), 71 percent of all public school teachers were women. By 2017–18, data from the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) showed the rate had increased to 77 percent. The percentage of female public school principals more than doubled during the same period, from 25 percent in 1987–88 to 54 percent in 2017–18. 

Historically, U.S. school buildings weren’t heavily populated by women. Nearly all teachers were men before “Common Schools”—the precursor to today’s public school system—were introduced in the late 1820s. As the education landscape shifted, so did the composition of the teaching workforce. By the 1890s, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of all public school teachers were women.1 

New Depression-era laws in the 1930s—which limited the number of adults in a family who were allowed to work in certain occupations—made it more difficult for married women to stay in the workforce, since a husband often earned more than his wife, even in the same position. Since female public school teachers were the most immediately recognizable example of this law at the local level, married women in education were direct targets of employment discrimination.2 Consequently, the percentage of female teachers dropped from 81 percent in 1930 to 76 percent in 1940.3 Throughout history, this percentage continued to fluctuate as laws readjusted more equitably and more diverse jobs became available to women, although women have always represented more than 50 percent of the teacher workforce. 

The Gender Wage Gap: Teachers and Principals (2017–18 NTPS)

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, women are paid less than men in nearly all occupations. While the gap for public elementary and secondary teachers is smaller than the average, it still exists.  

History tells us that the gender wage gap in elementary and secondary education wasn’t accidental. In fact, it was specifically created to expand the reach of the public education system by Common School reformers who argued that the United States could afford to staff the proposed new schools by adding more female teachers, since schools could pay them less than male teachers.4

Patterns in teacher compensation from the 2017–18 school year show that the average base teaching salary of female public school teachers is less than that of their male counterparts ($55,490 vs. $57,453).5 Comparably, female public school principals also had a lower average salary in 2017–18 than did male principals ($96,300 vs. $100,600).

How does average annual salary vary based on teacher, principal, or school characteristics? (201718 NTPS)

Public school teacher and principal salaries are known to vary by several individual- or school-related characteristics (see figures 1 and 2).

For instance, there are fluctuations in teachers’ and principals’ average annual salary by age, years of experience, and highest degree earned. Salary increases often follow a predictable pattern: older, more experienced, or more highly educated teachers and principals generally earn higher salaries than their younger, less experienced, or less educated counterparts.

Educators are also paid differently based on where they work. Certain school characteristics, such as community type, school level, and school size, can influence teachers’ and principals’ average salaries. In 2017–18, the educators with the highest average annual salary worked in either suburban schools, high schools, or large schools with more than 1,000 enrolled students.

Figure 1. Average annual base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by selected school or teacher characteristics: 201718

[click figure image to enlarge]

Horizontal bar chart showing average annual base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by selected school or teacher characteristics (community type, school level, student enrollment, years of experience, and highest degree earned) in 2017–18

Figure 2. Average annual salary of public school principals, by selected school or principal characteristics: 2017–18

[click figure image to enlarge]

Horizontal bar chart showing average annual salary of public school principals, by selected school or principal characteristics (community type, school level, student enrollment, years of experience, and highest degree earned) in 2017–18

Do teacher, principal, or school characteristics close the gender wage gap? (201718 NTPS)

We know that gender differences in average salary can be correlated with other related factors. For example, higher percentages of public primary school teachers (89 percent) and principals (67 percent) than of public middle or high school educators are female. Notably, figures 1 and 2 show that primary school educators earn less on average than their counterparts in middle or high schools. But these other related factors don’t entirely explain the male-female wage gap.


Comparing male and female public school teachers who have the same characteristics can, in some situations, narrow the wage gap (see figure 3).

Figure 3. Average base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by sex and selected school and teacher characteristics: 2017–18

[click figure image to enlarge]

Line graph showing average base teaching salary of regular, full-time public school teachers, by sex and selected school and teacher characteristics (years of experience, highest degree earned, community type, school level, and student enrollment) in 2017–18

Among teachers who have the same years of experience, salaries among newer teachers are more similar than among more experienced teachers. There is no significant difference in the average base teaching salary between male and female teachers with less than 4 years or 4–9 years of experience. However, the wage gap remains for the most experienced teachers. Female teachers with 10–14 years or 15 or more years of experience had lower average salaries ($56,990 and $66,600, respectively) than their male counterparts with the same amount of experience ($58,300 and $69,100, respectively).

Similarly, female teachers whose highest degree is bachelor’s degree or less or whose highest degree is a master’s degree earn less on average per year ($49,600 and $62,700, respectively) than male teachers with the same amount of education ($52,300 and $64,300, respectively).6 There is no significant difference between the average salaries of male and female teachers who have higher than a master’s degree.   

When looking at the data by key school characteristics, the wage gap also shrinks for at least some teachers. As discussed before, average base teaching salaries vary by school level and by school size. When comparing male and female teachers at the same school level, female primary school teachers earn less ($56,800) than male primary school teachers ($59,000). But there is no significant difference in average salaries between male and female middle and high school teachers, nor between male and female teachers who work at the same size schools.  

However, gender differences in average base teaching salary remain when school location is the same. In all four community types, female teachers have lower average salaries than their male colleagues: $62,300 vs. $64,400 in suburbs, $59,000 vs. $60,800 in cities, $50,200 vs. $52,600 in rural areas, and $50,100 vs. $52,000 in towns.


Female principals consistently have lower average annual salaries than male principals, even when controlling for other related factors (see figure 4).

Figure 4. Average annual salary of public school principals, by sex and selected school and principal characteristics: 2017–18

[click figure image to enlarge] 

Line graph showing average annual salary of public school principals, by sex and selected school and teacher characteristics (years of experience, highest degree earned, community type, school level, and student enrollment) in 2017–18

Both the newest and the most experienced female principals are paid significantly less on average than their male peers with the same amount of experience. Similarly, when considering highest degree earned, the data show that female principals are consistently paid less on average than male principals. For example, female principals with a doctorate or first professional degree are paid less on average than male principals with the same education ($102,800 vs. $111,900).

For the most part, principal salaries by gender also remain significantly different when accounting for school characteristics. For example, when considering school location, the data show that female principals have lower average salaries than their male colleagues in all four community types: $105,200 vs. $112,700 in suburbs, $101,400 vs. $106,000 in cities, $85,800 vs. $92,000 in towns, and $82,200 vs. $87,500 in rural areas.

Although there is a lot more to learn about the complex levers that guide educator salaries, the data show that the male-female wage gap is still affecting female educators in many situations.  

Because of the NTPS, researchers, policymakers, and other decisionmakers can continue to analyze relationships that may influence the gender salary gap, including state-by-state differences, turnover rates, self-rated evaluation and job satisfaction scales, and data on the self-reported amount of influence an educator has over various school or classroom decisions. Results from the 2020–21 NTPS will be released in fall 2022 and will include information on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on public and private schools. Whether the gender wage gap changed over the last two school years is to be determined.

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Facts and figures in this blog come from the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) and its predecessor, the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). The NTPS is a primary source of information about K12 schools and educators across the United States and a great resource for understanding the characteristics and experiences of public and private school teachers and principals.


By Julia Merlin, NCES

[1] The Fifty-Second Congress. (1893). The executive documents of the House of Representatives for the second session of the Fifty-second Congress (Vol. 1). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 

[2] Blackwelder, J.K. (1998). Women of the Depression: Caste and Culture in San Antonio, 1929–1939. Texas A&M University Press.

[3] Adams, K.H., and Kenne, M.L. (2015). Women, Art, and the New Deal. McFarland.

[4] Kaestle, C. F. (1983). Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society: 1780–1860. Macmillan.

[5] For the purpose of this blog post, only regular, full-time teachers are included in any salary calculations. A regular full-time teacher is any teacher whose primary position in a school is not an itinerant teacher, a long-term substitute, a short-term substitute, a student teacher, a teacher aide, an administrator, a library media or librarian, another type of professional staff (e.g., counselor, curriculum coordinator, social worker) or support staff (e.g., secretary), or a part-time teacher. For average base salary, teachers who reported zero are excluded from analysis. Summer earnings are not included.

[6] Notably, most teachers have earned a bachelor’s (39 percent) or a master’s (49 percent) degree as their highest level of education. The percentage distribution of teachers whose highest degree earned is a bachelor’s or a master’s degree does not meaningfully differ by gender.

Changes in Pupil/Teacher Ratios in 2020: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought enormous challenges to the education system, including a historic decline in enrollment in fall 2020—the largest since during World War II. Due to the relatively small decrease in the number of teachers, there was a significant drop in the pupil/teacher ratio.  

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases key statistics, including school staffing data, compiled from state administrative records through the Common Core of Data (CCD). In 2019, about 48 percent of public school staff were teachers (3.2 million) and 13 percent were instructional aides (0.9 million). NCES’s new School Pulse Panel survey found that in January 2022, about 61 percent of public schools with at least one vacancy reported that the pandemic increased the number of teacher and staff vacancies, and 57 percent of schools with at least one vacancy found that the pandemic forced them to use teachers outside their normal duty areas.

Pupil/teacher ratios provide a measure of the quantity of instructional resources available to students by comparing the number of students with the total full-time equivalent (FTE) of all teachers, including special education teachers. The public and private elementary and secondary average class size is larger than the pupil/teacher ratio since it normally does not factor into team teaching, specialty teachers, or special education classes. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools1 decreased by 2.7 percent.2 This decrease was larger than the 0.2 percent (6,700)3 decrease in the number of public school teachers. Since fall 2020, public school enrollment decreased by a larger amount than did the number of teachers. Thus, the pupil/teacher ratio declined in school year 2020–21 by a relatively large 0.5 pupils per teacher, from 15.9 to 15.4 pupils per teacher (figure 1). This is the largest 1-year decrease in more than 4 decades. In comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was 11.4 in 2019–20 (the latest year of actual data available). It is worth noting that pupil/teacher ratios vary across schools with different characteristics (table 208.10).

Viewed over a longer term, the pupil/teacher ratio in public schools in 2019–20 (15.9) was only slightly lower than in 2010–11 (16.0), so nearly all the change during the 2010–11 to 2020–21 period occurred in the last year. The pupil/teacher ratio for private schools decreased from 12.5 in 2010–11 to 11.4 in 2019–20.

Figure 1. Pupil/teacher ratio in public and private elementary and secondary schools: 2010–11 to 2020–21

Line graph showing pupil/teacher ratio in public and private elementary and secondary schools from 2010–11 to 2020–21

NOTE: Data in this figure represent the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data for teachers are expressed in full-time equivalents (FTE). Counts of private school enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12 in schools offering kindergarten or higher grades. Counts of private school teachers exclude teachers who teach only prekindergarten students. Counts of public school teachers and enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12. The pupil/teacher ratio includes teachers for students with disabilities and other special teachers, while these teachers are generally excluded from class size calculations. Ratios for public schools reflect totals reported by states and differ from totals reported for schools or school districts.  The school year 2020–21 pupil/teacher ratio shown in this figure includes only states which reported both membership and FTE teacher counts for SY 2020–21.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 208.20; Common Core of Data, table 2.

The declines in pupil/teacher ratios in public schools were not consistent across states between 2019–20 and 2020–21 (figure 2). The relatively large enrollment decreases in many states—along with the smaller decreases or even increases in the number of teachers in fall 2020—led to decreases in the pupil/teacher ratios for most states. Three states (Nevada, Florida, and Ohio) reported increases in their pupil/teacher ratios, and the rest of the states reporting data had decreases in their pupil/teacher ratios. The states with the largest decreases in their pupil/teacher ratios were Indiana (-1.3 pupils per teacher), Arizona (-1.1 pupils per teacher), Kansas (-0.9 pupils per teacher), and Kentucky (-0.9 pupils per teacher).4

Figure 2. Change in pupil/teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools, by state: 2019–20 to 2020–21

Map of United States showing increases and decreases in pupil/teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools from 2019–20 to 2020–21

NOTE: Data for Illinois and Utah are not available.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), “State Nonfiscal Public Elementary/Secondary Education Survey,” 2019–20 v.1a, table 2, and 2020–21 v.1a, table 2.


By Tom Snyder, AIR

[1] Counts of public school teachers and enrollment include prekindergarten through grade 12.

[2] Enrollment data are for fall of the school year while pupil/teacher ratios are based on school years.

[3] Includes imputed teacher FTE data for Illinois and Utah.

[4] Although Oregon had a 2 pupil per teacher decrease based on the Summary Table 2 for 2019–20 and 2020–21, Oregon did not submit prekindergarten data for 2020–21, so the ratios were not comparable.