Who Cares If North Dakota Teacher Pay Is Below The National Average?


“The average salary of a public schoolteacher in North Dakota has risen steadily in recent years,” writes Forum Communications reporter Adrian Glass-Moore, “though it still falls below the national average.”

My thought? Who cares.

You can click through to the article to get the specific numbers on teacher salaries, but I’d like to talk about the premise of the article. I think it’s irrelevant for two reasons.

  • The nature of averages means that about half of the states are going to be below the national average in teacher pay no matter what. That’s what the average is. An average. By necessity, there must be things both above and below it.
  • What other states are paying their teachers really shouldn’t matter much to North Dakota.

I think the teacher unions love this narrative because, at least superficially, it’s beneficial for their case for higher teacher pay. After all, who wants to be below average in anything?

To the second of my two points of contention with this narrative, the national average for teacher pay shouldn’t matter to North Dakota because, for one thing, those averages don’t take into account things like cost of living. Historically North Dakota has had a lower cost of living than most of the rest of the nation, though with the oil-driven economic renaissance we’ve seen in the state that’s probably changed. But still, the point is that $45,000 per year in Hazen, North Dakota, isn’t quite the same as $45,000 per year in Brooklyn or San Francisco.

For another, the only thing North Dakota policymakers and school boards should worry about are teacher turnover and retention rates. If we’re losing too many teachers, or if we’re having a hard time filling vacancies, then there’s probably a case to be made for adjusting compensation. If those things aren’t a problem, then compensation levels are probably just fine.

In neither instance does it really matter what teachers in Minnesota or New York or Hawaii are making.

The one area where teacher pay in other states may matter is after we’ve already decided that adjustments to compensation levels are needed. But we shouldn’t be concerned about raising teacher pay just to get a more favorable comparison to the national average.