Education Salary Comparison: Teacher Pay vs. Administrative Salaries in Education

Government statistics show a big disparity between teacher and administrative pay in school systems, with administrators making as much as 63% more than teachers

By Neil Johnson
Posted 2012

Teacher Pay vs. School Administrators Salaries
Teacher Pay vs. School Administrators Salaries

When payday comes, it’s good to be a boss.

That’s especially true in education where teacher pay ranks near the bottom of professions that require a college degree.

Move up to a supervisory position and the salary picture gets brighter. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that on average, a school principal makes 63% more than a teacher.

Differences in Duties for Teachers, Administrators

Administrators are like supervisors in most jobs and carry out policies and directives of the school board and superintendent. They are in charge of the school or head various departments such as guidance or curriculum. They also work in district offices overseeing segments of the entire school system.

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Though a principal is the highest administration position at a school, there are other administrative jobs such as special education coordinator and curriculum coordinator. There also are administrative positions in guidance and some schools have deans in charge of specific areas, such as overseeing faculty.

Teachers handle the daily instruction, make lesson plans, grade and test, evaluate students and work with individual students, groups or the entire class. They also meet with parents and supervise after class activities.

The Disparity Between Teachers Pay and School Administrators Salaries 

The BLS puts the median pay for school principals at $86,900, meaning half the principals made more and half earned less.

Meanwhile, the federal agency said the median pay for a high school teacher is $53,200, for middle school teachers it is $51,900 and elementary teachers, $51,300.

But even principals among the lowest-paid 10% pulled in $58,000, according to the BLS. The top 10% of the principals earned more than $129,000 and some state salary databases show a lot more.

For example, in New York - where teachers have the highest average pay in the nation at $72,700 - a state Education Department database listing salaries for more than 5,000 administrative positions includes fewer than 30 that pay less than $100,000.

The Gannett company-owned website in New York has a database showing only three of nearly 700 school districts in the state pay administrators less than $72,000 that the average teacher earns.

Reasons For The Disparity in Pay

There are some reasons for the gap between what teachers make and their bosses are paid.

While saying teachers are not paid enough, an article from the American Association of School Administrators said the difference between boss and worker pay can actually be thin. A new assistant principal may earn only 2% more than a teacher with extensive experience, the article said.

Compare principals and relatively experienced teachers and the difference becomes 17%, the article said.

The article also said an administrator’s work year is 20% to 30% longer than that of a teacher who averages 187 working days a year compared to principals with about 225.

Another factor, the article said, is education. About 66% of school superintendents have degrees beyond a master’s and 40% of the principals hold more advanced degrees, the article said.

Moving From the Classroom to the Front Office

A master’s degree in education leadership or education administration is almost universally necessary for a teacher to move from the classroom to the administration office, the BLS said, and you generally need a bachelor’s degree in education or school counseling to enter the master’s programs.

More than 1,000 regionally accredited institutions offer a master’s level program in education, according to a U.S. News ranking of online master’s in education programs. said some administrative jobs may require a doctorate, but all require experience.

An elementary principle position usually requires at least three years of teaching experience while a middle school principle may need five years, the website said. Experience in a lower administrative job such as assistant principal is helpful seeking the principal’s job at a middle school and almost a necessity at the high school level, the website said.

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Any teacher looking to move into administration should have leadership and communication skills, the site said.

The need for elementary and middle school principals is expected to grow at 17% through 2020, or higher than the nation’s overall job growth of 14%, the BLS said.

However job growth for principals and high school teachers is expected to be lower with the need for principals rising at 10% and high school teachers at 7%.

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