Women administrators “have to work longer, harder and smarter” to get equal pay

Idaho administrators listen to a workshop on administrative salaries that was presented by Boise State University Assistant Professor Heather Williams. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

In Idaho, school administrators who are women make around as much money as their male counterparts, but they attain higher levels of education and work more days to do so, a recent Boise State University study found.

The study looked at salaries of K-12 principals and administrators in non-charter public schools and observed that female superintendents have an earnings edge of about half a percent over their male counterparts. But women in those positions are more likely to have doctoral degrees, work more days each year and they have an average of two and a half more years of education experience on their resumes, according to numbers from the last two school years. Women superintendents also lead bigger districts, on average, to get those comparable paychecks.

In contrast, women who are principals make about $2,300 less annually than the average-earning male principal in Idaho — a mean that’s just over $87,000 a year.

Women “have to work longer, harder and smarter” as school administrators, said Heather Williams, a BSU education professor who coauthored the study.

Wendell Middle School Principal Brian Jadwin led the research while completing an education specialist degree at BSU under Williams’ teaching. Earlier this month, Williams and Jadwin presented the findings of their study to some of its subjects  — Idaho school administrators — at an annual conference for school leaders.

Differences in how women and men are paid can be explained by a wide range of factors, Jadwin said.

One is a lack of a state administrative pay scale. While teachers are paid based on a career ladder, which awards salaries based on level of experience and education, districts have more leeway to negotiate superintendent and principal salaries. While some districts have created similar pay scales for their admin, lack of a statewide framework can create pay gaps, Jadwin told conference attendees.

But the coauthors point out that several other factors might play into pay differences, including:

  • Women might be less likely to negotiate their salaries with school boards, especially if their salary isn’t listed as “negotiable” on job descriptions.
  • Women are more likely to be principals in elementary schools than middle schools, where earnings are higher for women and men. That brings down women’s’ average incomes.
  • School types, sizes and locations can all help explain differences in administrator salaries, according to the study. That can make isolating how much gender influences pay more complicated.

Administrators in urban school districts also tend to make significantly more than those in rural ones, researchers reported.

Also notable: most of the state’s K-12 administrators are men. Of the principals BSU looked at, 44% were women, but among superintendents, 26% were women. That could be the result of steering, or social expectations making women less likely to pursue those roles, the study suggests.

Steering, along with administrator pay increases coming slower than those for teachers, can prevent teachers from making the switch to administrative jobs, or “coming to the dark side,” as Jadwin joked.

Charter schools weren’t included in the study, Williams said, because their varying sizes and styles make comparisons between traditional school districts even more complicated.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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