Based on salary alone, the Chicago Public Schools is one of the more attractive districts in Cook County for elementary school teachers.

The CPS starting salary ranks fifth among the 117 districts serving elementary students. The top CPS salary ranks 55th and is more than $2,000 above the average, a Catalyst analysis found. There are some 9,500 teaching positions in the districts with higher top pay, which is only about half the total number of elementary teachers in Chicago.

However, for high school teachers, CPS is one of the least attractive districts in the county. While its starting salary ranks 14th among the 29 districts serving high school students, its maximum salary ranks last and is more than $17,000 below the average.

There are about 6,900 high school teaching positions in the districts with higher top salaries, roughly the same number as in Chicago.

This year, starting teacher pay in CPS is $36,231, and top pay is $64,464, for a 40-week year. (The rankings in this article are based on last year’s pay scales, as reported by the Illinois State Board of Education.)

What makes the high school situation worse for Chicago, from a competitive standpoint, is that the district requires a Ph.D. for teachers to earn the top salary while all but 11 other Cook County districts require only a master’s degree plus up to 64 additional graduate credits.

CPS finds itself in this uneven competitive situation because, as a unit or K-12 district, it has a single pay scale for elementary and high school teachers. All but one other district in Cook County serves either elementary students or high school students, and the high school districts pay far more.

“It’s true all over the country. High schools spend more, and they pay more,” says Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin professor who has studied teacher pay in urban districts throughout the nation.

Odden says that one way to make high school teaching positions in unit districts more attractive is to offer bonuses in shortage areas.

“Pay more for math, science and technology teachers,” he suggests. “Teachers in those hot areas are likely to have their pick of schools to teach at.”

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