West Virginia schools closed for nearly two weeks during a statewide walkout over teacher salaries in early 2018. Days after state officials approved a 5 percent raise, the teachers union in Oklahoma threatened a strike if educators there didn’t receive a pay increase by April 2.
Teachers and local governments are continually haggling over salaries, especially in states where teachers earn much less than the national average. In 2015-16, public school teachers earned $58,064 a year, on average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). But educator pay varies significantly across states, from an average of $44,921 in Oklahoma to $77,957 in New York.
Why should school administrators and government leaders care about teacher pay — beyond wanting their employees to be able to afford their living expenses?
Below, we present research that examines this issue. What scholars have found is that teacher salaries are linked to employee retention and that better pay seems to draw smarter people to the field and into the classroom. It’s not clear, however, whether higher salaries result in higher student achievement.
At the end of this page, you’ll find links to other helpful resources, including teacher salary data and a report on annual stipends for instructors who earn National Board Certification.
“Towards an Optimal Teacher Salary Schedule: Designing Base Salary to Attract and Retain Effective Teachers”
Hendricks, Matthew D. Economics of Education Review, 2015. DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2015.05.008.
Summary: This study is the first to estimate the impact of teacher pay on the experience levels of teachers applying for jobs in public schools. The researcher examined data on teachers with bachelor’s degrees who worked in 165 Texas school districts between 1995 and 2012. He found that districts can target teachers of a certain experience level by altering their salary schedules. “Overall, a 1 percent increase in base salary for teachers of a particular experience level increases the proportion of the targeted teachers hired by 0.04–0.08 percentage points.” The researcher recommended giving newer teachers larger raises than veteran educators. “This more efficient salary schedule reduces a district’s payroll costs while it retains more teachers, who gain in experience and productivity over time …”
“Does it Pay to Pay Teachers More? Evidence from Texas”
Hendricks, Matthew D. Journal of Public Economics, 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2013.11.001.
Summary: This study, which examines data on teachers in 165 Texas districts between 1996 to 2011, finds that a 1 percent increase in teacher pay reduces teacher turnover by 1.4 percent. Changes in pay have a larger impact on turnover rates among less experienced teachers and have no effect on teachers with 19 years or more of experience.
“Teacher Pay and Teacher Aptitude”
Leigh, Andrew. Economics of Education Review, 2012. DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2012.02.001.
Summary: This researcher examined the test scores of individuals entering teacher education courses in Australia over a span of 15 years. He matched college entrance exam scores with data on teacher salaries to gauge how changes in pay affect the quality of students entering the education field. The study finds that individuals with higher test scores take teacher education courses when average teacher pay increases. “The relationship between average pay and teacher aptitude is positive and significant: a 1 percent rise in teacher pay (relative to other occupations requiring a college degree) is associated with approximately a 0.6 point rise in the average percentile rank of potential teachers,” the author wrote.
“Teacher Mobility, School Segregation, and Pay-Based Policies to Level the Playing Field”
Clotfelter, Charles T.; Ladd, Helen F.; Vigdor, Jacob L. Working paper for the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, 2010.
Summary: This study, which examines multiple issues and data sets, suggests that better salaries increase a school’s chance of hiring teachers who earned high scores on their teacher certification exams. It also indicates that schools serving mostly minority students need to give very large raises to retain teachers with the strongest qualifications.
“Do Higher Salaries Buy Better Teachers?”
Hanushek, Eric A.; Kain, John F.; Rivkin, Steven G. Working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, 1999.
Summary: This study uses several data sources to investigate how shifts in teacher salary schedules affect the composition of teachers working in Texas school districts. The study suggests teacher mobility — or how teachers move from job to job — is more strongly impacted by the characteristics of the student body than by salaries. While the relationship between teacher quality and student performance is complicated, this study finds that “salary policies do not appear to offer much promise for improvement in student performance.” Teacher quality varies within schools, according to the authors, who suggest that school districts focus on other ways to improve teacher quality and student achievement.
Other helpful resources:
- The NCES provides data on average teacher salaries in each state from 1969-70 to 2015-16. The NCES also offers data on the number and percentage of teachers with master’s degrees, who generally earn more than those with bachelor’s degrees.
- The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, is a lead advocate for higher teacher pay.
- The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers teachers the opportunity to earn National Board Certification. In many states, teachers holding this prestigious certification earn more money, often in the form of an annual stipend.
- Journalist’s Resource has reviewed research on teacher performance pay and the relationship between teacher union contracts and school district performance.
Photo by BES Photos obtained from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.