Can Increasing Teacher Pay Improve Teacher Quality?

Written by: Dave Reid

Primary Source: Green & Write, January 4, 2016

A recent report on National Public Radio (NPR) asked the question: does it pay to pay teachers $100,000? This is a not a new question, as in the past researchers, organizations, policymakers, and states have wrestled with questions about how to best compensate their teaching workforce. Now, as more teachers across the country are actually making $100,000, evidence is rolling in answering if paying teachers more improves teacher quality and thus the educational experiences for our nation’s students.

Photo Courtesy of Dondu Small

Photo Courtesy of Dondu Small

Why Pay Teachers More?

The average teacher in the U.S. makes about $56,000 per year, although this number varies greatly by state and district. Proponents of increased teacher pay argue teachers are underpaid for the hard work of educating children and paying teachers more will improve the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers.

Other proponents of increasing teacher pay argue teacher salaries have not increased at the rates seen in other professions, and while beginning teacher salaries are not terribly low, the growth of a teacher’s salary throughout his/her career pales in comparison to most other professions.

Restructuring Teacher Pay

There is a growing consensus that teacher pay needs to be restructured. The current system of paying teachers dates back to the 1920’s, and for the majority of states and districts, this system has changed very little over the past 95 years.

Despite the consensus that teacher pay scales need to be changed, there is wide disagreement with regard to how this should look. Proponents of “pay for performance” salary changes (i.e. paying teachers more based on how they do on their annual evaluation, including how their students perform on standardize tests) argue that these types of systems reward the best teachers based on objective measures of performance. However, critics of these types of systems typically counter with teacher evaluations are flawed (particularly when they tie these evaluations to student test scores), and these evaluations may not most accurately reflect effective teaching. Therefore tying increased teacher pay to these systems is an imperfect approach.

Does Increased Teacher Pay Equal Increased Teacher Quality?

In short, yes. While earlier work showed mixed results on whether teacher pay had the potential to improve the quality of the teaching workforce, more recent work shows that paying teachers (and particularly early career teachers) more has the potential to improve student achievement through retention.

Additional research shows breaking away from the traditional model of paying teachers attracts candidates into the teaching profession.

These are promising findings, as overwhelming research finds that teachers improve as they gain experience and early career teachers often leave the profession at higher rates than their more experienced counterparts. Anything that has the potential to keep effective teachers teaching longer is a positive. Paying teachers more and coming up with innovate ways to improve teacher pay should continue to be explored and implemented in all contexts.

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Dave Reid
Dave is a doctoral student in Educational Policy and Teacher Education. His current research interests include how teachers make sense of and interact with the policies they are asked to implement. Prior to returning to graduate school, Dave was a 7th and 8th grade special education teacher and also served as an instructional coach for elementary and middle school teachers. Dave earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications from Franklin Pierce College and an M.Ed. in education from Arizona State University. - See more at: