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Will Higher Pay Solve the Worst Teacher Shortage Ever? It Can't Hurt!

Many school districts face the worst teacher shortage ever. Twenty percent of new teachers leave the field within the first three years and, on average, teachers who leave the profession are above-average teachers. Math, science, and special education teachers are in short supply, and urban and rural schools struggle to recruit talented teachers. Today, Education World writer Glori Chaika explores some of the creative strategies school districts have developed to recruit and retain teachers. Included: Programs attract quality teachers with such incentives as subsidized housing, tax breaks, student loan forgiveness, and more!

"For years, the teaching profession could count on discrimination, depression, and recession to act as its recruiting agent but no longer. The law of supply and demand doesn't apply to every occupation except teaching," American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Sandra Feldman told Education World. The booming economy offers potential teachers a cornucopia of more-lucrative professional opportunities.

Because of the growing number of school-aged children, class-size-reduction initiatives, and an anticipated retirement of more than a million veteran teachers, schools in the United States will need more than 2 million new teachers over the next decade. Attracting and retaining qualified teachers is very difficult when starting salaries hover around $25,000, many teachers' salaries average less than $40,000, and teachers have little opportunity for advancement.

"You can't raise a family in many parts of Louisiana on a beginning teacher's salary," Kathleen Modenback, who teaches at Northshore High School, in Slidell, Louisiana, told Education World. "Some Louisiana teachers' salaries are so low, the teachers may actually qualify for low-income housing. In addition, many teachers spend close to $1,000 of their own money annually for classroom supplies."


Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley suggests a year-round schedule, automatically raising teachers' pay 20 percent for the added work time.

Noting the nation's projected $3 trillion budget surplus, the nonpartisan New York-based research group Century Foundation recommends the federal government seize the initiative and raise U.S. teachers' salaries to a level that equals the salaries of other professionals who have similar schooling.

Many school systems, rather than assume a wait-and-see attitude, are actively developing their own initiatives.


School districts from coast to coast are launching ambitious initiatives to attract and retain teachers, especially teachers who belong to minority groups and teachers certified in critical-need areas or those willing to teach in urban or rural schools. Today, Education World explores some of those initiatives.

  • Filling critical-need areas. After SAT scores for Georgia students plunged to 50th in the nation and almost half of Georgia eighth graders failed the state's math test, the state -- like several others -- raised salaries for math teachers as well as hard-to-find science and special education teachers. In California's Silicon Valley, teachers willing to retrain in needed fields may receive grants, and in Wichita, Kansas, minority candidates and paraprofessionals interested in special education receive financial support.

  • Paying health insurance, retirement contributions, relocation expenses, or interviewing costs. The Hartford, Connecticut, system pays teachers' health insurance and grants veteran teachers annual bonuses of $100 for every year served. Some school districts provide relocation assistance, pay retirement system contributions, or give hotel and restaurant vouchers to those who come for interviews. Some subsidize on-site day care centers for teachers' children.

  • Enticing retirees. Several states pay retired teachers their pensions plus salaries if they return to the classroom. Christopher Cross, president of the Council for Basic Education and a former assistant U.S. secretary of education in the George Bush Sr. administration, told Education World how important it is to recruit people who are trained but are not teaching. He suggests waiving the cap on retirement earnings for teachers and allowing them to return to the classroom while still collecting social security and state pensions, an especially attractive proposition because retirees often live in places with the worst shortages, such as Florida, California, and Nevada.

  • Offering tough-assignment incentives. Nevada is considering offering teachers retirement credit for every five years they teach in critical-needs schools and permitting teachers in rural schools to convert unused sick leave into retirement credit. In California, teachers working in low-performing schools may qualify for $20,000 bonuses, college loan reductions, and home loans. New York state may subsidize tuition for undergraduates pledging to teach in critical-need public schools. Certified teachers in New York City who transfer to critical-need schools increase their workday by 40 minutes but receive 15 percent raises. Last year, 600 teachers applied for 300 positions.


  • Offering signing bonuses, tax credits. California and Maryland provide teachers with tax credits, and several school districts offer new hires signing bonuses. The Massachusetts bonus is an incredible $20,000. Paid out over four years, the bonus is offered to approximately 100 highly qualified new teachers annually. Last year, 800 people applied; the state had requests for information from people in 36 states and two foreign countries.

  • Increasing salaries. Several state legislatures have passed across-the-board teacher raises. Connecticut raised salaries, making Connecticut teachers among the highest-paid in the nation, and then equalized salaries statewide to make recruiting easier for poorer districts. California's new incentive package raises starting salaries 6 percent and funnels close to $2 billion to schools, much of which is expected to further raise teachers' pay.

  • Providing housing assistance in high-priced areas. The starting salary for teachers in Silicon Valley is $34,000, but a year's rent for a one-bedroom apartment could cost almost half that, and the median price for a house is $550,000. One teacher reported it cost him $600 a month to rent a living room! About 50 percent of new teachers leave the Silicon Valley area within four years.


"My high school was not a typical high school. The parents were motivated; the students were motivated. Twenty-one students from my class went to Stanford," Rachel Peterson, a 1999 graduate of Henry M. Gunn High School (Palo Alto, California), told Education World. "You would think teachers would want to work here, but we lost good teachers all the time. We lost the young teachers, the ones with potential who are amazingly smart and from good schools."

Now, however, thanks to financial aid from Hewlett-Packard and Intel Corporation, teachers in Santa Clara County can participate in a lottery to win low-interest loans -- and in some cases grants -- for mortgages or down payments on houses. The Santa Clara and San Francisco Unified School Districts are building teachers' apartments. Santa Clara apartments are geared for young teachers and will rent for 50 percent below market value. The San Francisco apartments are on school land and are meant to be subsidized housing.

Some teachers find that plan insulting. They think that they could live in locations of their choice -- not the school district's choice -- if their compensation was adequate.

Initiatives such as low-cost or subsidized housing do not occur in all locales, even though they might be appropriate. Nationally, beginning teachers earn just 72 percent of what average college grads earn in their first jobs, and the gap typically widens with each year of experience.

In a full-employment economy in which quality workers are in great demand, it may take significantly more to attract people to teaching. According to Measuring the Teacher Quality Problem, a paper published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, "College graduates with high test scores are less likely to become teachers, licensed teachers with high test scores are less likely to take teaching jobs, employed teachers with high test scores are less likely to stay, and former teachers with high test scores are less likely to return." The salary gap between experienced teachers with advanced degrees and other similarly educated college graduates is now more than $32,000.


  • Teacher Pay Raise Urged This August 14, 2000, Washington Post article mentions the Century Foundation recommendation that the federal government raise teachers' salaries to the level enjoyed by other professionals with similar schooling.
  • Best New Teachers Would Earn More This September 20, 2000, Times-Union article discusses Georgia legislation that raised all math, science, and special education teachers' salaries and provided bonuses for teachers whose students perform above the standards on statewide tests.
  • Union Seeks More Incentives to Staff Troubled Schools This August 12, 2000, New York Times article describes the New York City plan to add 40 minutes to the teaching day but give certified teachers a 15 percent raise when they transfer into low-performing schools.
  • The Teacher Shortage: Apply, Please! This March 27, 2000, Education World article lists many statistics concerning the teacher shortage, including the fact that 20 percent of new teachers leave within the first three years. It explores some of the creative ways school systems woo teachers to their schools.
  • New Reform Wave Focuses On Teacher Quality This July 11, 2000, Christian Science Monitor article focuses on California's recently enacted $2.4 billion teacher incentive package.
  • Intel Introduces Pilot Program to Help Teachers Buy Homes This June 18, 2000, Associated Press article describes Intel's housing fund. It also lists the median home price in Santa Clara County as $550,000.
  • Governor Signs Teacher Incentive Bills (abbreviated version) This July 5, 2000, Associated Press article discusses California's new starting teacher salary of $34,000, the tax credit initiative, and the student loan forgiveness program.
  • As U.S. Debate Intensifies, Pay for Teachers Rises 3% Included in this January 7, 2000, New York Times article are Secretary of Education Riley's proposal to make teaching a year-round profession and the statistic that beginning teachers earn just 72 percent of what average college grads earn in their first jobs. The article includes 1998-1999 average teacher salaries by state.
  • A Bidding War for Teachers Spreads from Coast to Coast This January 6, 2000, New York Times article mentions some of the cities offering signing bonuses. It includes the statistic that the gap between beginning teachers' salaries and the average starting salary for other college grads typically widens with each year of experience.
  • Tech Boom a Bust for Teachers This August 1, 2000, Wired News article describes the housing situation teachers in Silicon Valley face and some of the strategies school districts are using to help them.
  • Teachers' Union Chief Calls for Big Raises This January 9, 2000, Detroit News article discusses AFT President Sandra Feldman's speech to the Economic Club of Detroit.
  • Measuring the Teacher Quality Problem This paper, published in the July 1999 Thomas B. Fordham Foundation publication Better Teachers, Better Schools, states, among other things, "College graduates with high test scores are less likely to become teachers. ..."


  • American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman's Speech to the Detroit Economic Club In this January 18, 2000, speech Ms. Feldman lists several statistics such as the projected number of new teachers needed over the next decade, average salaries for teachers, and which states provide salary supplements for teachers with National Board Certification.

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Article by Glori Chaika
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