District Trendline

Ensuring strong and stable substitute teacher pools

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Many districts around the country face difficulties in attracting enough substitutes to fill in for teachers who are absent. Given that students are likely to lose ground when their teachers are out, districts are also faced with the added challenge of ensuring that their substitute teachers are proficient. With this in mind, what can districts do to improve the quality of substitute teachers?

This month, District Trendline highlights what substitute teacher pools look like across the largest school districts in the country and how districts can use strategic compensation and other innovative practices to ensure a strong and stable substitute pool.

Job qualifications

The qualifications necessary to become a substitute teacher vary across our sample of 124 districts (the nation's 100 largest districts and the largest district in each of the 24 states which would otherwise not make the cut). The minimum level of education required of substitutes ranges from a high school diploma in 19 percent of the districts (24 districts) to a bachelor's degree in about one-third of districts (40 districts).

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In addition to education requirements, some districts may require substitutes to obtain a license or certification. While only five districts (Albuquerque Public Schools, Corona-Norco Unified School District (CA), Kanawha County schools (WV), Portland Public Schools (OR), and San Diego Unified School District) require substitutes to hold a regular teaching license, another 37 districts require substitutes to hold a substitute teaching license.

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Using compensation strategically

On average, substitute pay ranges from $98 a day to $148 a day. Seattle Public Schools and Portland Public Schools in Oregon offer the highest starting substitute pay, at $210 and $203 respectively. Substitute pay also varies based on a variety of factors. For example, while the starting substitute pay in Boston Public Schools is $149, a substitute teachers can make over $300 per day if they are a long-term substitute who also holds a Massachusetts teaching license.

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In all but seven districts, the pay formula for substitutes is influenced by a number of circumstances. In two-thirds of the districts, the rate varies depending on the number of days worked. For example, substitutes with a Bachelor's degree in Austin Independent School District earn $80 a day for the first 30 days, $100 a day for days 31 through 60, and $120 a day for days beyond 60. About a third of districts also vary pay depending on the education or certification level of the substitute.

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More districts are starting to make additional differentiations. There are now 16 districts that offer higher daily rates to substitutes who will work in certain schools or subjects. Four districts offer higher rates to substitutes who cover classes on specific days (typically Mondays and Fridays).

Some districts also incentivize substitutes to work additional days by offering bonuses. Substitutes who work every day of the week can earn bonus pay of up to an additional $30 per day in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District gives substitutes an additional $10 a day after they work for 130 days or more in a school year.

Other districts recognize the value of substitutes with experience. For example, in Douglas County School District (CO), retired teachers and substitutes who worked 60 or more days in the previous school year receive an additional $20 to $30 per day bonus. Four districts now offer substitutes more pay as they gain more years of experience.

Scroll over a district in the map below to view substitute teacher pay information. You can explore these strategic pay policies by scrolling over districts marked in yellow.

Creating environments where substitutes feel valued and supported

In addition to using pay strategically, districts can create a more stable and qualified substitute pool through policies that aim to show substitute teachers they are a valued part of the school community. For example, five districts (Broward County Public Schools (FL), Chicago Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools (KY), Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and San Bernardino City Unified School District (CA)) have created pools of substitutes who are guaranteed a certain amount of work and are paid extra to be a part of that pool.

Most people want to receive feedback on their work in order to improve. Giving substitutes the opportunity to learn from feedback through some form of evaluation provides an opportunity for the substitute to improve and also shows a desire to support and invest in the substitute teacher.

However, only about a third of the large districts in our sample offer the opportunity for substitute teachers to be evaluated. Among the 44 which do, 14 require all substitutes to be evaluated, while 11 only require it in some circumstances (typically only when a substitute is serving in a long-term assignment or there are concerns about a substitute's performance). In the remaining 19 districts, the evaluation of substitutes is optional and typically left to the building administrator's discretion.

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Explore all these substitute teacher policies in the nation's largest districts for yourself with the Custom Report Tool on the Teacher Contract Database.

Explore state policies for substitute teachers in the NCTQ State Teacher Policy Database.