Traditionally, teacher salaries are based on experience and education. In addition to raises tied to experience and coursework completion, districts also frequently give teachers cost of living adjustments. While states often determine the basic structure of teacher pay, the specifics of teacher salaries are set at the district level.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on salaries for teacher throughout their careers, including starting, mid-career, and maximum salaries for teachers with a variety of education levels. It also tracks average annual salary increases.
For a more in-depth analysis of teacher salaries, read our report Smart Money or visit our salary page.
What the research shows
While the most common pay increases in teaching are associated with the attainment of advanced degrees and years of experience, research shows that neither advanced degrees nor experience are linked to student achievement, with the exception of the first few years of experience.
For example see:
Goldhaber, Dan D., and Dominic J. Brewer. "When should we reward degrees for teachers?." Phi Delta Kappan (1998): 134-138.
Rivkin, Steven G., Eric A. Hanushek, and John F. Kain. "Teachers, schools, and academic achievement."Econometrica 73.2 (2005): 417-458.
Differentiated & Performance Pay
In addition to a base salary that is typically determined by years of experience and education, more and more districts are offering teachers additional pay for teachers working in schools and subjects where they are most needed and for those that do a great job creating learning and growth for their students.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on additional pay for working in high-needs schools or hard-to-staff subjects, performance pay based on evaluation ratings or other measures of teacher effectiveness, and additional pay for other characteristics such as earning National Board Certification or serving as a department chair.
For more information, visit our salary page.
There is no federal law providing public sector employees the right to bargain collectively. Instead, each state regulates the rights of both public and private sector employees to unionize and bargain collectively, whether through state law passed by the legislature or through decisions handed down by the judicial system. Not only do states define the obligation of districts to bargain, but they also decide what issues can be negotiated. For more information, visit our interactive map.
State law sets the parameters of teacher evaluations, generally determining the minimum frequency at which teachers are evaluated and in some cases setting the framework for the components on which teachers can be evaluated.
The actual instruments used to evaluate teachers are usually decided at the local level, frequently in negotiation with the local union. Components of evaluations vary from district to district and state to state, but common components include student achievement or growth data, classroom observations, and professional development plans.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the evaluation system in general (including what teachers are evaluated on, how often and who is involved in observations and evaluations, and what kind of feedback teachers receive throughout the process), as well as specific on the role of student achievement and consequences of receiving a negative evaluation.
For more information, visit our evaluation page.
What the research shows
The New Teacher Project's 2009 report The Widget Effect illustrates many of the problems with the current state of teacher evaluations, particularly that 99 percent of teachers receive satisfactory ratings, even in schools where students fail to meet basic academic standards, year after year (Weisberg et al, 2009).
Identifying Effective Classroom Practices using Student Achievement Data, by Kane, Taylor, Tyler and Wooten, finds a strong correlation between student test scores and qualitative teacher observations done by principals (when a strong evaluation tool is used) (2011). These results point to the promise of teacher evaluation systems that would use information from both classroom observations and student test scores to identify effective teachers. Further, such results offer information on the types of practices that are most effective at raising student achievement.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project was a three year study focused on identifying ways to measure and evaluate effective teaching. Using random assignment of teachers to groups of students, the study concluded that effective teaching can be measured and that more effective teachers caused student to perform better on state tests and more cognitively challenging assessments (Cantrell and Kane, 2013).
More specifically, the MET Project found that evaluations that balance the weight of student test scores (33-50 percent), observations, and student surveys do a good job of predicting student achievement while also providing reliable scores from year to year. In addition to the conclusion that using multiple measures in a balanced way is best for evaluations, the MET Project also found that adding a second observer (besides just the school administrator) increased the reliability of the observation score (Cantrell and Kane, 2013).
Cantrell, Steve, and Thomas J. Kane. "Ensuring fair and reliable measures of effective teaching: Culminating findings from the MET Project’s three-year study." Seattle, WA: Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation (2013).
Kane, Thomas J., Eric S. Taylor, John H. Tyler, and Amy L. Wooten. "Identifying effective classroom practices using student achievement data."Journal of Human Resources 46, no. 3 (2011): 587-613.
Weisberg, Daniel, Susan Sexton, Jennifer Mulhern, David Keeling, Joan Schunck, Ann Palcisco, and Kelli Morgan. "The widget effect: Our national failure to acknowledge and act on differences in teacher effectiveness." New Teacher Project (2009).
While state law establishes the minimum amount of time students must be in school each year, districts have more control over the school calendar for teachers who generally work extra days on school sites without students being present.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the length of the school year and school day for students and teachers. All calculations in the the database use the official district school calendar.
Tenure plays a role in everything from how frequently a teacher is evaluated to the protections surrounding layoffs and dismissals. In general, states set the rules around tenure, including the minimum length of time a teacher must be in the classroom before earning tenure.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on how many years a teacher must teach to earn tenure and what circumstances can delay earning tenure.
For more information, visit our policy page on retention and tenure.
In addition to standard school vacations, most districts provide teachers between 10 and 15 sick days per academic year. Districts also designate a number of days that may be used for personal reasons other than illness. Many districts have policies that allow teachers to accumulate unused leave days from year to year. In some cases, teachers may exchange some or all of the unused days for pay at the end of each school year or at retirement.
The most common types of additional paid leave days include professional development, bereavement, jury duty, military service, and work-related legal proceedings or injuries. Adoption, childbirth, paternity, and child-rearing leaves are usually unpaid, a time when teachers rely on accumulated leave days for pay.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the amount of leave teachers receive, how much leave can be accumulated, and various attendance incentives districts provide such as paying teachers for unused leave. For a more in depth look at teacher leave policies and attendance rates, read NCTQ’s 2014 report Roll Call: The importance of teacher attendance.
What the research shows
Frequent teacher absences negatively impact student performance. Research shows that every 10 teacher absences lowers students’ mathematics achievement by 1.7 to 3.3 percent of a standard deviation, which is roughly equivalent to the difference in mathematics achievement seen between students of teachers with one to two years of experience and those with three to five years of experience (Clotfelter, et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2008; Miller, 2008). These effects are especially pronounced for elementary school students (Clotfelter, 2009). Persistent absenteeism also earns teachers lower principal evaluation ratings (Jacob & Walsh, 2011).
Furthermore, teacher absence is a financial and administrative burden for districts. By one estimate, districts spend approximately $4 billion annually to find and hire substitute teachers (Miller, 2012). On average, teacher absences directly imposed financial costs on districts of $1800 per teacher per year (Ost, 2015). Districts are constantly struggling to balance the educational, financial, and administrative costs of teacher absence against the extent to which generous leave policies attract teaching candidates (Clotfelter, 2009).
Nationally, 5.3 percent of teachers are absent on any given day, and 36 percent of teachers were absent upward of 10 days during the 2009-10 school year (Miller, 2012). NCTQ’s report found similar trends in the 2012-13 school year: 16 percent of all teachers were absent 18 or more days, accounting for almost one third of all absences.
Teachers’ absence patterns often reflect those of their colleagues, creating a culture of acceptable rates of absenteeism within each school. One study found that when teachers transfer to a new school, they gravitate to the average absence rate in their new placement, regardless of it being higher or lower than their own attendance rate at their previous school. Furthermore, this same study found that elementary teachers are less likely to take leave when they have less experience, teach bigger classes, or are teaching a new grade level for the first time (Ost, 2015).
School demographics may also play a role in teacher attendance. Some studies find that schools serving predominantly low-income students and students of color experience disproportionately higher rates of teacher absenteeism, negatively impacting those students who already face significant hurdles to achievement. A school in the 90th percentile for its proportion of African American students has a teacher absence rate 3.5 percent higher than a school at the 10th percentile (Miller, 2012). However, it is worth noting that NCTQ’s report did not find a relationship between teacher attendance and their student poverty levels.
Limited research has been done to explore the impacts of implementing new leave policies on teacher absenteeism, but some studies demonstrate that teachers improve their attendance when compelled through external pressure. During the era of No Child Left Behind, high-stakes accountability policies decreased annual teacher absence by 10 percent when schools, especially Title-1 schools, were threatened with sanctions for failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (Gershenson, 2016).
Bradley, S., Green, C., & Leeves, G. (2007). Worker absence and shirking: Evidence from matched teacher-school data.
Clotfelter, C. T., Ladd, H. F., & Vigdor, J. L. (2009). Are Teacher Absences Worth Worrying about in the U.S.? National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.
Gershenson, S. (2016). Performance Standards and Employee Effort: Evidence From Teacher Absences. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management,35(3), 615-638. doi:10.1002/pam.21910
Jacob, B.A., & Walsh, E. (2011). What’s in a rating? Economics of Education Review, 30, 434-448.
Miller, R. (2012). Teacher Absence as a Leading Indicator of Student Achievement. Center for American Progress.
Miller, Raegan. "Tales of teacher absence: New research yields patterns that speak to policy makers." Center for American Progress (2008).
Miller, R. T., Murnane, R. J., & Williett, J. B. (2008). Do Teacher Absences Impact Student Achievement? Longitudinal Evidence from One Urban School District. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis,30(2), 181-200. doi:10.3386/w13356
Ost, B., & Schiman, J. C. (2017). Workload and teacher absence. Economics of Education Review,57, 20-30.
While dismissal decisions are made at a school and district level generally it is state law that dictates the rules and procedures for dismissal of teachers, including the reasons that a teacher can be fired. Most states grant teachers the right to appeal a district’s dismissal decision before the local school board and, subsequently, before a court if the teacher so chooses.
The dismissal process and due process rights described in state laws only apply to tenured teachers. In most states, non-tenured teachers have no due process rights and cannot appeal dismissal decisions.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the rules and processes for dismissing an ineffective teacher as well as information on remediation.
For more information, visiting the dismissal section of our hiring and assignment page.
Benefits & Retirement
Benefit packages coupled with salary are part of the full picture of the teacher compensation package. Benefits generally include insurance and pension plans.
In general states tend not to address insurance benefits in labor statutes, but they do regulate and manage teacher pension plans. The vast majority of state teacher pensions are defined benefits, whereby teachers are guaranteed a percent of their salary which varies based on the state, years of service and age at retirement.
Insurance benefits are either set or negotiated at the district level and there is a broad range in packages offered among districts. Most districts offer employees some choice regarding health insurance, whether among carriers, plan designs or both.
Other common fringe benefit s are tuition reimbursement, which can take the form of direct reimbursement or loan forgiveness, and reimbursement of National Board Certification fees.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on health insurance premium coverage by school districts, tuition reimbursement, and incentives and rules around teacher retirement. The state policy portion of the database covers details about teacher pensions.
For more information on benefits and pensions, visit our benefits page.
Class size limitations and the consequences for exceeding them are frequently set at the state level, although some districts set their own policies either in addition to state requirements or when the state has no requirements. Consequences for exceeding class size limits range from nothing to the state withholding funding, with common policies including informing parents and requiring that another teacher or paraprofessional be hired.
Since 1970, the average teacher-pupil ratio has decreased by approximately 30 percent (Chingos 2011). Various stakeholders in public education, including families, educators, and policymakers, support class size reduction as a strategy to increase academic achievement for students. However, limited research offers inconsistent results regarding the extent to which class size reduction impacts learning.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on class maximums by grade level and the action taken when class size limits are exceeded.
What the research shows
Although class size reduction is often referred to as the most studied policy in education, the evidence for its effectiveness is mixed. It is worth noting that between 1950 and 1995 teacher-pupil ratios fell by 35 percent, from about 27-1 to about 17-1, yet there has not been a consistent or corresponding improvement in overall student performance (Hanushek, 1999).
State and federal policy positions incentivizing untargeted, across-the-board class size reductions require districts to build more classrooms and hire more teachers. This is not only financially straining, but also impacts teacher effectiveness since teacher quality may become diluted (Krasnoff 2014). Research consistently shows that teacher quality, more than quantity, is the single most important factor in a student’s academic achievement (Hansen 2013).
Only three comprehensive high-quality studies analyzing the impact of class size on student performance have been conducted in the past thirty years, none of which use data from the most recent decade (Krashnoff 2014):
These limited studies offer mixed results. However, one key takeaway is that targeted class size reductions have the potential to improve academic outcomes for certain student populations, specifically early childhood, low-income, and students of color. The most promising interventions in reducing class size are targeted and benefit these student populations.
When considering educational equity, class size reductions consistently had the most positive outcomes for FRL and students of color. African American student participants in one study experienced almost doubled the positive outcomes in terms of test scores and postsecondary degree attainment when placed in a smaller class than their peers did (Dynarski 2011). Another study found that African American students’ academic growth through class size reduction closed the achievement gap significantly, though not entirely (Maier 1997).
While class size reduction does have the potential to improve students’ academic performance, it is also important to understand the limitations of this intervention. Students in smaller K-3 classes outperformed their peers in reading, but did not do much better in math. K-3 students gained the equivalent of 3 extra months of school 4 years after their classes were reduced by 7-10 students. It should be noted that these studies found that class sizes must decrease to 15 or fewer students before observing these benefits, compared to average class size of 24 students (Dynarski 2011).
Most recently, research demonstrates “right-sizing” classrooms as a viable and cost-effective intervention to reap the benefits of class size reduction without diluting teacher quality. Assigning more students to highly effective teachers’ classrooms, and compensating those teachers accordingly, improves academic performance for all students because doing so increases students’ access to effective teachers, while decreasing class loads for other teachers. This strategy may be especially beneficial for novice educators who may be more effective with smaller classes. This line of research suggests that districts’ policy focus should be not on reducing class sizes, but on evaluating teacher effectiveness and assigning students to teachers accordingly. This intervention is also cost-effective in that increasing compensation for more effective teachers may be less costly than hiring additional teachers to reduce all class sizes (Hansen 2013).
Chingos, M. M. (2011). The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction.
Center for American Progress.
Dynarski, S., Hyman, J. M., & Schanzenbach, D. W. (2011). Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investment on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion.
National Bureau of Economic Research.
Hansen, M. (2013). Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers.
Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
Hanushek, E.A. (1999). The Evidence on Class Size. In Mayer, S. E., & Peterson, P. E. (Eds.). Earning and learning: How schools matter (pp. 131-168). Brookings Institution Press.
Krasnoff, B. (2014). Class Size Reduction.
Northwest Comprehensive Center at Education Northwest.
Maier, P., Molnar, A., Percy, S., Smith, P., & Zahorik, J. (1997, December). First Year Results of the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education Program. Milwaukee, WI: Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation.
Layoffs, also known as reductions-in-force (RIFs), occur when a budget shortfall at the district level results in position cuts. In such a case because the shortfall is district-wide, and not the result of a school specific change in enrollment or budget as would be the case for involuntary transfers (or excessing), districts are no longer contractually obligated to find new assignments for teachers. Teachers lose not just their current assignments, but their jobs within the district. In most districts, teachers are entitled to their positions when and if the district later resumes hiring under what is known as recall rights.
Although layoffs are triggered by district-level budget issues, states usually determine what aspects districts must consider in deciding who to layoff.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the criteria districts use to layoff teachers as well as the length of time teachers have a right to be "recalled" to their jobs.
For more information, visit the layoffs section of our hiring and assignment page.
What the research shows
Research suggests that seniority-based layoffs result in more teachers being laid off than if districts laid off teachers according to effectiveness.
For example see:
Goldhaber, Dan. “Managing the Teacher Workforce.” Education Next (2011).
Roza, Marguerite. "Seniority-Based Layoffs Will Exacerbate Job Loss in Public Education." Center on Reinventing Public Education (2009).
When teachers are out of class substitute teachers step in to take their place. In our 2014 analysis of large school districts, Roll Call, we found that districts spend nearly $2,000 each year for every teacher they employ to provide substitutes to cover absences.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information about the education and licensing requirements for being a substitute teacher as well as pay and benefits coverage.
Planning time, when sufficient and strategically allocated, can help ensure teachers begin each day with a roadmap for successful instruction.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the amount of planning time available to teachers and how much of that time is focused on collaboration with others.
Transfer & Assignment
Most collective bargaining agreements and board policies address teacher transfers and assignment in some capacity and include separate policies for voluntary and involuntary transfers. Voluntary transfers are initiated by the teacher for personal or professional reasons. In an analysis of teacher-school match quality of teachers from North Carolina, teachers who choose to transfer voluntarily showed higher value added in the year after their move than the year before, measured by value added student performance models (Jackson 2013).
Involuntary transfers are initiated by either a principal or a district administrator. These changes are sometimes initiated with the idea that districts can effectively move teachers to realize a goal such as efficiency or equity. In a study of 375 schools in Miami-Dade County, research indicates that district-initiated, involuntary transfers commonly improve equity since lower performing teachers were moved to higher performing schools and almost always replaced by a teacher who outperformed them (Grissom et al 2014).
Most often, an involuntary transfer results from a change in student enrollment, school budget, or programs offered. When teachers are transferred for these reasons, the process sometimes known as excessing. A teacher's seniority often plays a key role in both identifying teachers for transfer when positions must be cut as well as in determining their new placement. Goldhaber studied 471 different district collective bargaining agreements and teacher observations within those districts. In districts that prioritize seniority in involuntary transfers, effective teachers are less likely to leave disadvantaged schools (Goldhaber et al 2016).This is likely because effective (not synonymous with experienced) teachers in districts that do not use seniority have more leverage to pursue more "desirable" positions.
Districts are increasingly adopting policies of mutual consent for placing excessed teachers. Such policies allow principals to interview and hire teachers of their choosing. Teachers have reported that it is important whether or not their new school wanted them there. A case study of mutual consent-based transfer in New York City found that eight of 10 of involuntarily transferred teachers who were hired into other schools reported satisfaction with their mutual consent transfers (Daly et al 2008)
For more information, visit our hiring and assignment page.
Daly, T., Keeling, D., Grainger, R., & Grundies, A. (2008). Mutual benefits: New York City's shift to mutual consent in teacher hiring. New York: The New Teacher Project.
Goldhaber, D., Lavery, L., & Theobald, R. (2016). Inconvenient truth? Do collective bargaining agreements help explain the mobility of teachers within school districts?. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 35(4), 848-880.
Grissom, J. A., Loeb, S., & Nakashima, N. A. (2014). Strategic involuntary teacher transfers and teacher performance: Examining equity and efficiency. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33(1), 112-140.
Jackson, C. Kirabo. "Match quality, worker productivity, and worker mobility: Direct evidence from teachers." Review of Economics and Statistics 95.4 (2013): 1096-1116.
Most states require that new teachers complete some sort of mentoring or induction program. Within parameters defined by the state, districts decide the details of these programs. At a minimum, districts usually require a brief summer orientation for new recruits and opportunities to work with a more experienced teacher through a mentorship or coaching program.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the length of new teacher mentorship programs and standard orientations.
As districts implement more alternative school models—often turnaround schools in dramatic need of improvement—they are negotiating separate provisions in collective bargaining agreements that afford such schools exceptions to traditional work rules. These exceptions are known as contract waivers and can include waiving entire collective bargaining agreements or just portions of it.
What sections of clauses of the contract that can be waived varies from district to district. Some districts do not have a process for waivers, while others allow any provision in the agreement to be waived. Common parts of the contract that can be waived include the length of the school year and school day and the amount of preparation time teachers receive.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the waiver process at districts, including if teachers must vote in a request for a waiver and what the requirements are for a waiver of contract provisions to be approved.