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.
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.
Apart from the winter break, spring break and summer vacation, districts provide teachers with sick and personal leave days. Teachers are generally granted between 10 and 15 days of sick leave per year. In addition to sick leave, districts 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. 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, child-birth, 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 our 2014 report Roll Call: The importance of teacher attendance.
What the research shows
Frequent teacher absences negatively impact student performance. Researchers have found that every 10 absences lowers 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 students of teachers with three to five years of experience (Clotfelter, et al., 2007; Miller et al., 2008; Miller 2008).
Teacher absence patterns often reflect those of their colleagues, creating a culture of acceptable rates of absenteeism within each school. One study found that teachers increase their rates of absenteeism when moving from a school with a low absence rate to a school with a higher absence rate (Bradley et al., 2007). School demographics also play a role in teacher absences. A disproportionate number of teacher absences occur in schools serving predominately low-income families, negatively impacting those students who already face significant hurdles to achievement (Clotfelter, et al., 2007; Miller 2008).
Bradley, Steve, Colin Green, and Gareth Leeves. "Worker absence and shirking: Evidence from matched teacher-school data." Labour Economics 14.3 (2007): 319-334. (working paper version)
Clotfelter, Charles T., Helen F. Ladd, and Jacob L. Vigdor. Are Teacher Absences worth Worrying about in the US?. No. w13648. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2007.
Miller, Raegan. "Tales of teacher absence: New research yields patterns that speak to policy makers." Center for American Progress (2008).
Miller, Raegen T., Richard J. Murnane, and John B. Willett. "Do teacher absences impact student achievement? Longitudinal evidence from one urban school district." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 30.2 (2008): 181-200. (NBER working paper version)
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 is hired.
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 pupil-teacher 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).
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.
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. Involuntary transfers are initiated by either a principal or a district administrator. 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 is termed as excessing.
A teacher's seniority often plays a key role in both identifying teachers for transfers when positions must be cut as well as in determining their new placement. However, districts are increasingly adopting policies of mutual consent. Such policies allow principals to interview and hire teachers of their choosing, without seniority being the determining factor.
The Teacher Contract Database includes information on the process for identifying and placing involuntarily transferred teachers as well as information about the process for voluntary transfers.
For more information, visit our hiring and assignment page.
What the research shows
Research suggests that the fit between a teacher and the school is important. After New York City changed teacher transfer policies to include mutual consent of hiring between teachers and principals, the number of teachers requesting transfers decreased by 21 percent and only 9 percent of teachers who were successfully transfer reported the desire to request another transfer the following year (Daly et al, 2008). Other research suggests that a teacher’s fit in her school can contribute to their effectiveness (Jackson, 2010).
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.
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.