Compensation for Prior Work Experience:

Retaining Effective Teachers Policy


The state should encourage districts to provide compensation for related prior subject-area work experience.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2015). Compensation for Prior Work Experience: Tennessee results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Tennessee does not encourage local districts to provide compensation for related prior subject-area work experience. In fact, the state explicitly delineates the kinds of experiences recognized for salary purposes; subject-area work is not on the list.


Recommendations for Tennessee

Encourage local districts to compensate new teachers with relevant prior work experience. 
While still leaving districts with the flexibility to determine their own pay scales, Tennessee should expand its policy and encourage districts to incorporate mechanisms such as starting these teachers at a higher salary than other new teachers. Such policies would be attractive to career changers with related work experience, such as in the STEM subjects.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it also requires districts to develop and implement differentiated pay plans. While the policy has been in place since 2007, the revised differentiated pay plan policy prevents districts from basing across-the-board pay increases solely on years of experience or advanced degrees. Districts must differentiate teacher compensation based on at least one additional criterion. Differentiated pay criteria can include any of the following: additional roles or responsibilities, hard-to-staff schools or subject areas and performance based on State Board-approved teacher evaluation criteria.

Tennessee also noted that districts began implementing differentiating pay under these revised guidelines in the 2014-2015 school year and are updating plans for the 2015-2016 school year. This increased flexibility will allow districts to develop plans to accommodate specific needs, which may be addressed with subject-area work experience, such as math and science content expertise. Currently, more than 40 percent of districts identified hard-to-staff positions as one of the differentiated pay plan elements in 2014-2015.

Research rationale

Districts should be allowed to pay new teachers with relevant work experience more than other new teachers.
State and district salary structures frequently fail to recognize that new teacher hires are not necessarily new to the workforce. Some new teachers bring with them deep work experience that is directly related to the subject matter they will teach. For example, the hiring of a new high school chemistry teacher with 20 years' experience as a chemical engineer would most certainly be a great boon to any district. Yet most salary structures would place this individual at the same point on the pay schedule as a new teacher straight out of college. Compensating these teachers commensurate with their experience is an important retention (as well as recruitment) strategy, particularly when other, nonteaching opportunities in these fields are likely to be more financially lucrative.

Specifics of teacher pay should largely be left to local decision making. However, states should use policy mechanisms to inform districts that it is not only permissible but also necessary to compensate new teachers with related prior work experience appropriately.

Compensation for Prior Work Experience: Supporting Research
Of particular concern for the teaching profession are the quality and number of teachers available in math, science and special education and of those serving high-poverty students. See the following:
D. Hare, J. Nathan, J. Darland, and S. Laine., 2000. "Teacher Shortages in the Midwest: Current Trends and Future Issues," North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, Oak Brooke, IL; P. Harrington, "Attracting New Teachers Requires Changing Old Rules," The College Board Review, Number 192, January-February 2001, pp. 6-11; P. Shields, D. Humphrey, M. Wechsler, L. Riehl, J. Tiffany-Morales, K. Woodworth, V. Young, and T. Price, "The Status of the Teaching Profession 2001," Santa Cruz, CA: The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.

Much of the blame for the difficulty in hiring people with technical expertise falls on the single salary schedule that rewards only experience and degree level. See D. Goldhaber and Albert Yung-Hsu Liu, "Teacher Salary Structure and the Decision to Teach in Public Schools: An Analysis of Recent College Graduates," Center on Reinventing Public Education, 2005.

People with technical skills are in high demand in the non-teacher labor market. See C. Stasz and D. Brewer, "Academic Skills at Work: Two Perspectives," Rand Corporation, 1999, RP-805, 115 p. See also B. Weisbrod and P. Karpoff, "Monetary Returns to College Education, Student Ability and College Quality," Review of Economics and Statistics, Volume 50, No. 4, November 1968, pp. 491-97.

It has also been shown that teachers who teach technical subject matters have higher rates of attrition. See M. Podgursky, R. Monroe, and D. Watson, "The Academic Quality of Public School Teachers: An Analysis of Entry and Exit Behavior," Economics of Education Review, Volume 23, No. 5, October 2004, pp. 507-518.

In addition, research has shown that math and science teachers—both men and women—with high ACT scores are the first to leave the teaching profession. See S. Kirby, S. Naftel, and M. Berends, "Staffing At-Risk School Districts in Texas: Problems and Prospects," Rand, 1999, MR-1083-EDU, 106 p.

See also R. Henke and L. Zahn, "Attrition of New Teachers Among Recent College Graduates: Comparing Occupational Stability Among  1992-93 Graduates Who Taught and Those Who Worked in Other Occupations," Postsecondary Education Descriptive Analysis Reports, U.S. Department of Education, March 2001, NCES-2001-189.