A deeper dive into ‘overspending’ on teacher salaries (opinion)


There were hundreds of reader comments on the Education Week Facebook page this week about Cara Jackson’s previous guest post, What Does It Mean to ‘Exceed’ Teacher Salaries?

Here she answers some of them….

Read research on teacher salaries

Cara Jackson is a Senior Associate at Abt Associates, where she works on systematic reviews of research evidence and conducts program evaluations.

In the last post, I discussed the research that higher teacher salaries are linked to better teacher retention, better teacher qualifications, and student achievement. We could see this relationship for several reasons. First, more experienced teachers tend to earn higher salaries and are on average more effective than less experienced teachers. Second, higher salaries for teachers could attract a larger and more qualified pool of applicants.

On Facebook, some people have suggested that these results might just be a case of correlation, not causation. That is, students from families with higher socioeconomic status tend to do better on standardized tests, and teachers who work in wealthier school districts might earn more.


If the researchers had not taken into account factors such as the socio-economic status of the students, we might have feared that teachers’ salaries would be only linked to better academic results due to the wealth of students and their families. But each of the studies cited did account of socio-economic status.

For example, the author of the study using Schools and Staffing Survey controlled data for median household income in the community, in addition to other factors that could affect a school district’s ability to hire teachers. Median household income helps capture differences in parental education, enrichment activities, community resources, student motivation, and student challenges. Additionally, median household income helps account for potential teacher sorting. That is, teachers at more selective colleges may marry a classmate, move to a more affluent area, and then teach in their (affluent) neighborhood school district.

Michigan study and one of the North Carolina studies have also used median income. In addition, these studies included median education in the analyses. washington state The study took a similar approach, using the district’s poverty level and the county’s unemployment rate.

Other studies have used student data. For example, studies from Florida and Denver included the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced admission in their analyses.

Two of the studies used samples from similar schools or teachers. One from North Carolina studies selected schools using free and discounted lunch rates. In Tennessee study, the sample consists entirely of a subset of low-performing schools.

The most recent study using nationally representative data included a number of factors in the analysis: the percentage of students enrolled in free or reduced-price meal programs, the percentage of poor children, the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree and above, the percentage of unemployed and median household income.

All of the studies cited considered the possibility that socioeconomic status could explain why higher teacher salaries are related to outcomes. Each study took steps to address this concern.

each study

Other commentators chimed in to point out that additional tasks could also influence teacher and student outcomes. I agree and would add that we know that the working conditions of teachers have an impact on educational outcomes. Teachers working in supportive professional environments improve more over time than teachers working in less favorable contexts. Teacher salaries are just one of many ways to improve educational outcomes.

Thanks again Kara!


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