2015’s Best and Worst States for Teachers
Most educators don’t pursue their profession for the money. But that doesn’t justify paying teachers any less than they deserve, considering the profound difference they make in people’s lives. In reality, however, teachers across the U.S. are shortchanged every year — their salaries consistently fail to keep up with inflation — while the law demands they produce better students.
It’s no surprise that the high turnover rate within the field has been likened to a revolving door. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about a fifth of all newly minted public-school teachers leave their positions before the end of their first year. And nearly half of them never last more than five.
Besides inadequate compensation, other problems persist in the academic environment. Many teachers, especially novices, transfer to other schools or abandon the profession altogether “as the result of feeling overwhelmed, ineffective, and unsupported,” according to ASCD. Without good teachers who are not only paid reasonably but also treated fairly, the quality of American education is bound to suffer.
In order to help ease the process of finding the best teaching opportunities in the U.S. — and draw attention to the states needing improvement — WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 13 key metrics. Our data set ranges from the median starting salary to the projected number of teachers per student by year 2022. The results of our study, as well as additional insight from experts and a detailed methodology, can be found below.
‘Job Opportunity & Competition’ Rank
‘Academic & Work Environment’ Rank
|26||District of Columbia||10||46|
Like any professional seeking an ideally balanced work situation and personal life, educators are no exception. Teachers must be able to make a reasonable living in order to meet the challenges of their profession. To propel the discussion, we asked a panel of experts to weigh in on teacher-related issues and offer advice to both job seekers and local policymakers. Click on the experts’ profiles to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:
- What are the biggest issues teachers face today?
- How can local officials attract and retain the best teachers?
- What tips can you offer young teachers looking for a place to settle?
- Are unions beneficial to teachers? What about to students?
Unions are certainly beneficial to teachers as far as offering job protections, security, and space and resources to do their jobs. There are, of course, claims that collective bargaining agreements inhibit innovation and effectiveness, and I’m sure that at times they may. However, the arguments that unions are responsible for the poor performance of some school systems are relatively weak. Poorly performing urban school systems are unionized, but poorly performing independent schools in urban areas are not. The common denominator there is widespread poverty. At the same time, many excellent school systems are unionized.
The biggest issues facing teachers are political and local. The political issues concern the adoption of policies by several states that require teachers to be judged by student test scores. This has created an arbitrary system of evaluation and a disincentive for teachers to work with “high need” kids. It has also narrowed the focus of teaching to test preparation and subsequently, driven many talented teachers out of the profession. Similarly, some states have adopted the common core standards or some version of it, and used it to rate teachers and schools without adequately preparing the teachers. When you consider these measures in addition to calls for teachers to lose tenure, it could be argued that the political climate has become increasingly hostile toward teachers in many states.
The local issues have to do with conditions in schools. These vary widely but it is often the case that urban districts have higher teacher turnover because working conditions are poor and salaries are relatively low.
How can local officials attract and retain the best teachers?
Local officials can attract teachers by focusing on improving work conditions: class size, planning time, mentorship, etc. In areas where housing prices are very high, teachers will need assistance to purchase homes.
What tips can you offer young teachers looking for a place to settle?
Young teachers should consider the stability of the district if they have the ability to choose where to work. Districts with stability in leadership tend to perform better and to be less politicized. It’s easier to work in a school system where the leadership is focused on supporting schools and not distracted by competing political agendas.
Are unions beneficial to teachers? What about to students?
Unions are often beneficial to teachers because they protect their rights and advocate for fair salaries and benefits. They can also be an obstacle to improvement when they make it difficult to remove ineffective teachers and push for seniority rights that result in the newer teachers losing their jobs when layoffs occur.
Job Opportunity & Competition – Total Weight: 10
- Average Starting Salary for Teachers (adjusted for cost of living): Full Weight
- Median Annual Salary for Teachers (adjusted for cost of living): Full Weight
- Teachers’ Income Growth Potential: Full Weight
- Projected Number of Teachers per 1,000 Students by Year 2022: Full Weight
- Unemployment Rate: Half Weight
- 10-Year Change in Teacher Salaries (measures change in constant dollars for teacher salaries between the 2003–2004 and the 2013–2014 academic years): Full Weight
Academic & Work Environment – Total Weight: 5
- WalletHub “School Systems” Ranking: Triple Weight
- Pupil-to-Teacher Ratio: Full Weight
- Safest Schools (percentage of public-school teachers who reported that they were threatened with injury by a student from school during the previous 12 months): Full Weight
- WalletHub “Underprivileged Children” Ranking: Half Weight
- Public School Spending per Student (measures annual state and local expenditures for K-12 public schools per capita): Full Weight
- Average Commute Time: Half Weight
- WalletHub “Working Moms” Ranking: Half Weight
Sources: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Education Association, the National Center for Educational Statistics, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, CareerOneStop, and WalletHub research.