The Teacher Salary Project Blog

Why teachers’ salaries should be doubled — now
by Ninive Calegari
from The Washington Post – Answer Sheet blog

March 25, 2014

My friend Erik Benner, a Texas high history teacher by day, works nights and weekends hauling flooring supplies at a warehouse with a forklift. “Honestly, I am invested and I love what I do, but I am run down and exhausted. There aren’t enough hours in the day.” Teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, are wearing jeans to work to protest their low pay and high expectations. They recently threatened to stop writing college entrance recommendation letters to try to get the point across: they don’t want to be poor to do this important work and they do far more than an honest day’s job. Most teachers pay for their own graduate school and ongoing professional training, and over 92 percent buy supplies for their students out of their own pockets. But over the past few years, we’ve seen over 60 percent of teachers working second jobs, dining with their children at food banks, and even selling their blood to make ends meet. Examples of such financial stress and strain can be found in every state in the country; quality teachers are walking away from the profession, and salaries are part of the reason they leave.

Is this the way we want any of our teachers to live? Is this what we think will lead students to higher levels of achievement?

As the founder of the Teacher Salary Project, a nonpartisan organization devoted to elevating teachers’ pay, I’ve heard countless stories of professionals who have awards and recognition for their work, yet who feel forced for financial reasons to rethink their career. I interviewed a National Board Certified teacher who also won Teacher of the Year named Karina Colon. She recently left North Carolina for a job in Maryland to earn $12,000 more to support her family.

When we undervalue a profession, we also tell the next generation of bright educators they shouldn’t bother teaching—or that if they do, they must take a vow of poverty. And students pay a price: Teachers who spend nights and weekends working other jobs cannot possibly devote the necessary attention to their students or lesson plans. Even worse, talented college students who are passionate about teaching, but seeking a stable future, opt out before they even begin. No teacher should have a second job and teachers should struggle less financially so they can focus on their critical work in the classroom.

According to a McKinsey Study called “Closing the Talent Gap,” teachers’ salaries have declined for the past 40 years. In the past decade alone, salaries have decreased further in 30 states.  Had salaries grown proportionally to our classroom spending, the average salary would now be $120,000. Instead, a teacher’s starting salary is, on average, $39,000.  To some this might not sound so bad — but consider this: after 25 years of teaching, 25 years of professional experience, the average salary of a teacher is $67,000. That’s less than teachers would be receiving had they chosen to be a skycap at an airport ($75,000) or an insurance appraiser ($72,000). That’s not to take anything away from these other jobs, but what message does it send to the men and women who we entrust with our children’s education, well being, and safety that we don’t truly value their contributions? Do we really expect that top college graduates will choose this profession under these conditions?

There’s another way: Imagine a world in which teacher salaries are doubled—yes, doubled. Imagine the prestige and applicants that would bring to the profession. Highly motivated college graduates would more frequently ponder: “Internet start-up, research medicine, or my hometown high school?” Schools with chronic teacher shortages would see many more qualified applicants and dedicated teachers would not be compelled to leave the classroom in order to support their family.

That’s why the Teacher Salary Project launched the Governors’ Challenge, asking governors to take action to make a long-term investment in their students’ futures, in the form of truly sustainable teachers’ salaries. With a million current teachers retiring in the next six years, what we have is a unique opportunity to transform the profession and attract a new generation of top-notch educators. Governors have the power to spark real change in a way that our severely divided federal government does not.

Finding additional funding is never easy, of course, but districts and schools across the nation are having success with many different models. Helena, Montana, passed an early retirement plan. Denver passed a $25 million bond.  There’s a different solution for each state or district. Where there is a will, there is a way and it’s time for the top leaders in our 50 states to step up. Some are starting to do just that.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is proposing to raise minimum pay in Iowa from $28,000 to $35,000.  Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina wants to increase all starting salaries to $40,000, from less than $30,000 in some areas. Recently, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia awarded all teachers a two percent raise with no strings attached, calling the teachers the “backbone of everything that makes our gardens grow.” Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee claims he’s going to have the fastest-rising salaries in the nation on the day he leaves office in 2015. Additionally, Governors Scott (FL), Martinez (NM), Patrick (MA), McCrory (NC), Bentley (AL), Abercrombie (HI) and Cuomo (NY) are seeking or have already found ways to raise teacher pay, but in some cases, in small amounts and for select groups.

Let’s not let these governors be the only ones trying to improve salaries for teachers and let’s not allow any governor to make minuscule or divisive changes. Join our grassroots movement by reaching out to your governor to ask him or her about their plans to boost pay to professional levels. Keep track of how your governor is faring on our interactive map. Let’s reward governors who do the right thing with our future votes and gratitude, and let’s say farewell to those who won’t.

Elevating the Teaching Profession
by Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt
from Education Week

March 21, 2014

In 2011, Secretary Duncan kicked off the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Education leaders from around the world meeting in New York City concluded that we need to elevate teaching’s status. As the 4th annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession approaches in March, what do we have to say for ourselves? Most of the policies introduced since 2011 focus narrowly on teacher evaluation and college and career ready standards. The impact on teachers so far seems to be stress and burnout.

Yet, 2014 is looking brighter. Here are five trends in the U.S. that are elevating the teaching profession, and what you can do to give them teeth:

1. Teacher respect. The U.S. Department of Education has launched a resource for educators to participate in a national conversation on the teaching profession. The goal of RESPECT: Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching is to make teaching as valued and honored a profession as medicine, law, and engineering by lifting up the present cohort of accomplished teachers and recruiting in a new generation of well-prepared bright young men and women. What can you do? Check out the RESPECT initiative’s tools to spark conversations.

2. Teacher leadership. More than 60 colleges now offer master’s programs in teacher leadership, and eight states have developed teacher leader certifications or endorsements. Last week at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards “Teaching and Learning” Secretary Duncan announced the “Teach to Lead” initiative, which will expand the opportunities for teachers to be leaders without having to leave the classroom. What can you do? Teachers of the Year Josh Stumpenhorst and David Bosso offer suggestions.

3. Teacher voice. The movement to increase teacher voice is growing. A Center for American Progress report summarizes new organizations that, alongside teachers’ unions and associations, are elevating teacher voice in policy. These organizations contribute to Education Week and other online media, place teacher leaders in high-level government positions, and serve on think-tank panels.What can you do? Read, listen, and join the conversation. Start with the new Teach Plus book on teachers’ perspectives on policy. The American Institutes for Research and Public Agenda Everyone at the Table resources provide tools for productive teacher-led conversations on controversial teacher quality policy.

4. Teacher pay. Whether teacher pay should be based on effectiveness ratings remains controversial, but most agree that the average teacher salary of $56,383 falls short. Officials in Hawaii have recently commissioned a statewide study of the adequacy of teacher salaries. Meanwhile, the Teacher Salary Project’s Governors’ Challenge aims to raise public awareness and political will to double teacher pay, and many state governors have come on board. What can you do? Sign on to this national movement!

5. Generation Y. These bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newbie teachers have inherited their Baby Boomer parents’ idealism, optimism, and commitment to helping underprivileged students in particular. Gen Y’ers want to make their workplace better and make friends at work. Ninety percent want their workplace to be social and fun, and 71 percent want their coworkers to be like extended family. The down side? They are prone to job-hopping if they can’t reach these aims. What can you do? Read our tips for supporting teachers from Generation Y and, watch our Gen Y videos , and spark discussions using our Gen Y discussion facilitator guide.

Competing to Win in the War for Teacher Talent
by Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt
from Education Week

February 25, 2014

The U.S. may have come in 2nd place with 28 medals in the Sochi Winter Olympics, but in educational achievement we rank 24th place in reading, 28th in science, and 36th in mathematics. Improving our game will require that not just some and not just most, but all students have effective teachers. Making that happen while Baby Boomer educators are retiring in droves will require that the education field compete even harder for the next generation of talent.

Aggressively recruiting a talent pool is common in other industries. Fifteen years ago, the global strategy consulting firm McKinsey & Company coined the term “war for talent,” setting off a corporate competition to attract the best and brightest- – from college graduates to the C-suite. The rationale was that staff effectiveness defined a company’s and even industry’s performance.

To be sure, many school districts perform off the charts in this competition for talent. Many happy suburbs are wooing truly phenomenal teachers to their classrooms with good salaries, state-of-the-art facilities, and the chance to work with motivated well-supported students and collegial colleagues. And many urban and rural schools are attracting talent without all the perks. Even so, as a field, education seems barely in the race for best strategic HR practices. A cross-industry study by IBM found that HR professionals in education used the “least enlightened” talent-management practices.

The solution? High-level state policy leaders, informed by teachers themselves, need to strengthen the teacher pipeline by identifying the field’s plusses and minuses, especially in high-need schools, and advertising the plusses to talented young people while addressing the minuses full force. Teaching must both be and be perceived to be an exciting career for college students with many other options – including in law, business, and other high-paying fields that are aggressively recruiting the next generation of talent.

To understand this next generation’s needs and wants, and the implications of these for the teaching profession, McKinsey & Company conducted market research on high-performing college students’ thoughts on the attractiveness of teaching as a profession. Revisiting the war on talent, “Closing the Talent Gap” identifies the major negatives that keep college students in the top third of their class from considering teaching and models what it would take to change top college students’ minds under assumptions ranging from:

  • significantly higher compensation
  • a marketing campaign
  • paid professional development
  • excellent school leadership
  • more attractive working environments.

If we want two-thirds of teachers in our high-need schools to come from the top-third of their college class, McKinsey & Company determined, large school districts would need to spend $95-$285 million per year, and an average sized state would need to invest roughly $630 million per year (roughly 5 percent of current K-12 spending).

Few states can afford this price-tag. But they can’t afford to ignore their achievement gaps either, so here are three steps for state leaders, teacher leaders and all stakeholders, to take to build their teacher pipelines:

First, correct perception gaps. Separate perception gaps from real problems. Could it be the case that teachers are better paid than college students think or that earnings opportunities in other fields are lower than they think? Perhaps there are teacher- training scholarships that college students don’t know about?

Second, grab the low-hanging fruit. Look first for high-impact no-cost opportunities–say, recognizing any of the many accomplishments teachers achieve in classrooms each day and showing appreciation for the value and sophistication of teachers’ work.

Third, spark open dialogue about the more challenging recruitment, retention and teacher-support issues. Engage stakeholders in conversations on how to increase or reallocate resources so there is a robust pipeline of teachers for all students. For some ideas to spark productive dialogue:

  • Check out the American Institutes for Research and Public Agenda’s Generation Y discussion facilitator guide to foster structured conversations to help meet the needs of Generation Y teachers, and Everyone at the Table resources which can be adapted to any setting and any topic to facilitate structured teacher-led dialogue on school policies.
  • Join the Teacher Salary Project ‘s movement to dialogue with governors about making teacher compensation more competitive.
  • Find tips for engaging with business partners on teacher recruitment and retention in this Center on Great Teachers and Leaders blog post.

The Olympics give us an inspiring occasion to re-think what’s possible. The U.S. Olympic Committee has identified the characteristics of successful Olympic coaches: committing to individual integrity, values, and personal growth; being profound thinkers and well-educated (formally and informally); sticking with athletes for the long-run and valuing those relationships; experimenting with new ideas; understanding human nature; loving their work; and being honest and ethically strong. Our teachers must possess many of these same traits, and as long as students from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to fail and to drop out, more must be done to develop, attract, retain and support the best possible talent to these classrooms.

Competing in the war for talent to regain our status as a world leader in education may be daunting. But as 22-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps puts it, “Nothing is impossible. With so many people saying it couldn’t be done, all it takes is an imagination.”

Agreeing with Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
by Ninive Calegari
December 2013

Amanda Ripley has urgent and instructive comments to make in her new book The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. While she starts by saying that salaries don’t matter, she concludes by agreeing that people need to earn what other professionals do in their own communities. In the US, salaries have stagnated for forty years, leaving teachers well, well behind professionals with similar training. There cannot be such a huge opportunity cost for selecting teaching as a career (for those who have other options.) Read Ripley’s words and enjoy:

“By the time he taught Kim, he was earning about $49,000 per year, which was more than the typical salary in Sallisaw but still not a lot. Across the Atlantic Ocean, Stara was earning about $67,000. The cost of living was higher in Finland, but Stara’s salary was still higher. And her salary was closer to what other college graduates earned in Finland than Bethel’s salary was in the United States.

“Interestingly, large salaries did not necessarily coincide with greatness worldwide. The world’s highest paid teachers lived in Spain, where teenagers performed worse in math, reading, and science than students in the United States. But in higher-functioning education systems, larger salaries could help schools attract better-educated teachers and retain them over time, establishing a baseline of professionalism and prestige. In all the education superpowers, teachers’ incomes were closer to the salaries of other college-educated professionals than they were in the United States. In most cases, classes were also larger than they were in the United States, making the cost of the salaries more manageable.

“As I listened to teachers like Stara and Bethel, I started to suspect that all these differences interacted, in chronological order. Because teacher colleges selected only the top applicants in Finland and other education superpowers, those schools could spend less time doing catch-up instruction and more time on rigorous, hands-on training; because teachers entered the classroom with rigorous training and a solid education, they were less likely than American teachers to quit in frustration. This model of preparation and stability made it possible to give teachers larger class sizes and pay them decently, since the turnover costs were much lower than in other countries. And, since they had all this training and support, they had the tools to help kids learn, year after year, and to finally pass a truly demanding graduation test at the end of high school.” (p 95)

I have always felt that our movement is in everyone’s interest. Here Ripley explains why this issue is so critical:

“If they (students) didn’t go to college, they would earn half as much money. They would encounter an unemployment rate that was twice as high. They might still find a way into a decent job, though it was unlikely. When they went home at night, they would keep paying the price: Americans who did not graduate from college were more likely to get divorced and raise children on their own. They even died younger than college graduates.

“If they walked out of high school altogether, they would enter a world of perpetual struggle, with low wages, vanishing benefits, and 14 percent unemployment. It was an unlikely fate for Kim, Eric, and Tom, but a foregone conclusion for about a quarter of their peers. By the time Kim turned twenty, there would be some six million more Americans without high-school diplomas than there would be jobs for them.

“Depending on what happened next, in other words, Kim, Eric, and Tom could essentially be living in different countries than kids they’d sat next to in kindergarten. So much remained unknown about their futures, but it was becoming harder to change one’s destiny in America. The tracks that had begun sorting kids in elementary school ran on and on into adulthood. Without dramatic changes in the way the country operated, the paths would not intersect.” (p 181)

Once we professionalize salaries, or while we’re doing so, we’ll also have to talk about training in a meaningful way. We can’t let anyone who is walking enter this profession. At Cambridge Rindge and Latin I had three mentor teachers, Larry Aaronson, Betsy Grady and Joan Soble. Most get none. Then I was laid off — last in, first out — and in Marin County I was blessed with two mentors, David Sondheim and Mary Kitchens, for three years. I have talked to hundreds of teachers who never came close to the kind of attention and interaction I experienced. Here Ripley discusses our training and its weaknesses:

“Nationwide, people studying to be math teachers in the United States did not have to actually know that much math compared to teachers in the education superpowers. The deficit was particularly alarming among middle-school math teachers. When researchers tested thousands of aspiring teachers in sixteen countries, they found that future middle-school math teachers in the United States knew about as much math as their peers in Thailand and Oman. They had nowhere near the math competence of teachers-in-training in Taiwan, Singapore, or Poland. So it was not surprising that those same teachers’ students would perform just as unimpressively later on. You could not teach what you did not know.

“Still, the most valuable part of any teacher preparation program may be the hands-on practice that student teachers get in a real-life classroom. There is no better way to prepare for teaching than to actually teach–and get meaningful feedback on how to improve.” (p 94)

Teachers’ Guide to Surviving Politics at Thanksgiving
by Daniel Moulthrop
from The Huffington Post
November 27, 2013

I used to teach public high school and in a county jail before that, and my wife is a teacher, too, so I have some pretty strong feelings about teaching, public schools, and teacher pay. To put it bluntly, I believe we are currently paying the price of our national policy of underpaying K-12 educators. So when my friend Ninive Calegari, who runs the Teacher Salary Project, sent me a Guide to Surviving a Political Conversation at Thanksgiving, it resonated.

First of all, I love how she starts out–no hesitation, just jumping into the deep end:

There’s no better time to convince your whole family that teacher salaries must go up than at Thanksgiving Dinner. You’ve got a captive audience of loved ones who are too full to move, so ignore the old adage to not discuss politics at the dinner table. Here’s how to do it:

Start your Thanksgiving Dinner with a Toast to Teachers
This Thanksgiving, raise a glass to the teacher you’re most thankful for – whether a family member, a teacher of your child’s, or a teacher from your childhood. With everyone at the table, plates piled high and glasses full, think of that one teacher and raise a toast to them.

“To the teacher with a graduate-level education who works close to sixty hours a week, earning a salary comparable to that of a toll-taker or bartender, while having to work a second job, and all the while raising a family of their own: A toast and thanks to you for educating and enlightening; for being the wall to lean on; for not leaving the teaching profession for a higher paying job, as many other great teachers have had to do.”

Calegari finishes the toast by recognizing the policy makers who understand that good teachers are key to a thriving economy in a democracy. And then she pivots to provide specific instructions no matter what political persuasion is represented at your dinner table, starting with . . .

. . . your more conservative family members: For the most conservative in your clan, fill their plate with the news that two Republican governors have already committed to raising teachers’ salaries because they know they need teaching to be attractive in their state. Remind them that investing in our children’s education is actually an investment in our future workforce. Eric Hanushek, an economist from the Hoover Institution, published this study showing that great teachers increase students’ future earnings. Emphasize that this kind of economic investment is the best long-term plan for safe and healthy communities. If they need more convincing, let them know that teacher turnover costs the nation $7 billion dollars per year and that we could easily save that money by raising teacher salaries from within existing budgets. Then pass the potatoes, and let them chew on both for a bit as you move on to some of the other guests.

You get the idea. Calegari has arguments for milquetoasty moderates and labor-minded lefties, as well. You should read the whole thing, and then let me know how it goes at your Thanksgiving Feast.

Your Guide to Surviving a Political Conversation at Thanksgiving
by The Teacher Salary Project
from The Teacher Salary Project Newsletter
November 26, 2013

There’s no better time to convince your whole family that teacher salaries must go up than at Thanksgiving Dinner. You’ve got a captive audience of loved ones who are too full to move, so ignore the old adage to not discuss politics at the dinner table. Here’s how to do it:

This Thanksgiving, raise a glass to the teacher you’re most thankful for – whether a family member, a teacher of your child’s, or a teacher from your childhood. With everyone at the table, plates piled high and glasses full, think of that one teacher and raise a toast to them.

“To the teacher with a graduate-level education who works close to sixty hours a week, earning a salary comparable to that of a toll-taker or bartender, while having to work a second job, and all the while raising a family of their own: A toast and thanks to you for educating and enlightening; for being the wall to lean on; for not leaving the teaching profession for a higher paying job, as many other great teachers have had to do.”

Some will already be raising their glasses enthusiastically in support; you’d expect as much. But you’re not done yet with the toast.

“May the governors and policy makers in our country prove that a thriving economy and a thriving society grow from excellent teachers, which necessitates giving excellent teachers the compensation they truly deserve. We need to keep great educators like you in the classroom.”

Each family has its plate full of political differences. It wouldn’t be a family otherwise. Here’s how to address each of them.

For the most conservative in your clan, fill their plate with the news that two Republican governors have already committed to raising teachers’ salaries because they know they need teaching to be attractive in their state. Remind them that investing in our children’s education is actually an investment in our future workforce. Eric Hanushek, an economist from the Hoover Institution, published this study showing that great teachers increase students’ future earnings. Emphasize that this kind of economic investment is the best long-term plan for safe and healthy communities. If they need more convincing, let them know that teacher turnover costs the nation $7 billion dollars per year and that we could easily save that money by raising teacher salaries from within existing budgets. Then pass the potatoes, and let them chew on both for a bit as you move on to some of the other guests.

Some of the moderates of the family will basically agree that teachers should earn more but they’ll also say, “Well, sounds good but it probably can’t be done.” As they enjoy their apple, pumpkin, and pecan, show them that your ideas aren’t pie in the sky, but founded on facts.

Mention that for a small state to move salary scales to professional levels, it would cost the same as a single day in Afghanistan. Seconds, anyone? How about the news of places that have raised salaries through slashing administrative costs, early retirement packages, or bonds? Or offer up this tasty tidbit from Public Impact that shows states and districts how to raise teacher salaries by 20 to 130 percent with the money they have now.

If there’s room for more, say that more models need to be developed and that is exactly why you signed the pledge and called your governor this past week to ask that leader to prioritize this need.

Your liberal family members may insist that teachers don’t care about salaries. They didn’t go into it for the money and can just as well be paid in hugs, pats on the back, and the knowledge that they made a difference. This may be true in many cases, but there are simply not enough folks out there who are both putting students first and able to pay their bills. Wouldn’t we rather know that all our teachers are capable and dedicated and don’t need to be self-sacrificing?

If they need some more convincing, remind them that teachers work an average of ten hours per day (in some cases even more), over 90 percent spend their own money on their students or classrooms, and yet teachers are priced out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas. Isn’t it time teachers were compensated fairly?

Yes, let that after-dinner ennui set in. This is no longer time for hard facts. This course calls for something a little sweeter, a closer of hope and optimism. Just state the obvious: If you want to live in a country where young people achieve their dreams and leave school with dignity and a sense of hope and optimism for a strong and stable future, giving all students access to great, well-supported teachers is the only way. 7,000 students leaving school each year is tragic. How do we slow our drop-out rates and keep our youth engaged in education? Investing in teaching our youth is the right thing to do, and the American thing to do.

Be thrilled to share with them that right now, at this very moment, one million teachers are set to retire in the next six years and, at the same time, ever more college students are making their career choices. Bust out a recap of the McKinsey report that shows how important professional salaries are to college students as they select their career choices today. While teacher salaries in the U.S. have stagnated for the past forty years, other nations are seeing tremendous growth in student achievement and teacher recruitment. Is it any coincidence that teachers in these nations receive professional levels of compensation while not having to pay out of pocket for training or supplies? There is no time to waste. Who wants coffee?

You may find that your conservative faction has gained a second wind. Let them know that Condoleezza Rice has been studying and speaking about how our schools’ falling achievement rates erodes our national security.

Once you finally get everyone to agree, please take a video of your family saying the following pledge. Then, send to us to be featured in an upcoming short film!

THE PLEDGE: “I pledge to support raising teachers’ salaries so that excellent teachers will be able to afford to stay in the classroom, and talented graduates will choose to join the most important profession in the world.”

Camera shy? You can still support the new film series from The Teacher Salary Project by contributing to our kickstarter. And, tell your friends and family they won’t get any leftovers until they’ve taken out their phones and liked The Teacher Salary Project on Facebook!

Happy Thanksgiving to you! And thank you for helping to bring your family from all political sides together around this issue.

The Teacher Salary Project team 

PS: You can also mention that you’re hearing a lot about various reform ideas and that there are lots of great ideas to consider and implement. But first, we need to make sure the best college students pick teaching.

Here is a short list of facts to keep your conversation going:

  • Teachers’ salaries have steadily declined for the past 40 years, while other professional wages have risen;
  • Had wages risen at the same rate that per-pupil spending has risen over the past four decades, average salaries in our nation would be $120,000;
  • Average teachers’ starting salaries in our nation are $39,000 and ending salaries are $67,000;
  • 14 percent of teachers leave the profession each year (which is the highest for any profession with this level of training);
  • Chronic shortages of teachers in multiple key subjects – math, science, special education, and foreign language – have plagued our schools since the 1950s;
  • In urban districts, the turnover is 20 percent annually with the highest need schools witnessing 50% turnover every 2 years;
  • 46 percent of teachers in public schools leave the profession within their first five years;
  • $7 billion is the price each year for high teacher turnover in the United States.

Stanford leadership’s vision of teaching in American in sync with ours
by Brooke Donald
from Stanford News

October 31, 2013

“Society needs to place more value on teaching and schools need to help revamp the teaching career as part of an effort to attract the most talented students to the field, concluded a panel of experts, including Stanford President John Hennessy, during a discussion on jobs in education.

“I think we have to re-professionalize the teaching corps,” Hennessy said. “We have to train great people. I think we, as a society, need to change as well. We have to put more value on it.”

Hennessy joined Claude Steele, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE); Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education and Stanford professor emeritus of business administration and of education; and Professor Rachel Lotan, director of the Stanford Teacher Education Program, for a discussion organized by the Stanford Pre-Education Society, or SPREES.

Julia Quintero, the founder and president of SPREES, a new club to encourage and support students interested in education, moderated the event, which included a roundtable discussion and questions from the audience.

“We understand that careers in education are often overlooked by students at elite institutions like Stanford,” Quintero said. “We are here to change that. And the first step to change is sparking a conversation.”

The panelists agreed that low pay and low prestige discourage many high-achieving students from going into careers in education, particularly teaching.

Other formidable obstacles include how poorly funded some schools are, Steele said, which leads to difficult teaching experiences.

“We talk about teachers as if they’re supposed to be heroes, sacrifice themselves,” he said. “I think as citizens we need to make [teaching] a much more attractive situation, a much more likely-to-succeed situation.”

Raising standards for aspiring teachers, evaluating their performance on the job more effectively and paying them more would certainly help raise the status of teaching, the panelists said.

Teaching is complex, intellectual work, Lotan said, that “should be high status, should be paid well.”

Having high-quality teachers, Lotan said, is part of creating a stronger workforce.

“Teaching is the profession that makes all professions possible,” she said.

The key to having good teachers is having good preparation programs, she said. Aspiring teachers who attend highly competitive programs are better prepared and more satisfied with their careers.

Lotan noted, for example, that teachers from rigorous programs tend to stay in the profession longer, which ultimately is better for students. A recent study showed that after five years, when nationally only about 50 to 60 percent of teachers are still in their jobs, 75 percent of graduates from the Stanford Teacher Education Program are still teaching.

Lotan said teaching should be thought of as a political and moral act.

“When we decide why we teach, we are making a political decision,” Lotan said. “We are expressing our vision and our goal for the future of society.”

And the future of society depends on good teachers, Hennessy argued.

“If we really want to make sure the next generation has the kinds of opportunities that I think this country can offer, if the ladder that enables somebody to go from a very poor beginning in a family up to real achievement in the U.S. is going to be maintained, it’s going to begin in K-12,” he said. “We as a society owe all our young people a decent start at education.”

Hennessy noted that many U.S. teachers come from the lower one-third of their college class compared to teachers in other countries, who come from the top third.

Getting more undergraduates from schools like Stanford into teaching could have a profound effect, particularly for lower-resourced schools that often can’t attract the best trained teachers.”

To read the rest of this article from Stanford News, please click here.

Salman Khan passages and our Commonwealth Club interview
by Ninive Calegari
September 19, 2013

At The Teacher Salary Project it’s always edifying to find support from every corner and from Americans from all perspectives. Thank you, Sal Khan, for addressing the issue of teacher compensation in your inspiring book One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined (Twelve, 2012). Here are Sal’s views on teacher pay, our favorite topic:

“At roughly $10,000 per student per year, the average American school is spending $250,000-$300,000 per classroom of twenty-five to thirty students. Where is that money going? Arguably, it should be going to teachers; but that isn’t how it works. Teacher’s salaries are a relatively small part of the expenditure. If we generously put a teacher’s salary and benefits at $100,000 per year– teachers in most of the country make far less–and the cost of maintaining a 1,00 square foot classroom at $30,000 per year (a figure comparable to leasing high-end office space), we still have $120,000-$170,000 for each classroom to be spent on “other stuff.” This other stuff includes things like well-paid administrators, security guards, and well-manicured football fields–none of which have a direct role in students’ learning.

Clearly, teachers could and should be significantly better paid if some of the fat were trimmed from the bureaucracy and if more wisdom than tradition went into decisions about what expenses really drive learning. It’s not the teachers’ fault if superintendents and boards make unproductive choices; still, in the blame game that much of our education debate has become, teachers have come in for criticism that is often unfair or at least disproportionate to their role in the fiscal mess and the misallocation of resources.

In order to really address these problems, it’s not enough to fix things on the margin: Add a day in the calendar here, change teacher compensation there. We can’t just focus on things like student/teacher ratio. In regard to cost as well as standard classroom techniques, we need to question basic assumptions.” (p. 120-121)

Additionally, in this interview I ask Sal about his views on salary at this moment 51:30. Please enjoy the rest of the interview to learn more about how Sal would like to see school, teaching and learning look and feel in our country.

Launching the Governors’ Challenge
by Ninive Calegari
from The Teacher Salary Project Newsletter
October 9, 2013

Dear Teacher Salary Project Community,

This fall is going to be big.

I have been stunned by rumors that teachers in Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis have signed up to be escorts for sugar daddy services. And US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently highlighted the fact that the teachers in North Carolina aren’t only selling blood but they are also on food stamps. We are going to try to change this — will you please join us?

During October we are launching a new initiative, The Governors’ Challenge. We are going to send a personal letter, our film, and an action guide booklet to your governor, as well as those in the other 49 states nationwide, to encourage them to improve the teaching profession in their states. We will then follow up with each of them and track and publicize their responses on our website.

As a former teacher, educator, mother, and American, this movement means a great deal to me. I taught in three different schools and there were huge differences in these schools and student bodies, but what all three had in common were superb teachers. I witnessed creative, warm, hilarious, and intelligent teachers making sincere connections with students and inspiring children day after day. Many people tell me teachers aren’t motivated by money, and there’s a lot of truth to that; teaching wasn’t ever just a job for me, it was a way of life. But that’s no justification for national policy. When we undervalue a profession, we essentially tell prospective recruits they shouldn’t bother, or if they do, that they must take a vow of poverty. I believe there’s another way.

The Teacher Salary Project has been saying since 2005 that teachers’ pay needs to be professionalized in order to reflect the level of importance and rigor of the work. And, all along we’ve been saying that teachers shouldn’t have to work second jobs as bartenders, lawn mowers, or even SAT proctors. Now we see teachers moonlighting as possible escorts, as blood purveyors, and living on food stamps. Things have gotten bleak. We are making a huge push to change this, and we cannot do it without your help.

The good news is that some states’ governors are already working to change their teachers’ pay. Governor Bill Haslam recently shared that he wanted the state legislature to allocate more money for teacher salaries in an effort to grow pay for Tennessee educators faster than any other state in the nation. We’ll be celebrating with him every step of the way, and hope that other states will join in this movement too. That’s why we are busy creating our new website, which will track how each governor responds, whether positively or not, to our request to change teachers’ salaries meaningfully.

The first thing we’re hoping you’ll do is to sign our pledge so that the governors will see that voters care about this issue. Here is what we’re hoping you’ll agree to:

Great teachers are vital for our kids and our communities, but we are losing them because we don’t pay them like the professionals we ask them to be. I pledge to support raising teachers’ salaries so that excellent teachers will be able to afford to stay in the classroom, and talented graduates will choose to join the most important profession in the world.

Sign our petition on to take our pledge and show your governor that you want to see change happen in your state. Tweet about the pledge, share it on Facebook, and let your network know why this issue is important to you and the future of our country. Together we can shine the spotlight on states making progress in attracting and developing expert teachers, while spurring action in states where reform is needed.

I want to live in a country where college students are eager to go into teaching so that the United States can continue to prosper. Countries that have shown great results have one thing in common: a stable, prestigious team of educators. Teaching is among the most desirable professions in these nations, and it is reflected in the recruitment and retention of top college students. Those countries also pay their teachers the same as other professionals. We just have to do the same.

Our team will connect with you soon when our Governors’ Challenge packets are in the mail to our nation’s leaders. Then, if you’re interested in following up with your own governor, we’ll welcome your support. Again, please ask your friends to join us on Facebook and Twitter so our numbers reflect your voices.

Yours warmly,


The Teacher Salary Project
by Ninive Calegari
from Google’s Policy by the Numbers blog

March 9, 2012

Imagine a day when college students stay up at night worrying about a future in the teaching profession the same way many of them worry now about which medical school will accept them. Creating a profession so desirable is an exciting and important prospect. It’s not impossible, but it will require educators, legislators and everyday Americans to change our culture and make teaching a rewarding career, both financially and professionally. Now is a perfect time to call for such a change.

The Lumina Foundation anticipates a shortage of 16 million college-educated adults in the U.S. workforce by 2025. In addition to that gap, 7,000 students drop out of school every day. Teachers, the most important component of a school campus, need our respect and support, and more than thank you notes with apples or discounts at their local tanning salon. They need professional salaries, healthy working conditions and autonomy to meet high standards.

Here are some statistics highlighting the urgent need for policy change:

  • 68% of college students said they would consider teaching if paid more than 50% of the occupations they were considering.
  • Teachers are paid 14% less than other professionals with similar training.
  • 92.4% of teachers use their own money to buy supplies.
  • Every year in the U.S., 14% of teachers leave the profession, and in urban areas, 20% leave. This turnover costs the country $7 billion dollars each year, and threatens the ability of individual schools and communities to thrive.
  • An alarming 62% of teachers have second jobs outside the classroom to make ends meet.
  • In 1970, starting teachers earned $2,000/year less than starting attorneys in NYC. Today, a starting teacher earns $45K and a starting attorney earns $160K.

Compelled by this data, we sought to create a persuasive narrative that captures the value of teachers—and counters the bashing they’ve taken over the past 18 months. American Teacher is a feature-length documentary film that delves into the core of our schools as seen through the eyes of U.S. teachers. It’s accompanied by an online resource packed with links, statistics and summaries of positive policy changes at the local level.

1.8 of our 3.2 million teachers are about to retire and we can use this opportunity to ask ourselves: How can we make sure college students who are interested in teaching don’t feel condemned to a vow of poverty by taking on this important role, especially given the huge college loan debt they face? How do we stop lambasting this group of professionals and get communities behind them? And, finally, when we have great people in the classroom, what conditions and salaries are needed to keep them there?

2011 Gates Foundation and Scholastic study points to the fact that many working teachers don’t have salary on the top of their list for school improvement. We can’t allow this information to let America off the hook. Teachers who have found ways to make ends meet will always rank their students’ needs above their own, but low salaries dissuade college students from teaching and push educators out of the classroom.

We know that our country’s greatest strength is each child sitting in a school today—their future innovations, contributions and families. So, why continue to undernourish that asset?

Filmmaker Statement from Vanessa Roth
by Vanessa Roth, Director and Producer of American Teacher
from the American Teacher screening kit

I have two daughters, an eighth-grader and a fifth-grader, and I have a baby boy on the way. Just like all my friends with kids, school choice and the quality of my kids’ education is a central issue in our family life. We’ve debated whether an urban, suburban, or rural environment would be better, whether class size matters, and what about school resources? Do we home-school, go public or private, charter or “specialized”? No matter the setting, I, like all the parents I know, want my kids’ education to help them become engaged and curious critical thinkers who are lifelong learners.

While raising my kids, my work has also brought me into schools around the world where I have had the chance to spend lots of time exploring different approaches to teaching and learning and delving into the day-to-day life of both “failing” and “high-achieving” schools. What I’ve loved most about this work is that I have been able to witness the staff and students that make up our education system.

And what I have been most struck by, both as a mom and as a witness to the schools I’ve traveled to and filmed in, is that as much as all the debate around what makes the best learning environment is valid and important, the most defining piece of a kid’s day, or year, is the teacher(s) in front of him or her. I’m lucky that the kind of work I do gives me the freedom to also be a very involved parent, but even with the amount of time I get to spend with my kids, they spend just as much, or more, with their teachers. Teachers not only affect what our kids learn in books, what they retain, and how they score on tests, but also how they look at the world, and who they become. I can’t imagine a more important role in a person’s life.

So when Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari came to me about making a film with them about the need to change the way we value teachers in our society, I immediately said yes. The opportunity to make a film that shows the reality of the daily lives of teacher across the country was a gift, and to have a chance to make that film with two people I admired so much was truly inspiring. I also got the opportunity to get to know the teachers in the film and really sink my teeth into the heart of the education debate. I was able to fully understand how not only the teacher in front of my children is a critical factor in their lives, but also how the need for our cultural and educational policies to value teachers as true professionals is an urgent issue that goes to the heart of our democracy.

I hope that with the great talents of our editor and co-director Brian McGinn and our composer Thao Nguyen, with the passion of Matt Damon who came on as our narrator, and with the incredible trust given to us by the teachers in our film, American Teacher becomes a catalyst for giving our teachers the value and support they so truly deserve, so that our kids grow up to be the educated, critical thinking, engaged adults that we want and need them to be.

Filmmaker Statement from Ninive Calegari
by Nínive Calegari, Producer of American Teacher

from the American Teacher screening kit

Even though I’ve watched our film countless times, unexpected moments still make me cry. This summer, during a screening at a teachers’ conference, I got teary watching a former English teacher named Gretchen Weber describe moving her two thousand novels from basement to basement in the hopes that she might still someday go back into the classroom. I couldn’t help but think of the boxes of original lesson plans and primary document materials in my own basement—like Gretchen, I keep them just in case I ever go back. Teaching wasn’t ever just a job for me; it was a way of life, and it shaped the way I still think about the magnificence and fragility of our democracy, an honest day’s work, creating community, and being responsible for other people.

After receiving my master’s in Education and my teaching credentials, I taught in three different settings: a large urban public school, a large suburban public school, and a tiny public charter school, San Francisco’s first. There were huge differences in these settings in terms of resources: I was laid off from my first job due to a budget cut combined with our union’s “last in, first out” requirement; the second school was in a wealthy suburb with plenty of resources and meaningful professional training; and the charter school didn’t even have a building until a few weeks before the start of the year.

What the three schools had in common, however, were superb faculties. I marveled at the teachers at those three schools: How David Sondheim knew the souls of every kid in the halls of Drake High. The way Jonathan Dearman brought an entire music department to our under-supplied charter school. The eye-popping science experiments that Sarah Kerley designed on a limited budget and with scrappy materials. I could go on and on.

I witnessed firsthand how these creative, warm, hilarious, and intelligent teachers made sincere connections with students and provided inspiring lessons day after day, but I knew the outside world didn’t see what I saw, and I often felt and heard a very different impression about our profession. In 2003 I was thrilled to team up with Daniel Moulthrop and Dave Eggers to attempt to address this lack of awareness, and we wrote a book collecting vivid depictions of teachers’ lives. We interviewed hundreds of teachers about the complexities of their work, their passions for their profession, their frustrations with public conceptions of their value, and their financial struggles to make it all possible.

We talked with people who said they would have loved to go into teaching, but didn’t want to be undervalued professionally or scraping by financially. We also examined schools that had raised their teachers’ salaries and saw good results: increased applications for openings, increased teacher retention, increased graduation rates, and, yes, increased test scores. The book was well received, and yet, I wanted to speak to people beyond the educational community. American Teacher is our attempt to bring these stories to a wider audience.

At the moment, we have a rare opportunity to fundamentally shape the future of the teaching profession. Over half of our nation’s teachers will be eligible to retire in the next ten years, and we can take advantage of this shift in personnel to spark a cultural shift as well. We have to make teaching a desirable profession, with fair pay, opportunities for professional growth, and acceptable conditions. I want to live in a country where collegestudents stay up at night wondering if they will be successful enough to become a teacher, the same way they worry about getting into medical school.

Many people tell me that teachers aren’t motivated by money, and there’s a lot of truth to that; for many teachers, the job itself is the real reward. But that view overlooks the many long-term consequences of undervaluing a profession. Many college students want to teach but can’t see a financial and professional future in it. Of those who do take the leap, over half have to work second jobs outside the classroom. We can’t ask teachers to take a vow of poverty and then expect miraculous results. If we want a different future for our kids and grandkids, we need to give education reform the time, attention, and money that it demands and deserves.

As we take this film from city to city, I often think about all those boxes of lesson plans stashed in my basement. I’m still in touch with many of my former students, but I miss the challenges and excitement unique to being in charge of a classroom of young people. I know many of my old colleagues feel the same way. For all of them, and especially for all the recent graduates currently considering the profession, I hope this film helps build support for vital change. Our kids and our country deserve the most talented, dedicated teachers available who can stay and thrive in the profession—and those teachers deserve our respect and fair pay.


Filmmaker Statement from Dave Eggers
by Dave Eggers, Producer 
of American Teacher
from the American Teacher screening kit

My mom was a teacher, and a lot of my good friends from high school and college became teachers. One of my best friends was a teacher in San Francisco when we were both in our twenties and living in the city. She lived down the street from me, and we would see each other often, and she would talk about her job, her students, her school. She was easily the most passionate and accomplished and adult among all of us twenty-somethings. I was happy for her, and for the students who had her as a teacher.

But then, after about four years teaching, she had to quit. She couldn’t afford it. She had loans, she had expenses. She was living with a roommate in a small apartment, couldn’t afford her own place, couldn’t afford a car, couldn’t afford most of the things she needed. So she quit to sell educational software, and eventually went into real estate.

So that was a lesson to me. Great teachers, born teachers, were leaving the profession because of the salaries and conditions. And over the years, through our 826 National centers, I’ve met dozens of other young teachers who were inspiring, gifted, and who left the profession. In most cases, it wasn’t just about the money. But money drives a lot of co-factors, like prestige, autonomy, and respect.

So Nínive Calegari, Daniel Moulthrop and I put together the book Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers, allowing the teachers to tell their stories, what they love about their job and what makes their job unnecessarily difficult.

After the book was published, a documentary seemed like a natural extension of the story. We could reach new audiences and update the stories of some of the teachers profiled in the book.

The hope for the film now is to share the stories of actual teachers: what the job is really all about, how hard it is, and how many of the things we assume we know about the profession aren’t quite right. We’re in an unprecedented age of scrutiny for teachers, and much of the debate is shrill and misinformed. We’re hoping the movie presents a clear, sober picture of the lives of teachers, and can hint at a roadmap for improving conditions and retention.


The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries
by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari
from The New York Times

May 1, 2011

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

We have a rare chance now, with many teachers near retirement, to prove we’re serious about education. The first step is to make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates. This will take some doing.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and Décor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again. Does this look like “A Plan,” either on the state or federal level?

We’ve been working with public school teachers for 10 years; every spring, we see many of the best teachers leave the profession. They’re mowed down by the long hours, low pay, the lack of support and respect.

Imagine a novice teacher, thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher. For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools — especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest — is devastating.

But we can reverse course. In the next 10 years, over half of the nation’s nearly 3.2 million public school teachers will become eligible for retirement. Who will replace them? How do we attract and keep the best minds in the profession?

People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.

Can we do better? Can we generate “A Plan”? Of course.

The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.

McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.

For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.