A better salary would prevent teachers from quitting. But there’s more than that


Even for teachers, money talks.

A new survey from the EdWeek research center finds that, given the choice of different ways to raise pay, teachers say the prospect of salary increases that keep pace with inflation is more likely to keep them in the classroom than d other financial benefits, including more generous benefits. family leave policies.

Meanwhile, the one-time bonuses don’t seem to attract at all, unless the districts are really willing to shell out for them.

Taken together, the survey results speak to the complicated financial math district leaders make when investing money to retain teachers. The most effective strategies are also the most expensive, in the long run.

“It’s about scale and motivation,” said David Rosenberg, partner at Education Resource Strategies, a nonprofit consulting firm that advises districts on how to spend their money effectively. “$1,000 is fine, but it reinforces the idea that small amounts are the units of teacher pay. They need to feel that they are much more respected and that the districts are willing to do more for them with the money available.

Finances are only part of retention, however, he and other experts noted: Teachers want to work in mission-focused places where they have collaborative relationships with their peers and support from their principals. .

Let’s take a look at the results and see how they fit together.

It is important to keep in mind that although it is common to speak of a “national” shortage of teachers, shortages actually tend to be very localized and regional. They reflect how local markets work, the tendency for teachers to work quite close to where they grew up, and how the competition for talent differs by subject and grade level.

The data is based on a nationally representative sample of 564 teachers. The EdWeek research center surveyed them from June 29 to July 18 as part of a regular series of surveys on the effects of the pandemic on schools.

There weren’t many significant differences in responses when we broke down the data by geographic location or teacher grade level, but a few are noted below.

Teachers prefer base salary increases

Teachers say the financial strategy that would most entice them to stay is to offer raises above the cost of living; with 6 out of 10 teachers responding, it was the most popular option. (Right behind it were wage increases that kept pace with the cost of living.)

In a sense, this is not a very surprising finding: salary increases would make an immediate difference in the lives of teachers; they, and U.S. consumers as a whole, are facing record inflation and higher gas prices linked to pandemic-related supply chain issues and disruptions in fuel markets caused by the war in Ukraine. .

But it also shows that teachers are financially and politically sophisticated, noted Thomas Dee, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Education who studies teacher compensation and incentives.

“It doesn’t take too many years for a raise to be financially better than a bonus,” he said. “It struck me that they favor them, and that suggests they understand these kinds of lifetime benefit issues.”

No matter how well-deserved they are, raises like these are usually an expensive proposition for district leaders.

“If we’re doing these things with the level of funding we have in schools, we can’t do the extra supports, the personalization, the mental health supports that we need to respond to the effects of COVID,” Karen said. Hawley Miles, the president and CEO of ERS.

Some districts have tried to target increases for certain teachers or subjects, rather than offering general increases; the survey does not ask what the teachers think of them. Historically, they can be politically tricky to achieve because teaching ethics are often concerned with fairness and fair treatment. Still, some districts have managed to raise salaries in different ways, targeting new hiresfor example, during those difficult first years of work.

Retirement and health compensation are a priority

Almost 4 in 10 teachers said an increase in their pension or defined benefit pension scheme would persuade them to stay. This could reflect a desire for security in the wake of the pandemic – and concern over many retirement accounts falling earlier this year when financial markets crashed, ERS strategists said.

Retirement benefits are a tricky area for district leaders. With the exception of just a few school districts that have their own pension plans, most pension rules are set by state legislators and pension boards, not directly by district leaders. Districts can do things like scoop up some of the share that teachers are required to pay into the pension system, but pensions already make up a growing share of district budgets, especially for servicing debt on the plans.

On the other hand, districts control more aspects of health costs, particularly the proportion that teachers pay for insurance compared to what they pay. This is often a major factor in collective bargaining.

Housing and paid leave – even maternity or paternity leave – were far less popular responses, despite skyrocketing housing costs nationwide and heightened awareness of family care issues cropping up in the predominantly female teaching profession..

Notably, teachers in urban areas were much more likely to say paternity or maternity leave would make them more likely to stay, at 17%, than those working in rural or suburban districts, at 6% and 8%, respectively. . And curiously, elementary and secondary school teachers also put this financial advantage much higher than middle school teachers.

Bonuses – unless they’re substantial – don’t seem to do much

The survey revealed that bonuses paled in comparison to other more substantial forms of compensation. In fact, only 5% of teachers said bonuses under $2,000 would be likely to keep them in the profession.

About a quarter said larger bonuses, $5,000 to $10,000, might encourage them to stay.

It’s a trend that worries Hawley Miles of ERS. Many districts favor lower premiums. She promotes larger bonuses that can be strategically coupled with efforts to create career paths for teachers where they could share their expertise with colleagues and improve working conditions for all.

“We have districts everywhere that are doing this right now, using their [federal COVID relief] funds to do these [smaller bonuses], so I think it’s really interesting to compare that with the bigger ones,” she said. “You can call them bonuses. Or you could call them stipends for different roles, for teachers who take on more roles with responsibility and leadership.

Working conditions matter too

The limited nature of the survey means that these results do not address a key question: what is the value of money compared to other types of benefits, such as working in a collegial environment with supportive administrators?

A minority of teachers, 7%, said that Nope financial policy would make a difference because their reasons for wanting to leave did not depend on this question. (Consider, for example, that a recent Khan Academy study found that factors such as student behavior and a lack of mental health support made it more difficult for students to catch up after the pandemic. )

And decades of research show the link between retention and good working conditions, such as a positive school culture, respect, and a strong principal. Better pay might keep teachers in classrooms a bit longer, but that’s not the only thing teachers are looking for.

Everything indicates the need to better control the multitude of factors. Some districts now conduct “stay interviews” to answer this question, and previous research has suggested that one simple thing principals can do is ask their best teachers: What would keep you in class?


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