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Income potential and pupil-teacher ratio factor in best and worst states for educators

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World Teachers’ Day is October 5, but teachers make an average $2,150 less per year than they did 10 years ago.

According to personal-finance website WalletHub, this figure is adjusted for inflation for its 2022’s Best & Worst States for Teachers.

WalletHub analyzed 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 metrics, including teachers’ income growth potential, pupil-teacher ratio and whether the state has a digital learning plan.

New York is the best state for teachers with a score of 59.33, followed by Utah with 57.38, Virginia with 56.13, Florida with 55.92 and Washington with 55.71.

According to WalletHub, Virginia is 17th in average starting salary for teachers with a cost of living adjustment and 25th for average salary with a cost of living adjustment. For school system quality, Virginia ranks 4th in the nation and 26th with pupil-teacher ratio. The Commonwealth is first when it comes to existence of digital learning plan for teachers and teachers’ income growth potential. However, Virginia is 22nd in public school spending per student.

The worst states for teachers are Hawaii, New Hampshire, District of Columbia, Arizona and New Mexico.

WalletHub gathered expert commentary regarding the biggest issues teachers face in 2022.

“Teachers face myriad issues, including wage degradation. For example, according to an economic policy institute (EPI) report from August 26, 2022, average weekly teacher wages grew by just $29 when adjusted for inflation, between 1996-2021, compared to $445 for other college graduates over the same period,” said Christopher H. Tienken, editor of the Kappa Delta Pi Record and professor at Seton Hall University. “Dubbed the ‘Teacher pay penalty,’ teachers can make as little as 35 percent less than college-educated people in other professions.”

Rene S. Parmar, Dean of the School of Education at Lehman College, City University of New York, said three issues face teachers.

“First is a feeling of lack of respect for their professionalism. Educators are well-prepared professionals who are eager to continue learning in order to best support their students. However, politicized forces are constantly attacking their authority in the classroom by attempting to dictate curriculum and instructional activities,” Parmar said. “The trickle-down of these attacks is that parents and children are led to disrespect teachers in their communities rather than support them. Second, schools in many areas lack the resources to provide a robust program that addresses the needs of the whole child. School funding has always been an issue, but is exacerbated in areas with a lower tax base such as rural and high-poverty districts. Schools are cutting support staff, in addition to existing cuts in music, arts, sports and other extracurricular that would enhance the learning experiences of all children. Third, teacher compensation must become competitive with the industry to retain and recruit these highly qualified individuals, many of whom hold advanced graduate degrees and several specialized certifications.”

What do experts think about providing performance-based compensation for teachers when their students meet or exceed expectations?

“Evidence from outside the U.S. tends to find that performance pay can improve student achievement,” Professor of and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas Dr. Gema Zamarro said. “However, evidence from the U.S. is more negative and shows that results can be very much affected by the specific design of the programs. Differential pay for hard-to-staff schools or subjects, however, could help solve issues of teacher shortages and improve student outcomes. It is not the case that we have teacher shortages in every district, in every school, and in every subject. I think we should develop more targeted policy solutions that prioritize those areas with the greatest needs.”

Initiatives in the past to provide bonuses for teachers were not successful, according to Parmar.

“Student outcomes are affected by many factors outside of school. Further, it is not easy to attribute school-based effects to a single teacher. These and other constraints make statistical modeling difficult in order to determine cause and effect. In addition, there is no research on how differential compensation based on student test performance would impact the overall school climate and long-term outcomes for all students in a school or district,” Parmar said.

Some American school districts are struggling to attract and retain the best teachers.

“They should make sure they offer competitive salaries and focus on providing better working conditions with a supportive school environment,” Zamarro said. “We also need to find ways to increase the respect and prestige of the teaching profession.”

Parmar said that community and school leaders must work to create environments in which teachers are respected and supported for their work.

“Salary is important as well, but we see teachers leaving high-paying districts when the working conditions are not supportive or safe. All stakeholders must participate in the work of attracting and retaining great teachers. If local officials disrespect them, parents and boards challenge their professionalism, the environment around schools is unsafe and poorly maintained, and the local media promotes negativity, teachers will leave,” Parmar said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.