Are Low Teacher Salaries Causing Poor Reading Performance in Public Schools?

Did you know that 46% of teachers in public schools leave the profession within five years? Five years! With low salaries, long hours, and an ever piling up of work it’s no wonder that teacher turnover is unparalleled to any other field. In the recent documentary, American Teacher, the strains and lifestyle of today’s teachers are highlighted:

Here are a few additional statistics about teacher turnover from The Teacher Salary Project website:

  • 46% of teachers in public schools leave the profession within 5 years.
  • 14% of teachers leave the profession each year; in urban districts teacher turnover is 20% per year.
  • Teacher turnover costs our country over $7 billion every year.
  • In 1970 in New York City, a starting lawyer going into a prestigious firm and a starting teacher going into public education had a starting salary with only a difference of $2,000. Today, a starting lawyer at a prestigious firm and a starting teacher going into public education make roughly a difference of $115,000 in starting salary.
  • Teachers work an average of 10 hours per day.
  • 92.4% of teachers spent their own money on their students or classrooms during the 2007-2008 school year.
  • 62% of teachers have second jobs outside of the classroom.

With so many news reports and documentaries highlighting a negative view of public education, it is easy to neglect the positive and focus on the negative.

There is so much good going on in the schools. There are many amazing teachers that give their life to educate America’s children. They give so much that it is hard to blame them for leaving the profession at such high rates.

But, despite the fact that teachers are good people and their profession is extremely demanding, there are many schools with a high number of students that are struggling to learn to read. With teachers changing professions at high rates, donating their own limited resources to their classrooms, and often taking on a second job to meet their needs, it is likely that low teacher salaries is a key factor that is straining the effectiveness of public education.

If teachers weren’t struggling to make do with an insufficient salary, they would burnout at a slower rate, thus decreasing turnover and creating a more stable and experienced education system.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of Washington Bothell have recently completed a 3-year study which found that a pay-for-performance system, which provided teachers with bonuses if their students improved test scores, resulted in higher student performance.

Because teaching is such a caring, nurturing, and benevolent profession, it is often looked at as a service that people get into because they are good-hearted. But, even though teachers have all of those wonderful qualities, incentives are motivating and needful. Working relentlessly and never being rewarded for hard work can burn anyone out. Regardless of the reward they get from seeing the children they teach succeed, they still have needs and families to support.

How much more motivated would a teacher be if they could ensure that every student could learn to read and that they would be rewarded for her efforts?

What do you think?


  • Daniel

    As the son of a teacher who is currently in her 23rd year of teaching, her experience is that a significantly higher percentage of parents are no longer actively engaged in their children's education, resulting in children that frankly don't care whether they read or not. When you add this to the ever increasing testing that is piled on teachers (she estimates that her school district requires over 120 tests throughout the year), meetings (she currently is required to attend at least 2 meetings a week, which all but eliminate her preparation time), and low salary (she has not received an increase-of-living adjustment, meaning that her salary has gone *down* in terms of real worth), it is absolutely no wonder that teachers are burning out. About three weeks ago, she uttered the saddest words I've ever heard from my award-winning mother: I wish I'd never become a teacher.

  • angela

    Thanks for sharing! Your mom sounds like an excellent teacher... it's always sad to hear how much of a strain it is for teachers.

  • safes

    yes thats really true that the remuneration of tearchers must be invcreased.That will also increase up the motivational level of teachers.

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Oct 26 2011

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