The Equity Roadmap: Educators

Teacher Compensation

Why It Matters

Teacher effectiveness is the most important school-based determinant of education outcomes, but low teacher pay is creating challenges in recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. Many advocates argue that teacher compensation today does not align with the critical role educators play. 

  • In 2019, teachers’ wages were 19.2% lower than that of comparable workers. 

  • Elementary and secondary education teachers are about 30% more likely than non-teachers to work a second job.

    Female teachers are slightly more likely than female non-teachers to have a second job, and male teachers are much more likely to have a second job than their non-teaching counterparts.

  • On average, teachers in schools serving students from families with low-income earn less than teachers in schools serving students from high-income families, differences that are largely driven by classroom experience and degree attainment. 

  • During the 2016–17 school year, 30 states had a gap between the average teacher salary and the family living wage. Another study found that even teachers who have a decade of experience qualify for several forms of government assistance to provide for their families of four.

  • Teacher salaries show very little evidence of inequalities based on either race/ethnicity or gender, but they do show relatively high levels of wage inequality based on age (experience), education, and geography.

  • Almost one in five teachers who leave the teaching profession cite financial reasons as very important or extremely important. 


  • Title II, Part A, of the Every Student Succeeds Act designates funding specifically for recruiting, preparing, and supporting teachers. Some districts and states have used this funding to increase pay through performance pay incentives or loan forgiveness programs.

  • Research shows that offering service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to reduce the debt burden of becoming a teacher are effective in recruiting and retaining individuals in teaching.

  • Most teachers are paid according to the single salary schedule — their earnings increase based on their years of experience and educational credentials. Seventeen states have a statewide teacher salary schedule to guarantee some level of minimum pay for teachers based on qualifications and years of experience. Opponents of this step-and-lane compensation approach argue that these pay scales are not improving the performance, quality, or distribution of the teacher workforce, and are not serving to attract and retain the best teacher candidates. They argue that teachers should be paid differently based on their teaching assignments, skills, and ability to improve student achievement.

  • Congress established the Teacher Incentive Fund in 2006 to provide grants to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools. 

    federal government report on the program found that between 2011 and 2015, schools that gave performance bonuses boosted student test scores throughout the four years of the study.

Questions to Ask

  • What is the average starting teacher salary in your district?

  • How is teacher pay structured in your district?

  • In addition to wages, how are teachers compensated?

  • How does teacher pay in your district compare to other school districts in your state?

  • How does the average teacher salary in your state compare to other states?

  • Are teachers in your district paid a living wage? If not, how big is the gap?

  • Does your district require a minimum teacher salary? If so, what is it? If not, why not and what are processes to set a minimum salary? 

  • What is your district’s average teacher salary? If this data is not readily available, look into why it isn’t and how that could be collected. 

  • How is the teacher pay determined (e.g. master’s degree, years of experience, student results, working in a high-needs field)? 

  • Are there performance bonuses tied to student outcomes? If so, how are the bonuses structured? If not, what are the processes for implementing this in your district? 

Related Issue Areas

  • Teacher shortages

    Research based on 2016 data and projections show there is an emerging teacher shortage in the United States. The shortage worsens the inequitable distribution of qualified teachers to schools serving concentrations of low-income students and students of color. 

  • Teacher diversity

    Efforts to increase teacher diversity have led to marginal increases in the percentage of teachers of color, but there remain lower retention rates for teachers of color across the country.

    The profession’s low salary can make repaying student loans, buying a home, or providing for a family inaccessible for would-be teachers, especially students of color, who are more likely to be first-generation students.

  • Teacher experience

    Less qualified teachers more often serve in schools with more low-income and minority students.

  • Teacher benefits 

    Some people have pointed to the benefits teachers receive in order to justify their low salaries.  

While it is true that benefits other than wages (such as pensions) make up a greater share of total compensation for teachers than they do for other professionals in comparable fields, benefits do not make up the difference in the pay gap between teachers and those other workers.

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Teacher Diversity

Why It Matters

Students benefit socially and academically from having teachers of diverse backgrounds. 

Teacher diversity can refer to characteristics such as sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, and more. Among these characteristics, gender and racial representation seem to have the greatest impact on student outcomes. 

  • There is evidence that students perform better on assessments when taught by a teacher that shares their gender

    Because 77% of the teacher workforce is female, this gender imbalance may contribute to the achievement gap between boys and girls.

  • Research shows that all students, no matter their backgrounds, benefit from having teachers of color throughout their education careers. These teachers both serve as role models and create positive school climates.

  • While students of color make up over half the public school student population, only 20% of the teacher workforce identify as teachers of color.

  • A 2017 study found that if a Black male student has just one teacher of the same race between third and fifth grade, their likelihood of staying in high school and attending college dramatically increases.

  • A comprehensive review of empirical studies found that students of color perform better on several academic outcomes when taught by teachers of color.

  • Teachers of color do not discipline students of color at the same rate as their white peers.

    For example, a 2017 study found that “black students taught exclusively by Black teachers were 2 to 3 percentage points less likely to receive exclusionary discipline than if they encountered only non-Black teachers.”

  • Teachers of color, in particular Black male teachers, face an “invisible tax,” as they are expected to serve as disciplinarians, prepare their student for racism, and act as experts on diversity issues. They can also be held to higher expectations for performance than white teachers.


There is consensus that teacher diversity matters, but decision-makers at all levels of government debate over which tools to use to create a diverse teacher workforce, in particular by recruiting and retaining teachers of color. 

  • At the federal level, current policy work largely focuses on the recruitment pipeline through efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). 

    Last renewed in 2008, the HEA is a sweeping law that covers higher education. It can disperse funds and create innovative programs to make college more accessible. These programs include assistance for groups traditionally underrepresented in teacher preparation programs, such as prospective teachers from low-income families and potential teachers of color. 

  • Advocates for teacher diversity are exploring options beyond recruitment and retention that address barriers from biases built into teachers’ career trajectories. 

    One example to address bias is for schools and districts to wait until the point where at least 50% of the initial applicant pool includes those who identify as people of color before moving forward with their hiring process. 

    Though a majority of funding for these initiatives come from federal and state resources, local governments are seeking ways to fund programs themselves.

Questions to Ask

  • What is the state of teacher diversity in your community?

    • What are the demographics—particularly race and ethnicity—of teachers and students in your community?

    • Are the teacher demographics reflective of the student demographics? If not, has the gap in demographics gotten smaller or wider over the past 5 years? 

    • What populations are over- or underrepresented in the teacher workforce in your community?

  • Who is attending teacher prep programs?

    • Are people of a certain gender, race, ethnicity, or income level attending preparation programs at a rate that is higher, or lower than others? What factors could be contributing to these differences?

    • Does teacher preparation program data, such as graduation or employment rates, differ by demographics such as race, ethnicity, or income level?

  • What are the barriers to recruiting teachers of color?

    • Are teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds attending and graduating from college at equal rates? Are there sufficient graduates across different areas of identity to match the diversity of the student population? 

    • What are the costs of teacher preparation programs, financial or otherwise?

    • What are the scholarships or other resources available for prospective teachers?

    • What are the credentialing requirements for teachers? If there is an exam, what are the passage rates disaggregated by student group? 

    • Are there alternative pathways to teacher certification? If so, what are the requirements for admission?

  • What are the barriers to retaining teachers of color?

    • What are the teacher turnover rates disaggregated by demographics? If there are differences in turnover rates, what are some possible reasons for this?

    • What administrative supports (e.g. mentoring and coaching) are offered to teachers?

    • How do your community’s schools foster culturally inclusive environments for teachers and students?

  • Do implicit or explicit biases play a role in teacher diversity?

    • What are your district’s hiring practices?

    • How does your district work to address implicit and explicit bias in the hiring process?

Related Issue Areas

  • Teacher development

    Teachers of all races and backgrounds can develop implicit biases that affect students as early as pre-K, as well as teachers’ colleagues. Professional development that directly addresses these biases can create school cultures that are welcoming for teachers and students of all backgrounds.

  • Teacher recruitment

    A 2011 survey found that 82% of teacher candidates in traditional teacher preparation programs were white. Advocates recommend recruiting and intentionally supporting prospective teachers of color starting in high school and continuing through college.

  • School culture

    Teachers of color are more likely to work in environments that are more challenging to teach in, such as schools serving large populations of high-needs students, and are held to higher expectations for their performance.

  • Teacher retention

    Teachers of color make up a larger portion of early career teachers, and so policies that preference seniority over performance can have an outsized effect on teachers of color.

    Because of the factors mentioned above and many others, teachers of color have the highest rate of attrition of any subgroup in the teaching workforce.

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Teacher Preparation

Why It Matters

Teacher preparation programs are crucial in both creating a diverse and talented workforce and in giving new teachers the content knowledge, pedagogical skills, and real-life experience to meet the unique needs of their students as soon as they enter the classroom.


  • Many newly certified teachers do not feel entirely prepared to enter the classroom.

    In a recent nationally representative national survey of teachers, 88% of teachers believe that their preparation programs are falling short. Only 17% of teachers who have been in the classroom for less than 10 years indicated that their preparation programs prepared them “very well” for the realities of the classroom. Furthermore, less than half of surveyed teachers indicated that their programs were “very effective” in preparing them to provide rigorous academic instruction, culturally responsive instruction, engage parents, support the social-emotional well-being of their students, use data to inform instruction, create assessments that capture data, and differentiate instruction.

  • To solve this, policymakers are discussing how to bring transparency and accountability to teacher preparation programs, both to provide feedback to the programs and to make it easier for prospective teachers to find a program that fits their needs.  

  • Although transparency alone does not improve outcomes, when education leaders have a clear understanding of where preparation programs are succeeding and why they are struggling, they can develop interventions that address those issues. 

  • At the federal level, the Department of Education published regulations in 2016 for states receiving federal funds through the Higher Education Act to create a rating system for their teacher preparation programs. However, these regulations were rescinded in 2017.

  • All levels of government are exploring teacher preparation programs with high-retention pathways that set teachers up to thrive in a variety of environments.

    These include: “Grow Your Own” programs that prepare passionate high school students to become teachers; residency programs in which coursework is integrated with a classroom internship; and scholarship and loan forgiveness programs that target new teachers in hard-to-staff schools or subjects. 

  • But the path to entering preparation programs has significant barriers that disproportionately impact teacher candidates of color.

    For example, the high opportunity cost of teaching due to low salaries, the financial burden of college, and lack of support have contributed to racially homogenous preparation programs.

Questions to Ask

  • In which subjects areas are there teacher shortages in your district?

  • What teacher preparation programs – traditional and alternative – in your community?

    • Are the programs accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education? 

    • Where do prospective educators from your community enroll to become teachers?

    • What kinds of programs did the teachers in your district attend? 

    • Where do the graduates of preparation programs teach upon completion of their program? What types of schools are these?

    • Does your district partner with any local teacher preparation programs?

    • What are the alternative pathways to teaching for prospective educators who do not have an education background? 

    • What is being done to encourage young people to become teachers?

  • Who is attending teacher preparation programs?

    • What is the demographic breakdown – gender, race, ethnicity, income, etc. – of prospective educators who are attending the teacher preparation programs. If there are disparities in enrollment by student group, what are they? What factors could be contributing to these differences?

  • What are the barriers to accessing teacher preparation programs?

    • How do the teacher preparation programs effectively identify and recruit promising teacher candidates?

    • What is the application process like? Are there points where applicants drop out of the process?

    • What are the financial barriers to entering and graduating from teacher programs?

    • Are programs structured so students in teacher preparation programs can simultaneously attend the program and support their families or hold a job?

    • Are programs structured so students in teacher preparation programs can simultaneously attend the program and support their families or hold a job?

    • Do students in teacher preparation programs have transportation issues, such as having to commute to multiple schools?

    • What K-12 partnerships do the teacher preparation programs have?

  • What are the enrollment requirements for teacher preparation programs?

  • How do the teacher preparation programs ensure their candidates meet the needs of the modern classroom?

    • How effectively do the program prepare their teacher candidates to do the following:

      • Integrate technology into their curriculum? 

      • Use alternatives to punitive discipline, such as restorative justice or Positive Behavioral Intervention Systems?

      • Support the social and emotional well-being of their students?

      • Use culturally relevant teaching practices?

      • Differentiate instruction and teach unique learners?

      • Use data to inform instruction?

      • Engage families in student learning?

    • What types of clinical in-class experiences do the preparations offer?

  • What are the transparency and accountability systems for teacher preparation programs?

    • Is information about the teacher preparation programs easily accessible and understandable?

    • What graduate outcome data are made available?

    • How do the systems account for the effectiveness of their graduates?

    • How do the systems disaggregate data by the demographics of their graduates?



Related Issue Areas

  • Teacher recruitment & retention

    In 2018, every state reported experiencing a teacher shortage. These shortages have only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Teacher preparation programs are crucial to recruiting teacher candidates and equipping them with the skills to thrive in the classroom. 

  • Teacher diversity

    Teacher diversity decreases at several points throughout the teacher career pipeline, from enrolling in programs to passing certification exams to premature exit from the profession.

  • Teacher quality

    The top 20% of teachers create 5–6 more months of student learning each year than a poor performer. Preparing excellent educators and hiring them in high-needs districts could close achievement gaps.

  • Teacher compensation

    Low salaries have kept potential teachers from taking preparation courses and entering the teacher workforce. However, incentives have helped attract people to the program. 

Learn More


Teacher Quality

Why It Matters

Every student deserves an excellent education. That means they need skilled and well-trained teachers leading their classrooms. 

While there are many qualified and dedicated teachers in high-needs schools, there is a disparity in the quality of teachers for students across race, socioeconomic status, and special needs status throughout our education system.

  • Teachers are the most influential in-school factor on student achievement, yet students of color and those in low-income communities are 3 to 10 times more likely to have unqualified teachers than those in predominantly white schools.

  • Numerous studies consistently show that students attending schools serving families from low-income backgrounds and families of color are more likely than other students to: 

    • Have less experienced and less qualified teachers

    • Have educators teaching classes outside their grade level or content specialization

    • Attend schools with high teacher turnover

    • Be taught by teachers trained at less competitive preparation programs

  • A 2015 study across all schools in Washington State found that virtually every measure of teacher quality they examined, including experience, licensure exam scores, and value-added student growth, is inequitably distributed across every indicator of student disadvantage.  

  • Research has found that having teachers of color on staff benefits all students, no matter their backgrounds. 

    In addition, educators of color have an outsized impact on their students of color; they are more likely to set higher expectations, provide superior quantity and quality of instructional support, and act as cultural translators and advocates. However, 40% of schools do not have a single teacher of color.

  • There are over three times as many uncertified teachers in schools serving high populations of students of color as compared to schools serving low populations of students of color. 

    In addition, there are more than twice as many uncertified teachers in high-poverty schools as compared to low-poverty schools. 

    Teachers certified in the subject they are teaching consistently produce significantly stronger student achievement than uncertified teachers.

  • A 2019 report found that certification exams screen out about 8,600 of 16,900 prospective teachers of color, 27.5% higher than prospective white teachers.


There are two key policy debates surrounding teacher quality: what defines a high-quality teacher, and how do we improve access to them. 


  • While in the past “effective” teachers were largely defined based on background factors, such as years in the classroom or advanced degrees, more recent research finds that performance is a better indicator of teacher effectiveness. 

  • Measuring performance includes examining the strategies and actions teachers employ in the classroom, as well as measuring how much their students have grown, for instance, by students’ demonstrated progress on assessments. 

  • Most experts suggest a multi-measure approach to assessing effectiveness that uses different metrics to better capture the complexities of teaching.


  • There are disputes around how to best prepare, attract, grow, and retain excellent educators in high-needs schools.

    At the federal level, the Every Student Succeeds Act gives states, districts, and school staff opportunities to grow their teachers’ skills and careers through $2.1 billion in Title II funds. 

    These resources are largely used for programs related to evidence-based professional development, mentoring, teacher and principal recruitment, and teacher residencies. 

  • While the federal government plays an important role in providing access to high-quality teachers, increasingly, states and local governments are creating innovative programs to get our strongest teachers where they are needed most.

    These include mentoring and residency programs, financial incentives for teachers in hard-to-staff schools, and discipline strategies such as restorative justice to improve school culture and reduce burnout.

Questions to Ask

  • How does your district measure teacher quality?

    • What measures are part of teacher evaluations?

    • Does your district rate schools on academic instruction?

    • Does your state or district use a rubric to assess teachers’ instruction?

    • What kinds of rubrics or evaluations does your state or district use to assess teachers’ instruction?

    • How does your state certify teachers?

  • How does your community inform families about teacher quality?

    • What information can families request about teachers from the school, district, or state?

    • Is the information easily accessible and transparent?

  • What is the landscape of teacher quality in your district? 

    • What is the average teacher salary in each school in your community?

    • What is the average number of years of experience teachers have in each school in your community?

    • What is the teacher turnover rate in each school in your community?

    • Do certain schools have more teacher vacancies than others? How long have those positions been vacant?

  • Who has access to high-quality teachers?

    • Are children of a certain race, ethnicity, family income level, or special needs status attending schools with more or fewer high-quality teachers? What factors could be contributing to these differences?

  • What are the barriers to accessing high-quality teachers?

    • How are states and districts allocating resources so that high-needs schools can afford high-quality teachers?

    • How, if at all, does the teacher certification process prevent talented and passionate teacher candidates from entering the educator workforce?

    • Do teacher candidates have access to non-traditional certification, such as residency programs or alternative certification pathways?

    • Are your district’s layoff policies based on seniority or performance? How does that affect teacher quality?

  • How does your community recruit and retain high-quality teachers?

    • How does your community attract people to the teaching profession? Are these programs effective?

    • Does your community have high-quality teacher preparation programs?

    • Are there financial incentives for teachers, such as for those in hard-to-staff schools and subjects?

    • What career ladder opportunities do teachers have access to that will allow them to grow while remaining in the classroom?

    • Are the school environments positive and supportive for teachers?

  • How does your community develop high-quality teachers?

    • What kinds of high-quality, evidence-based professional development do educators have access to?

    • What entities offer professional development for teachers (e.g., private companies, districts, unions, schools)?

    • In what areas do teachers want additional professional development and support?

    • What resources are there for teachers to identify and receive the professional development they and their peers need?



Related Issue Areas

  • School funding

    A 2019 report found that despite serving the same number of students, “nonwhite school districts get $23 billion less than white districts.” And a 2018 report found that the highest poverty school districts receive about $1,000 less per student in state and local funding than districts with the lowest poverty rates. 

    This makes it more difficult for schools and districts to pay the salaries of the most qualified teachers.

  • Teacher compensation

    2020 nationally representative survey of teachers found that 63% believe higher salaries is a top motivator to continue being a classroom teacher.
    The same survey found that teachers are in favor of financial incentives for those in hard-to-staff schools (86%), hard-to-staff subjects (80%), and for those who receive multiple outstanding evaluations (72%).

  • Teacher tenure

    School districts often have “last-in, first-out” (LIFO) policies that require administrators to make layoff decisions based on seniority rather than by performance. LIFO policies can hurt student achievement, with research finding that student math achievement declined when layoffs were made using factors, like seniority, other than teacher performance. LIFO policies can also disproportionately impact students of color. Research from Washington found that Black students were significantly more likely to attend a school in which a teacher had been laid off based on LIFO.

  • Teacher diversity

    Research shows that all students, no matter their backgrounds, benefit from having teachers from diverse backgrounds, in particular teachers of color, throughout their educational career. These teachers serve as role models and create positive school climates.

Learn More

  • National Council on Teacher Quality: Reviews on teacher preparation programs, analyses of state’s efforts to modernize teaching policies, and a wealth of information to compare states’ and large districts’ teacher policies

  • Ensuring Teacher Quality: Policy brief exploring the impact of effective teaching on student achievement and policies to ensure teacher quality throughout the educator pipeline

Teacher Recruitment & Retention

Why It Matters

Excellent teachers can dramatically raise student achievement and make an impact that lasts well into adulthood. 

But the number of potential teachers diminishes at several points throughout the career pipeline, starting when candidates enroll in teacher preparation programs through their time spent in the classroom.

  • In 2018, every state reported experiencing a teacher shortage in at least one subject, especially in hard-to-staff subjects such as special education and STEM fields. There’s also a lack of educators who reflect our nation’s demographics, such as males and teachers of color. Additionally, positions in rural schools tend to be difficult to fill. These shortages have only been exacerbated by COVID-19.

  • High attrition rates among teachers — annually, almost 8% of the workforce — are responsible for creating the largest share of demand. A majority of these teachers leave the profession before retirement age. 

    With a lack of teachers, schools may be forced to cut courses, increase class sizes, and rely on substitutes or underprepared teachers to fill vacancies.

  • Turnover rates are 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color and nearly 50% higher for teachers in Title I schools, which serve more low-income families. Turnover rates in these schools are even higher in shortage areas like mathematics, science, and special education.

  • Teacher retention varies by preparedness and demographic subgroups. Teachers with little preparation tend to leave at rates two to three times higher than those who have had more comprehensive preparation before they enter. And teachers of color, who are disproportionately employed in schools serving large populations of students of color or those experiencing poverty, have some of the lowest retention rates.

  • Teachers’ weekly wages have decreased by $27 from 1996–2017 (adjusted for inflation), while weekly wages for other college graduates have risen by $137. 

  • The combination of falling wages and rising housing prices has made renting a one-bedroom apartment in a quarter of large school districts unaffordable for new teachers.

  • Teachers are paid almost 20% less in salary than other college graduates when adjusted for inflation, education, experience and demographic factors. Because 77% of the teacher workforce identify as women, this inequity fuels the gender pay gap. 



  • Spurred by 2018 teacher strikes around the nation that centered on funding, current policy debates at the state and federal levels include how to give teachers the resources they need to succeed and have a career in the classroom that allows them to support their families.

  • At the federal level, the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act gives states, districts, and schools $2.1 billion in Title II funds to recruit, prepare, and support educators. 

  • These resources are largely used for programs related to evidence-based professional development, mentoring, teacher and principal recruitment, and teacher residencies. For example, high-needs districts can partner with teacher preparation programs using Teacher Quality Partnership grants under Title II to recruit underrepresented populations into the education profession.

  • Though there are funding streams available from the federal government, states and local governments are increasingly seeking out ways to fund programs themselves.

Questions to Ask

  • Who is attending schools with low and high teacher turnover and vacancy rates?

    • Are children of a certain race, ethnicity, or income level attending schools that have higher teacher turnover and vacancy rates than others? What factors could be contributing to these differences?

  • What are the barriers to recruiting teachers?

    • Do schools in your community have excessive teacher vacancies or classes taught by long-term substitutes or by teachers without the correct credential? What could be causing this?

    • What are your district efforts to actively recruit promising teacher candidates? Have these efforts been effective in recruiting a diverse and talented teacher workforce?

    • What scholarships or loan forgiveness programs are there for teacher candidates and are potential educators aware of them?

    • What alternative certification pathways are available and are they accessible to potential educators?

    • What, if any, financial incentives are for teachers in hard-to-staff schools or subjects?

  • What are the barriers to retaining teachers?

    • What are the teacher turnover rates in schools in your district? If there are disparities or if the turnover rates are high, what could be causing this?

    • What opportunities are there for teachers to grow their careers while remaining in the classroom? Do these opportunities increase student impact and salary?

    • What, if any, financial incentives are available for teachers who have shown outstanding evaluations or student growth?

    • What, if any, non-financial incentives are available to keep teachers in the classroom – such as reduced teaching workloads, smaller class sizes, or professional support?

    • What opportunities do teachers have to collaborate with peers and learn from mentors?

    • How do teachers feel about their pensions? 

    • What systems are in place to ensure that teachers have a voice in decisions made within their schools, unions, districts or charter networks, state, and at the federal level?

    • Are teachers, particularly those with more seniority, choosing to go to other schools? Why?

  • What amenities does your community have that would attract and retain teachers, such as a desirable geographic location, access to health care, and the availability of recreational activities?


Related Issue Areas

  • Teacher compensation

    To recruit and retain talented teachers, educators’ salaries must reflect the complexities and challenges of the profession. A 2020 nationally representative survey of teachers found that 63% believe higher salaries is a top motivator to continue being a classroom teacher.  

  • Teacher diversity

    A 2019 analysis that nearly four-fifths of teacher candidates in traditional teacher preparation programs were white. Advocates recommend recruiting and intentionally supporting prospective teachers of color starting in high school and continuing through college.

  • School climate & culture

    Everyone is affected by the environment in which they work, including teachers. A 2016 study found that improving school climate, such as strengthening teacher relationships and increasing school safety, can improve retention rates.

  • School funding

    Schools with adequate instructional resources, safe and clean facilities, smaller class sizes, and sufficient support staff can improve teacher retention and student learning.
    The opposite also holds true; under-resourced schools contribute to teacher turnover.

Learn More

Teacher Tenure & Evaluations

Why It Matters

Fair and transparent teacher evaluations tied to professional development can help educators improve both their practice and student outcomes.

Evaluations provide decision-makers with valuable data so they can recognize and retain excellent teachers and allocate resources to the schools and districts most in need of additional support. They can hold states, districts, and teachers accountable for serving the needs of all students and help teachers identify specific ways to improve their practice.

Evaluations can also inform teachers’ career path, including obtaining tenure. Tenure is a series of employment protections teachers can receive after serving as a teacher for a set amount of time that varies by state or district. Beyond time in the classroom, tenure decisions can take into account other factors, such as teacher performance.

While tenure provides experienced teachers protection from political or arbitrary dismissals, these protections can make it difficult to dismiss an ineffective tenured teacher, especially if the process is disconnected from teacher performance or student success.

  • Data on teacher efficacy and student learning, such as assessments, shed light on inequities, especially those based on race, class, and geography.

  • Only half of the country’s 100 largest districts and half of all states require yearly summative evaluations for every teacher and have policies to use the results to affect compensation. 

  • Implementing evaluation systems that evaluate all teachers annually, use multiple measures to determine ratings, and use rating categories that are not simply binary (effective/ineffective) results in retaining effective teachers and has been shown to improve teaching and student learning.

  • The New Teacher Project found that only 13% to 16% of teachers laid off in a seniority-based tenure system would have also been laid off under one based on teacher effectiveness.

    Because schools serving students experiencing poverty have higher rates of teacher turnover and higher concentrations of early career educators, seniority-based layoffs hurt these schools the most. 

    Currently, 20 states “prohibit seniority from being the primary criterion considered in layoff decisions.

  • A 2015 study found that student achievement in math fell when layoffs were based on how long the teacher had been in the classroom rather than his or her effectiveness.


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has prioritized ensuring all students have access to excellent teachers.

The legislation gives more flexibility to states and districts to determine how they wish to evaluate teachers given their communities’ unique needs. However, ESSA imposes some restrictions by requiring states to explain how their implementation of teacher evaluations will use measures of teacher performance, including student growth. 

Because ESSA gave more control over teacher evaluations to states and districts, most state ESSA plans act as guidelines, rather than rules, from which districts could choose their own evaluation model. Unfortunately, this difference in evaluations from district to district means that states can struggle to compare teacher effectiveness across communities. 

Questions to Ask

  • Do your state’s teacher evaluations differ across districts?

  • What are the components of your teacher evaluation system?

    • Does the evaluation system assess planning, instruction, and reflection?

    • Does the evaluation system assess how teaching abilities and classroom management affect student performance?

    • Does the evaluation system establish a relationship between teacher and student performance?

    • Does the evaluation system provide opportunities for differentiated feedback?

    • What are the different metrics to assess teachers (e.g., classroom observations, staff and student surveys, student growth measurements)? Do these metrics reflect the complexities of teaching and educators’ role in growing students’ academic and social-emotional competencies?

  • Does your evaluation system provide a common language for practitioners to discuss the elements of effective teaching?

  • Who is being evaluated as “effective”?

    • Are teachers of a certain race, ethnicity, or gender earning evaluations that are higher or lower than others? What factors could be contributing to these differences?

    • What percent of teachers are rated “effective”? How does this data compare to student achievement data?

  • Is the evaluation system linked to professional goals, supports, and career growth?

    • Is the evaluation system connected to staff and individual professional development?

    • Does the evaluation system determine how to allocate resources to improve teacher performance?

    • Is the evaluation system connected to career pathways and leadership roles?

    • Does the evaluation reward teachers for developing new skills and taking on additional responsibilities?

    • Is the evaluation system connected to compensation?

  • How are stakeholders engaged in teacher evaluations?

    • Do families have access to school-level teacher evaluation data in an easy-to-understand format?

    • Do evaluations take family and student feedback into account?

    • Can families and decision-makers hold districts and states accountable to report on and rectify any inequities in the distribution of teacher quality?

    • Can decision-makers identify and address consistently ineffective teaching in a fair-minded and effective manner?

  • What are the requirements for tenure in your community?

    • Does your district provide tenure?

    • Do tenure requirements include a minimum time in the classroom? If so, how long must one teach before earning tenure?

    • Do tenure requirements include teacher performance? If so, how is performance measured?

    • Does the tenure system shield early-career educators who show effectiveness or growth potential from layoffs?

    • Under what circumstances can a teacher with tenure be dismissed?

    • Do your state and district requirements for tenure differ? How?


Related Issue Areas

  • Teacher compensation

    Compensation structures can encourage and recognize teaching best practices measured in evaluations, such as use of data, professional growth, and collaboration.
    In a 2020 national survey of teachers, 72% said they favor financial incentives for teachers with multiple outstanding evaluations. In addition, they largely believed that student growth is the most important factor in evaluating school and teacher effectiveness.

  • Teacher professional development

    Using teacher evaluations, school leaders can provide targeted professional development aligned to individual teachers’ needs and goals based on their evaluation. Not only can this enhance teachers’ skills so that they have a direct impact on student outcomes, but it can also help hold teachers accountable to improve on their growth goals.

    In addition, education decision-makers can invest in professional development to improve rather than dismiss low-performing teachers.

  • Teacher career pathways

    Career pathways provide teachers the opportunity to grow their career by taking on additional roles, responsibilities, and titles while remaining in the classroom. Teachers with a history of strong evaluations can increase their impact through taking on leadership opportunities, which can also help with teacher retention.

  • Teacher quality

    Teachers are the most influential in-school factor affecting student achievement, yet students of color and those in low-income communities are three to 10 times more likely to have unqualified teachers than those in predominantly white schools.

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Why It Matters

Teachers unions are critical for representing educators’ interests, and they have a powerful and important role in shaping education policies from the school to national level.

At the same time, teachers unions, as presently structured, may not be satisfying all the advocacy needs of their membership base.

  • A study examining 30 years of prior research on teachers unions found that “teacher unionization and union strength are associated with increases in district expenditures and teacher salaries, particularly salaries for experienced teachers.” 

    They also found either insignificant or modestly negative union-related effects on student outcomes. 

  • There is some evidence that teachers feel their unions do not always represent their interests.

    A 2020 nationwide survey of teachers found that while 87% of all teachers believe teachers unions are essential or important, only one out of four unionized teachers said their perspective is reflected a great deal in their union.

  • The ability to go on strike — declaring a widespread work stoppage — provides unions with negotiating power by which they can advocate on behalf of their members. But as of 2018, only 12 states give teachers the right to strike legally.


A major policy topic that has been discussed around unions focuses on the outcome of the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The ruling found that the practice of collecting compulsory “agency fees,” or fees that unions charge non-union employees for advocating on their behalf, is unconstitutional.

After the ruling, teachers unions predicted that they would lose considerable membership. However, recent data indicates that didn’t happen.

Over the past couple of years, there have also been a number of strikes. Teachers from districts in Minneapolis, Sacramento, Riverdale, and others have gone on strike for a wide array of reasons, including higher pay, COVID-19 protections, and lack of support staff.

Questions to Ask

  • What is the presence of teachers unions in your community?

    • What teachers unions or non-union, professional educators’ organizations are operating in your community?

    • What restrictions do the unions have on revenues and bargaining rights?

    • Do the unions have the right to strike?

    • What are the requirements to be a member of the union?

    • What percent of teachers are union members? What percent are full dues-paying members?

  • Who is leading your union?

    • Does your union leadership reflect the demographics of its membership, including race, ethnicity or gender? If there are differences between leadership and membership, why?

  • Is it easy to actively participate in your union? Is your union accessible?

    • How much are the union dues? Does it disportionately impact newer teachers who have lower salaries?

    • What are the systems and protocols for voting?

    • What is the environment in the union like? Do members feel that they can safely voice their opinion?

    • Who is the union representative for your school and/or district? Are they easily accessible?

    • What are the structures/processes for running for union leadership?

  • Are your community’s unions effective advocates?

    • Do your unions’ actions reflect the preferences of their members

    • Are your unions significant donors to political campaigns?

    • How do parents, the local community, local representatives, the state legislature, and/or the governor perceive your state/local union?

    • What are the causes of your unions’ strengths and weaknesses?



Related Issue Areas

  • Teacher compensation

    Research shows that teacher pay rises when unions have more freedom to collectively bargain, especially when coupled with the right to strike.

  • School safety

    Teachers unions are powerful advocates for educator working conditions — in particular, school safety. Most recently, the two national teachers unions released a report calling on federal lawmakers to enact a number of laws to prevent school shootings.

  • Teacher strikes

    In addition to protesting low pay and poor working conditions, teacher strikes are now shifting to a focus on more political issues, such as charter schools and performance-based pay.

Learn More

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