The National  Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently reported that 44% of public schools had vacancies, with many teachers leaving for better paying careers. If teachers are paid more, do they tend to stay in the profession? And does a correlation exist between teacher salaries and student achievement?  These questions have been examined for decades without a definitive answer.  Perhaps too many variables exist to provide a clear answer. 

A 2012 study used teacher salary data from thirty countries in the OECD and student data from the PISA exam to compare the salaries of high school teachers with student achievement. The report provided mixed results regarding any possible correlation: Countries that provided higher  average salary for experienced teachers tended to demonstrate higher student achievement. However, the national average salary for new teachers was not significantly associated with national achievement levels.

A more recent national study related teacher pay and student test scores on the district level to determine how changes in teachers’ salaries can close achievement gaps. The results were unremarkable: “Both mathematics and English test scores were significantly higher in districts that offer a higher base salary to teachers, compared to those in districts with a lower teacher base salary. . .  a 10% increase in teacher salary was associated with an increase of about 0.2 points in test scores in both subjects.”  

More importantly, demographics did appear to affect student achievement.  “A positive relationship between teacher salary and student performance did exist  for the districts with high- and medium-level socioeconomic status, but not in the districts with low socioeconomic status.” These results reinforce a study done at the state level: Wealthier school districts can control the impact that teachers’ salaries have on student achievement. Yet in poor districts, teacher salaries show no impact on student performance.  “Teachers in virtually all American public schools are paid according to a rigidly defined single salary schedule. . . years worked in the district and number of postgraduate credits earned as recognized by that district.  

More than twenty years ago, the Hoover Institute  identified teacher quality as the main factor in determining school quality. Unfortunately, teacher quality did not determine salary.  The conclusion: “There is virtually no relationship between teacher salaries and student achievement.”  The basic salary schedule prevails.  Until merit pay becomes an integral part of teacher compensation, salaries will not correlate with student achievement.  


Laura Maniglia