Graph depicting Teacher Pay and the Quality of Education
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Description: This graph shows the correlation between the average teacher pay and the percentage of 8th grade students who pass the math proficiency test. Each dot represents a state. Red dots are states that voted for Romney in 2012 and blue dots are states that voted for Obama in 2012. The orange line is a trend line showing the average effect that higher teacher pay has on eighth grade math proficiency rates.

Sources: Dept. of Education   Annie E. Casey Foundation

Data: Excel

Last updated: March 13, 2016


Teacher Pay and the Quality of Education

Related blog post: Blue States' Investments in Education Pay Off

Discussion: Higher teacher pay tends to correlate to better academic outcomes. On average, a state that pays the average teacher $75,000 would tend to see 10% more of its eighth graders becoming proficient in math.

Note that differences in average teacher pay are not necessarily solely the result of a higher salary scale. Teachers make more the longer they do the job, so in states where teachers stay in the field longer, the average pay would be higher even if the salary scale was the same. The data file linked to the left contains a second graph showing the correlation between average starting pay for teachers and 8th grade math scores. While the correlation is still generally the same- higher starting pay correlates to higher math proficiency rates- the correlation is slightly less strong: the highest-paid states achieve proficiency rates about 7% higher. However, that does not necessarily mean that the remaining 3% comes from retaining teachers longer for reasons unrelated to starting pay. It could also be that the higher-paying states in the graph shown here also increase pay from the starting point more rapidly.

It is notable that more conservative states tend to pay teachers much less and achieve lower math proficiency scores. To the extent, if any, that lower teacher pay indicates a society that values education or educators less, it could also be the case that part of the reason those states achieve lower math scores is social. For example, if a state values education less, perhaps there is less pressure on students to study or perhaps teaching is a less prestigious profession and hence draws less capable teachers. Alternately, it could work the other way around. Perhaps people who do poorly in school are prone not to perceive education as important and hence not to support teacher pay. Or, it could simply be the case that states where students are not learning math well tend to be poorer and hence can't afford to pay teachers well.

Most likely, all of the factors discussed above play a role: Lower teacher pay attracts less qualified teachers, less qualified teachers are less able to prepare students, poorly-performing students tend not to value education and grow up to be both unable to fund education properly and disinclined to do so. If it is a cyclical problem like that, perhaps the only way to break the cycle would be significant federal funding for increasing teacher pay.

See more graphs about: Education  

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