Study: Teacher Pay Changes Could Improve  Teacher Turnover

Increasing teacher salaries in combination with altering the teacher salary schedule across experience levels could significantly reduce teacher turnover rates, according to a new study of the teacher labor market released today by the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

The research, conducted by University of Tulsa Assistant Professor of Economics Matthew Hendricks, suggests policymakers should consider adjusting the state’s minimum salary schedule to accelerate pay increases for newer teachers. An optimized schedule of pay raises more closely resembling that found in the private sector could help the state reverse course on its current 11 percent teacher attrition rate. It would also increase teachers’ lifetime earnings.

Phyllis Hudecki, executive director of the Oklahoma Business Education Coalition, said the study confirms Oklahoma must address teacher salaries to deal with the state’s acute teacher shortage and gives policymakers more information as they consider possible solutions, particularly when it comes to teacher retention.

“Oklahoma is facing another difficult budget year,” Hudecki said. “That doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility to assemble a long-term plan that strategically invests in educators and ensures every classroom has a highly qualified teacher. Lawmakers need to consider all of the possibilities.”

With a demonstrated link between teacher experience and student success, retaining experienced educators should be a top priority for state legislators. Previous research indicates that productivity and effectiveness dramatically increase during a teacher’s first four years, and that a mid-career teacher’s decision to leave the profession is highly sensitive to salary changes.

Hendricks’ study analyzed salary structures that promote the greatest possible retention of these mid-career teachers. The research indicates that to achieve the lowest turnover and highest productivity rates, teachers should receive larger annual pay increases earlier in their career, with more modest raises for veteran teachers. This salary structure could likewise attract more talented individuals to the profession.

The study also examined differences between the teacher labor markets in Oklahoma and Texas, one of Oklahoma’s major teacher workforce competitors. Oklahoma would need to invest almost $400 million annually to reach the average salary of a Texas teacher, which would improve teacher retention.

“Oklahoma has to address the teacher shortage on multiple fronts,” said OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime. “We know we need to build a strong pipeline of future teachers. But we also know we can’t continue to educate teachers in Oklahoma and export them to surrounding states or lose them to other professions.”

Other key findings include:

  • Teachers quickly fall behind in pay relative to their private sector peers, by roughly five percent after three years and 37 percent after 10 years. The most significant turnover occurs among novice teachers, with high-ability teachers more likely to leave public schools.
  • Schools in low-income areas tend to hire less experienced teachers and face roughly 20 percent higher attrition rates than schools in high-income neighborhoods. Current policies prohibit differentiated compensation within nearly all districts; however, closing this attrition gap is possible if schools are allowed to pay higher salaries for high-turnover positions.
  • A 15 percent increase in average salaries using a revised salary schedule would likely cause the teacher attrition rate to decline below levels found in Texas. Additionally, teacher productivity would likely increase by at least nine percent within 10 years. By increasing teacher salaries, the state is also likely to attract more talented individuals to the teaching profession, improve the bond between teachers and students and better retain high-ability teachers.

State education officials have issued more than 900 emergency teaching certificates since July, more than the previous four years combined. A recent OSSBA survey found that Oklahoma began the 2015-16 school year with 1,000 teaching vacancies, despite the elimination of 600 positions since last school year.

“This study confirms that we have our work cut out for us in addressing how we keep quality teachers in every Oklahoma classroom,” Hudecki said. “We look forward to continuing this discussion and using this study to inform a more updated and business-like approach to better compensate Oklahoma teachers.”

OBEC commissioned the study on behalf of its members in partnership with the OSSBA. The study focused on issues surrounding teacher retention and did not consider whether the state has an adequate teacher supply.

The study is available for download here.


About the Oklahoma Business and Education Coalition

The Oklahoma Business Education Coalition is a statewide, business-led organization that works to improve and strengthen public education.

About the Oklahoma State School Boards Association
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association works to promote quality public education for the children of Oklahoma through training and information services to school board members.