Education Opinion

Teacher Pensions Need Overhaul

By Walt Gardner — May 17, 2017 1 min read

One of the appeals of public-school teaching is the promise of a lifetime pension. At a time when defined-benefit pensions are disappearing in the private sector, the allure remains strong for many college graduates. But a closer look reveals that they deliver far less than they seem (“Why Most Teachers Get a Bad Deal on Pensions,” EducationNext, May 16).

Although all teachers in public schools are required to pay in, only some get full benefits. A study of pensions plans in all states by Chad Aldeman and Kelly Robson found that only 20 percent ever receive full benefits, while more than half receive nothing at all. That’s because the plans are heavily back-loaded, rewarding teachers who work for 25 or 30 years. Those who leave before then are severely penalized.

That disparity is becoming more common in light of the increasing demands made on teachers. Many veteran teachers who admit to being burned out would like to retire, but they stay in order to avoid receiving a reduced pension. I saw that time and again during the 28 years I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It was a little like watching an overwhelmed boxer clinching round after round to avoid being knocked out.

One of the ways of addressing the issue, which I believe will become more acute in the years ahead, is to offer all new teachers a choice of a traditional back-loaded plan or a new plan that offers much higher starting salaries paid for by lower pensions. New teachers might find the latter more attractive. I say that because many college graduates today are eager to use their education to make a difference in the lives of young people. But they are put off by the low starting salaries. The new plan would harness their idealism and dedication. Allowing all new teachers to choose is the fairest way of solving the increasing teacher shortage, particularly in high demands fields.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read