Special Report

Sweetening the Pot

By Lynn Olson — January 13, 2000 21 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Nancy S. Grasmick has a hefty assignment: Find 11,000 teachers for Maryland schools by next year.

So Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, has put a few enticements on the table: signing bonuses for bright college graduates, stipends for teachers who will work in low-performing schools, and extra pay for veteran educators who demonstrate their expertise. Grasmick even raised the idea of a $500 tax credit for every teacher in the state. “You have to start with something fairly bold,” she argues, “to get the issue on the radar screen.”

She’s not the only education leader broadcasting the message that she wants teachers and will go the extra mile to get them. Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, and other states have spent significant dollars in the past year to attract and recruit candidates. Districts such as Baltimore, Dallas, and Detroit also have offered everything from cash bonuses to housing assistance, moving expenses, and free graduate courses.

The flurry of state initiatives, for the most part, are just the first steps by states into the job market for teachers. With the exception of scholarship and loan programs for prospective teachers, most states still leave recruitment to their districts.

By and large, the incentives are modest and serve relatively few people. Few are targeted toward where teachers are needed most: in subjects with shortages and in hard-to-staff schools and districts.

“A lot of states are doing incentives to get people into the classroom, generally,” says Amy Wilkins, a principal partner at the Education Trust, a Washington-based group that works to raise achievement for poor and minority students, “but too few states are doing incentives to get people into the classrooms where they’re most needed, and that’s high-poverty schools.”

Incentives also fail to address some of the deeper problems that dissuade people from entering teaching: low base salaries, poor working conditions, and an unwillingness to pay better teachers more than their less accomplished colleagues.

“I think some of the efforts are well-intended, but some, I can’t even call putting your finger in the dike,” Paul G. Pinsky, a Democratic state senator in Maryland, says about some of the incentives in his state. “This is a much bigger problem, and we need some bigger solutions.”

Scholarships and Loans

By far the most common incentives states offer are scholarships or loan-forgiveness programs for college students who agree to teach in the public schools. Currently, 27 states offer such programs, which average about $5,000 per year in college tuition and other expenses, according to a survey conducted by Education Week for Quality Counts.

But it is hard to gauge their impact. Little research has been done on whether the programs actually help attract people into teaching who would not have entered the field otherwise.

For example, Mississippi provided twice the number of scholarships that it had planned in 1998-99 because so many students applied. But Georgia lawmakers reduced funding for a scholarship program for potential teachers from $3 million in 1994-95 to $1 million this year because it had fewer takers than anticipated. And in South Carolina, as few as 53 percent of those who participate in the state’s teacher-loan program repay their debt through teaching in the public schools.

One of the most respected efforts is the Teaching Fellows program in North Carolina, which provides scholarships of $6,500 a year for four years to 400 outstanding high school seniors who agree to teach in the state’s public schools. Unlike in other programs, which simply provide a monetary incentive, the North Carolina fellows also participate in year-round enrichment activities and seminars to help them prepare to become teachers.

Catherine Hazelton, a 5th grade teacher at Bessemer Elementary School in Greensboro, N.C., says the program made “all the difference in the world for me because I would not have had money otherwise to go to school.” Though the nine-year veteran had considered teaching when she was in high school, “it wasn’t something that I’d thought seriously about.”

State figures show that 65 percent of the program’s graduates continue to teach in North Carolina after their four-year commitment is finished.

Mississippi provides tuition and expenses to college students who agree to teach in a district designated as having a critical teaching shortage. Certified teachers who move to a shortage area also can earn graduate degrees at state expense while working.

But many states fail to direct their scholarship or loan programs to specific, high-need areas.

“One of the biggest issues are blanket state policies that aren’t refined enough to meet the real needs of the state,” says Virginia Roach, the deputy executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education. “They basically just pump out more teachers.”

Eleven states target their scholarship or loan programs to academically talented students. Ten states aim programs at minority candidates. Nineteen target specific shortage fields, such as mathematics and science, according to the Education Week survey. And only 10 require or encourage recipients to teach in schools that are hard to staff because of their location, demographics, or poor academic performance.

Most of the latter programs are new, so it’s too soon to judge their effectiveness. The federal Higher Education Act of 1998, for example, provides up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness for prospective educators who pledge to work in needy communities for five years. A new loan-forgiveness program in California provides up to $8,000 in tuition payments for teachers who work in subject areas with shortages or in schools serving large numbers of poor students.

But JoAnn Norris, the administrator of North Carolina’s Teaching Fellows program, questions the wisdom of encouraging raw recruits to begin their careers in low-performing schools. “If you put a beginning teacher in a low-performing school building that you already know does not have the capacity to support beginning teachers, you have done a disservice,” she argues. “One of the things we’re learning from our results on low-performing school buildings is that those schools already have a high proportion of beginning teachers. So I would suggest that is not good public policy.”

In addition, few states publicize their scholarship and loan programs. State officials responsible for teacher certification and licensure often don’t know what programs exist in their states.

Massachusetts has had a loan-reimbursement program for high-achieving college graduates who go into teaching since 1995-96. But it wasn’t until the state started publicizing it, through press releases, a news conference, and other means, that people began to take advantage of it. The number of applicants jumped from 300 in 1997-98 to 900 in 1998-99. “We publicized the heck out of it,” says Alan Safran, a deputy commissioner of education.

Recruiting Them Young

Teaching clubs or other programs aimed at middle and high school students are another popular tool. The idea is to get young people thinking about a teaching career early--before they choose another profession--and to ensure they have the academic preparation necessary for college.

South Carolina’s Teacher Cadet program, a high school honors course, is offered in about 75 percent of the state’s high schools. The state also supports teaching clubs for middle school students that reach out to underrepresented populations, such as male students and members of minorities, and encourage them to pursue teaching.

Research suggests that programs aimed at young people can be cost-effective. Willis D. Hawley, a professor of education at the University of Maryland College Park, says more than half the students who enter teacher-preparation programs say they make their decisions before they start college.

About 40 percent of students in the South Carolina program end up teaching, and of those, about 75 percent stay in the state. At least a dozen states and many urban districts now offer such programs.

State have also begun to tap other sources of potential teachers. At least six states have programs that recruit community college students into teaching, including programs to help school paraprofessionals earn teaching licenses, according to the Education Week survey.

Those various approaches can help with a big concern of states trying to recruit teachers: attracting minority candidates. In 1994, almost two-thirds of students participating in precollegiate recruitment activities were members of minority groups. And minority students make up about 30 percent of all students in community colleges. (See related story, Page 32.)

Signing Bonuses

States also are pursuing midcareer job-switchers and bright college graduates with signing bonuses and streamlined pathways into teaching. Massachusetts stole headlines in 1998 when it offered $20,000 signing bonuses, distributed over four years, to about 60 people who otherwise might not have considered careers in teaching. Current teachers and education school graduates could not apply.

The plan drew more than 800 applicants from 36 states and two foreign countries. Finalists were interviewed by state officials and had to pass the state’s teacher-licensure exams and show they could handle a sample teaching lesson. Those selected received eight weeks of training during the summer, during which they taught classes in the morning and took courses in the afternoon.

Vedavalli Jagannathan, a 39-year-old mother of two who has a doctorate in biochemistry and formerly worked on cancer research, had thought off and on about going into teaching. “The only thing that kept me away from it,” she says, “was that there were so many steps you have to go through in order to be able to teach in the schools.”

So when Massachusetts offered the bonus, training, and a guaranteed job, Jagannathan jumped. Today, she’s a 9th grade physical science teacher at Norwood High School in Norwood, Mass. While her summer of training and practice teaching didn’t entirely prepare her for the classroom, she says, the job is going “good so far.”

For her, as for many others, it was the hands-on training and the accelerated route to certification--as much as or even more than the bonus--that clinched her decision. And it’s why many states have created alternative pathway into teaching, particularly for midcareer professionals. (See related story, Page 35.)

“What we’ve learned is there is a huge pool of people out there, particularly midcareer, who want to be teachers,” says Safran, the deputy state commissioner. “They are strong in content. They’ve got maturity. They have been barred from this profession by having to spend a year in an education school. And we have found a way around it, and we’re tapping that reservoir.” The state plans to offer up to 125 signing bonuses this year.

But critics suggest that Massachusetts could have spent its money more wisely than to invest in a handful of high-profile bonuses. “I don’t think a signing bonus is the most powerful way to use the money,” says Richard J. Murnane, a professor of education at Harvard University.

If Massachusetts can afford $20,000 signing bonuses, he argues, $15,000 of that money should be paid out in the third through fifth years of teaching and reserved only for those who pass rigorous performance reviews. That would ensure that teachers stayed in the classroom long enough to learn how to teach, he says, and most of the money would go to those who had proved their effectiveness. Murnane says he would spend the remaining $5,000 on professional development and mentoring.

Massachusetts and other states also are trying to retain veteran, master teachers by offering them hefty stipends. Today, 24 states and about 85 districts reward teachers who have earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. North Carolina gives board-certified teachers a 12 percent raise. Massachusetts is offering master teachers 5,000 a year for 10 year if they mentor others.

A handful of states also have offered incentives for retired educators to return to teaching. In Maryland, retired teachers can return to work in critical-needs fields or in low-performing schools without affecting their pensions. “That has really helped us out,” says Albrie Love Jr., the director of recruitment service for the Baltimore public schools, which hired 14 retirees this school year.

‘Combat Pay’?

While it’s too soon to tell whether many of these incentive programs work, at least some districts report success. This school year, for example, Philadelphia offered signing bonuses of 4,500 to teachers who would agree to stay for three years. The district gave them three years, rather than one, to move into the district and offered to help repay up to $15,000 of their college loans.

While the 214,000-student system started the year with about 235 teacher vacancies, that was more than 100 fewer than in 1998-99.

But some experts say that unless the overall pool of teacher-candidates is increased, district-level incentives simply leave school systems competing against their neighbors.

This school year, for example, the East Baton Rouge Parish school district in Louisiana used signing bonuses and higher salaries to shrink its list of uncertified teachers from 600 to 250. “We had a tremendous response,” says Associate Superintendent Clayton Wilcox.

Meanwhile, the neighboring East Feliciana schools lost about 22 certified teachers. “The majority of them went over to East Baton Rouge,” says Daisy F. SIan, the superintendent of the 2,800-student system. “I’m surrounded by two parishes that can afford to pay more in teacher salary than I can. The state need to move forward with closing the gap.”

The signing bonuses also failed to address the unequal distribution of teachers within East Baton Rouge. At Capitol Middle School in an inner-city neighborhood, 15 of 49 teachers are not certified, and only one teacher transferred in because of the bonus.

“I think if we’re going to give bonuses, then there ought to be some really good incentives for persons who are willing to teach in inner-city schools,” Principal Jane W Gillette says. “When I say incentives,” she adds, “I’m saying four or five thousand dollars. Make it worth the person’s while.”

A few states and districts offer inducements for teachers to work in low-performing schools.

Teachers in low-performing California schools can earn up to $25,000 in bonuses this year if test scores improve substantially.

The New York City schools offered a 15 percent raise to employees--including teachers and paraprofessionals, among others--who agreed to work in schools that were on the state’s academic watch list.

To qualify, teachers also were required to work an additional 40 minutes each day and an extra five days before the start of the school year.

The district offers scholarships to help provisionally certified teachers in such school earn their licenses, student-loan repayments, and tuition assistance for teachers pursuing their master’ degrees.

As a result of the salary increase, 233 educators transferred into the city’s low-performing schools in 1999-2000, including 190 senior teachers and 43 who were not yet fully licensed by the school system.

At the state’s insistence, the district also has made it a priority to place fully certified teachers in such schools. This school year, the number of uncertified personnel in those schools dropped from 495 to 349.

Some studies suggest that teacher mobility is most affected by student characteristics, not salary, and that teachers gravitate toward districts with larger proportions of higher-achieving, nonminority, and more affluent students.

As a result, “some form of combat pay may, in fact, be appropriate, at least if we link it to evaluating teacher quality,” says Eric A. Hanushek, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y. “The problem of inner-city education is extraordinarily important for the nation. And we have to work on that, but we aren’t going to work on it by generally raising everybody’s salaries and hoping that something good happens.”

The Salary Gap

While bonuses and other incentives are fine, many analysts say, they are stopgap measures that ignore the real reasons why it’s so hard to attract and keep good teachers: low base pay and poor working conditions.

“You’re the most richly rewarded for teaching in the schools that have everything,” says Wilkins of the Education Trust. “You’re the most pitifully compensated if you go to work in a highly challenging school. We’re putting incentives on top of what is fundamentally a flawed system.”

Elizabeth Fideler, the vice president for research and policy at Recruiting New Teachers, a Belmont, Mass.-based nonprofit organization that specializes in attracting prospective teachers for the nation’s schools, agrees. “A one-time signing bonus of even $10,000 isn’t going to compensate, over the many years, for the salary disparities between teaching and other professions,” she argues.

An Education Week analysis for Quality Counts illustrates the point.

In 1998, teachers ages 22 to 28 earned on average $7,894 less than other college graduates of the same age--$22,653 vs. $30,547 in pay. The salary gap was far worse for teachers ages 44 to 50. Among that group, the pay gap was $23,655-or $38,889 vs. $62,544.

The difference was greatest among 44- to 50- year-olds with master’s degrees. Teachers in that group earned $43,313 compared with $75,824 for nonteachers--a gap of $32,511.

The booming economy of the late 1990s has made teaching even less attractive. The average salary for nonteachers with master’s degrees increased by $17,505 from 1994 to 1998, after adjusting for inflation. The average salary for teachers with master’s degrees rose by less than $200.

“Recruitment won’t work alone,” says Richard M. Ingersoll, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Georgia. “We also need retention. And one way to get retention is to raise those salaries for the middle-career years and the senior years.”

Paying Some Teachers More

Many experts say states and districts should move away from rigid salary schedules that pay all teachers based on their degrees and years of experience. Instead, states should consider paying certain teachers more:

  • Those in shortage fields, such as math and science;
  • Educators willing to work in hard-to-staff schools or geographic areas;
  • Teachers who graduate from better colleges or with higher test scores; and
  • Those who perform better in the classroom or who demonstrate greater knowledge and skills.

“There are differential financial sacrifices people are making when they enter teaching,” says Dan D. Goldhaber, a research associate at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. “That’s not a real popular message.”

Some districts have begun paying teachers in shortage fields more. In Detroit, teachers in high-need subjects can receive an extra $3,000. In Los Angeles, bilingual teachers can earn $5,000 on top of their regular salaries. Many districts raise the salaries of such hard-to-find candidates informally, by placing them on a higher step on the salary schedule when they are hired.

“We are in a period now where we’re more in competition with business than we’ve ever been,” says Floyd Coppedge, the state secretary of education in Oklahoma. “So, in order to get these good people in education and keep them there, we’re going to have to pay them more.”

In an age of accountability, many analysts also contend it makes sense to pay more for better teaching, instead of pretending that all teachers are alike. The challenge, of course, is how to judge teaching performance.

Pennsylvania has set aside $1 million this year to reward teachers for superior individual performance.

Massachusetts has proposed providing funds for 10 districts to work on differentiated pay scales for teachers. The current system, in which teachers start at about $25,000 and rise to a maximum of about $60,000, isn’t enough, says Safran of the state education department. “We’ve got to break through that ceiling and pay some people $80,000 to $100,000,” he says.

A task force in Kentucky has proposed a new salary schedule as the basis for paying all teachers, with extra compensation for such qualifications as additional knowledge and expertise, higher levels of certification, higher grade point averages and test scores for beginning teachers, school-based student gains, and willingness to take on difficult assignments.

The presidents of both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association say they are willing to negotiate differentiated salaries for shortage areas or to experiment with more pay for knowledge and skills. But Sandra Feldman, the president of the AFT, cautions that “you have to do that on top of a basic professional salary in order to get people into the profession in the first place.”

Others say that if teachers really want more money, they need to work a longer year, much like other professionals.

But while higher salaries may help entice people into teaching, working conditions also influence whether they stay in the profession or teach in certain schools. With the exception of reductions in class size, few states have tried to improve working conditions as a way to lure people into the profession. North Carolina tried to tackle the problem this school year by requiring that local boards adopt policies prohibiting the assignment of extracurricular duties to beginning teachers unless teachers request the assignments in writing. Lawmakers also directed local boards to minimize teachers’ noninstructional assignments. States and districts also are starting to provide new teachers with mentors or induction programs.

Katrina Robertson Reed, a former associate superintendent of the District of Columbia schools, says she views her city’s induction program as part of its recruitment package. “That’s one of the first things candidates ask, before they ask about signing bonuses: What kind of support am I going to get when I’m there?” Reed says. “We have found over and over that that is really critical.”

Recruiting Online

Finally, experts say that states and districts must become as aggressive in their recruiting as any business.

“We don’t have a setup where our school districts believe and understand that it’s up to them to develop an effective, aggressive recruitment strategy,” says Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America, which recruits liberal arts graduates to teach in urban and rural public schools. “In any other sector, this would be just bizarre. Corporations, law firms, whatever, spend so much on recruiting and developing effective people because they all know that people are everything.”

A big part of corporate recruiting strategies in recent years revolves around the Internet, and some states are starting to adapt. Twenty-seven states have Web pages that list job openings in participating districts, though only a handful require all districts to participate. In nine states, candidates can apply for jobs online, and districts can search for candidates based on key qualifications. Some districts also have or are devising such systems.

“We don’t go out of state anymore to recruit,” says Jim O’Laughlin, the associate superintendent for personnel in the New Haven district in Northern California. “We found it very expensive and very ineffective. We hire more people out of state now, but we do it over the Internet.”

Job candidates receive acknowledgments of their online applications from the 14,000-student district within a few hours and can go to a nearby Kinko’s store for a video interview. The district also maintains an automated tracking system so that principals can view applications from their desks.

In addition, states can make it easier for veteran teachers to move across state lines. Forty states and the District of Columbia, for example, have signed an interstate contract with the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification that provides a means for states to recognize each other’s credentialing systems. States have been less successful in making teachers’ pension and retirement benefits portable.

Fixing District Hiring

Bureaucratic and inefficient district hiring practices also can discourage people from entering teaching. Many school systems, particularly in big cities, are slow to respond to inquiries. Too often, they rely on a centralized hiring process, and cannot tell candidates whether they’ve been hired or where they will teach until late in the summer or even after the start of the school year.

The Mississippi Teacher Center, a state-financed recruitment effort, has five recruiters who are assigned to districts with critical shortages. The recruiters help the districts learn how to market themselves, train personnel officers, and “grow” their own teacher-candidates--for example, by helping paraprofessionals earn teaching licenses.

“If I were a state, I would think about creating a pool of matching funds to inspire districts to invest in teacher recruitment and development,” says Kopp of Teach For America. She recently helped launch the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit group that helps districts, states, and higher education institutions recruit, train, select, and support new teachers more effectively, based on lessons learned from TFA.

In Maryland, Grasmick has proposed spending $10 million for districts to create recruitment and retention programs for teachers in shortage fields. States such as Florida and South Carolina hold statewide job fairs to help districts recruit. Some states have launched media campaigns to attract teachers. CalTeach, a recruitment center in California, is spending $1 million this school year for public service announcements and advertising.

Grasmick has proposed a multimedia marketing campaign for Maryland, too. But, in the end, she says, “all of these incentives are not sufficient without a good infrastructure.” While incentives get people’s attention, she says, “there are a lot of other things that need to happen” before teaching becomes the profession of choice.

A version of this article appeared in the January 13, 2000 edition of Education Week


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.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Classroom Strategies for Building Equity and Student Confidence
Shape equity, confidence, and success for your middle school students. Join the discussion and Q&A for proven strategies.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
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.
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: March 15, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: March 8, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: February 22, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: February 8, 2023
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
6 min read