Public School Achievement Low, Teachers Underpaid in Most States, Report Finds

Public school achievement is poor in most states, while the average U.S. public school teacher makes only 88 percent of the salary earned by individuals in comparable professions, a new report from the Education Projects in Education Research Center finds.

Published in Education Week and funded by the Pew Center on the States, the report, Quality Counts 2008: Tapping Into Teaching, Unlocking the Key to Student Success (highlights, 15 pages, PDF), evaluates states across six areas of education performance and policy. While the United States posted a grade of C overall, the average state earned a D-plus in the category of public school achievement as measured by a "K-12 Achievement Index," which takes into account current state performance, improvements over time, and poverty-based achievement gaps. Although Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey earned the highest achievement ratings, the report found severe poverty disparities in many of the top-achieving states.

Marks were also low for state efforts to improve teaching, with ten states earning a grade of D or lower. To determine grades, researchers analyzed state efforts to increase accountability, provide incentives for talented people to enter and stay in the profession, monitor and allocate the distribution of talent, and build the capacity of teachers and principals to improve student learning. According to the report, workers in occupations other than teaching have a greater chance to earn above-average salaries than teachers, whose wages are more compressed. Teacher salaries failed to reach the parity mark in forty states and the District of Columbia, and the least-competitive teacher salaries were found in North Carolina and Missouri, where salaries are less than 80 percent of those for comparable workers.

The report also measured states' performance in the areas of chance for success; standards, assessment, and accountability; transitions and alignment; and school finance. Most states posted a strong showing in at least one area, with some states performing consistently well or poorly across the full range of categories.

"Retaining educated talent and maintaining a good track record in overall performance and quality of education programs is critical to a state's future economic health," said Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. "Children adequately prepared in youth make more productive workers and more informed citizens — in short, they lead more successful lives."

"Quality Counts 2008: Report Card Grades States on Education Performance, Policy." Pew Charitable Trusts Press Release 01/09/2008.