Do more effective teachers earn more outside of the classroom?

Matthew Chingos and Martin West
Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University
March 2010

This sophisticated and novel study can answer its title with one word: Yes. Chingos and West examined Florida public school income records and value-added data between 2001-02 and 2006-07 for 90,000 classroom teachers and 20,000 teachers who left the classroom during that time. They found that the majority (roughly 60 percent) of exiters remained employed by public school districts in Florida. (Only 4 percent moved to private schools, for example.) Further, when those fulltime exiters made a move, their median earnings increased, perhaps because many fled to higher-paying districts. Then, Chingos and West examined the relationship between pay (in the real world) and teacher effectiveness (in the classroom). First, they found that when they entered other industries, teachers had much wider variation in earnings than when they were in schools (not surprising if we take into account rigid teaching-salary schedules). More importantly, they found that, among grade 4-8 teachers leaving for other professions, there was a positive relationship between a teacher’s increase in value-added math and reading student achievement and higher earnings outside of teaching. Admittedly, the sample was small, not randomly-selected, and only from one state, but the authors’ conclusion makes sense: “Although teaching is surely a unique endeavor requiring specialized skills, the same attributes that make for effective teachers also appear to be rewarded in the broader labor market.” It’s too bad that Florida’s inflexible teacher pay system doesn’t allow for those attributes to be rewarded in our schools. You can find the study here.

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.
Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. is the Senior Vice President for Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.