Attracting More Students to Teaching

By: Katie Gragnaniello, Manager, Policy Communications, with support from ACT’s State and Federal Policy Team

Summer’s here and many teachers are taking on additional jobs—waiting tables, bartending, driving for Uber, Starbucks barista—to supplement their income in order to provide for their families and cover classroom supplies for the upcoming school year.

Why is this necessary? Teachers are essential to student success, especially in low-income communities. High-quality education can bridge equity and opportunity gaps, and teachers are the ones who can help build this bridge.

But a recent article in The Washington Post paints a grim picture of what it’s like to be a teacher in Oklahoma, where teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. According to EdBuild, the average cost-adjusted starting teacher salary for teachers in Oklahoma for the 2012–2013 school year was approximately $33,000—more than $10,000 less than the average starting salary for college graduates overall.

With that in mind, is it any wonder that schools and districts face challenges in recruiting and retaining quality teachers? This spring teacher walkouts in Oklahoma, Arizona, and West Virginia over teacher salaries garnered national media attention to the many challenges teachers face every day. In recent years, teacher job satisfaction has fallen to 39 percent from a high of 62 percent in 2008. And according to new ACT data, high school students’ interest in pursuing an education major in college has declined from the top four to the bottom eight.

At a time when we need more quality teachers entering the education field, especially in underserved communities, these stories are troubling. The demand for quality teachers is high, particularly in rural areas and schools with high low-income populations, but teachers are leaving these schools for ones that offer better pay.

How do we retain quality teachers and encourage new students to enter the field?

Based on the findings in ACT’s new research brief, Encouraging More High School Students to Consider Teaching, there are several ways to improve teacher recruitment and attract those who can be most successful in the classroom:

  • increase salary for beginning teachers to attract more high-performing students to the profession;
  • implement career pathways and “grow-your-own” programs focused on teacher recruitment and training; and
  • provide information to prospective students about a teacher’s full compensation package such as benefits (e.g., health coverage, retirement pensions).

Every child deserves a high-quality education that will inspire and prepare them for their futures. ACT believes that these recommendations can help make the teaching profession more hospitable to academically prepared students. We need quality teachers to provide the next generation of innovators, scientists, artists—and teachers a high-quality education.

Explore ACT’s policy briefs here and follow us on Twitter @ACTEquity and @ACT using the hashtag #ACTPolicyNews.