Special Report

The States Where It’s Best (and Worst) to Be a Teacher

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5. Massachusetts
> Average teacher pay: $75,006 (the highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 24 to 1 (10th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 12.0% (the lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 88.3% (12th highest)

No state has better-paid teachers than Massachusetts, where the typical public school teacher earns $75,006 annually. This figure is the highest in the nation even after adjusting for the state’s relatively high cost of living. The relatively low student to teacher ratio in the state and the strong teacher quality assessments contribute to Massachusetts’ rank as one of the best states to be a teacher.

The state, however, could do much better in supporting its teachers with benefits like secure pension plans. Based on a recent study of the state’s pension system, idiosyncratic and hidden conditions in the pension formula result in 74% of state educators taking a loss when they receive their pension distributions. The 12% of new teachers expected to stay in the profession long enough to even receive a pension is the lowest in the nation and exceptionally poor compared to the other best states to be a teacher.

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4. Connecticut
> Average teacher pay: $70,094 (6th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 23 to 1 (6th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 55.0% (15th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 87.9% (15th highest)

Teachers in Connecticut are among the best paid and have some of the smallest class sizes. Additionally, the requirements to collect full retirement benefits are favorable enough to incentivize about 55% of teachers to keep teaching until they qualify for a pension, among the highest shares in the country. The typical annual benefit for new retirees is about $53,500, the second highest of all states.

Some of the strengths in the state’s teaching quality policies that the National Council on Teacher Quality has identified include requiring that all teacher evaluations include observations and that all tenure decisions are made based on evidence of teacher effectiveness.

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3. New Jersey
> Average teacher pay: $64,337 (15th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 21 to 1 (2nd lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 56.0% (12th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 90.5% (2nd highest)

Teachers’ average annual pay in New Jersey is higher than the national teachers’ pay of about $63,000, adjusted to cost of living. But the very low student to teacher ratio and the relatively high share of new teachers who are expected to stay in the profession long enough to retire and collect benefits bumps its rank among the states where it’s best to be an educator.

Some of New Jersey’s trengths that make teachers working environment better, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, include connecting graduates’ growth to their teacher preparation programs, supporting teacher leadership opportunities, and requiring tenure decision to be connected to teacher effectiveness.

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2. New York
> Average teacher pay: $72,643 (2nd highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 23 to 1 (8th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 40.0% (21st lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 81.8% (12th lowest)

With a cost of living adjusted average teacher pay of $72,643 a year, New York public school teachers are paid better than teachers in every state except for Massachusetts. New York’s public school teachers and students alike benefit from manageable classroom sizes, which tend to improve working conditions and support academic achievement. On average, there are 23 students for every teacher in the state, the eighth best ratio compared to all states.

The percentage of new teachers expected to stay in the profession long enough to qualify for a pension, at just 40%, is one of the lower percentages in the nation. However, the teachers who do retire eligible for a pension benefit are better off than those in other states. The median benefit for newly retired teachers in New York is $51,360 annually, second in the nation after Illinois.

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1. Rhode Island
> Average teacher pay: $72,058 (3rd highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 24 to 1 (13th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 59.0% (7th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 84.1% (22nd lowest)

Rhode Island is the best state for public school teachers. While the National Council on Teacher Quality graded the state well overall for teacher quality, it gave an F to Rhode Island for teacher compensation structures known to support better academic achievement and teacher working conditions. Policies such as those providing incentives for teachers to work in needy school districts, and programs rewarding effectiveness and prior experience are completely absent in the state. Still, those in the teaching profession are paid well, with an average annual salary of $72,058.

Rhode Island public school teachers also benefit from relatively small classroom sizes, and they are supported by one of the nation’s more coherent and generous retirement systems. Unlike most states, a majority of new teachers in Rhode Island will likely remain in the profession long enough to qualify for a pension benefit.

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