Special Report

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

The States Where It’s Worst to be a Teacher

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15. New Mexico
> Average teacher pay: $58,598 (20th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 29 to 1 (16th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 33.0% (13th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 71.1% (the lowest)

After adjusting for New Mexico’s relatively low cost of living, the typical public school teacher’s salary is estimated at $58,598 — by no means the worst pay in the nation. However, with relatively large classroom sizes, low probability of new teachers staying in their professions until retirement, and poor grades by the National Council for Teacher Quality, New Mexico is among the worst states in which to be a teacher.

While high academic achievement and other favorable educational outcomes are often common even in states where it can be difficult to be a public school teacher, this is not the case in New Mexico. The percentage of fourth and eighth graders who scored “proficient” on the NAEP standardized tests, at 24.8% and 20.3%, are the 50th and 49th lowest in the nation. The state’s high school graduation rate of 71.1% is also the lowest out of all states.

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14. West Virginia
> Average teacher pay: $52,119 (7th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 25 to 1 (15th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 25.0% (5th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 89.4% (6th highest)

West Virginia public school teachers were at the forefront of a wave of teacher strikes that swept the nation last year. With demands including smaller class sizes, more staffing, and an end to charter school expansion, the strikes and other actions of teachers in the state led to a 5% pay raise in legislation passed last year.

Based on statistics used for this ranking, West Virginia’s teachers may have every right to demand better working conditions at their schools. For one, the state’s pension system does not appear to be serving its beneficiaries particularly well due at least in part to high turnover of teachers. Only one in every four new teachers in West Virginia are expected to remain in the profession long enough to qualify for pension benefits, the fifth lowest proportion of all states.

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13. New Hampshire
> Average teacher pay: $56,006 (14th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 22 to 1 (5th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 31.0% (10th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 88.9% (10th highest)

The cost of living in New Hampshire is among the 10 highest in the United States, with prices about 6.0% higher than the national average. After adjusting for the state’s high cost of living, teachers in the state earn about $56,000 annually, significantly less than the average teachers’ pay of nearly $63,000 nationwide. The low share of new teachers expected to teach for enough years to qualify for retirement benefits of just 31.0% further lowers New Hampshire’s ranking on this list.

The pensions of teachers who do end up collecting their benefits in the state are also low. The average annual retirement benefit of about $19,600 is the seventh lowest of all states.

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12. Alabama
> Average teacher pay: $58,145 (17th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 32 to 1 (9th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 39.0% (20th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 89.3% (7th highest)

Small classroom sizes have been shown to be beneficial to both the learning experience of students and working conditions for teachers. A four-year longitudinal study published by the Center for Public Education found that small classroom sizes of 18 or fewer students is linked to better academic achievement. In Alabama, there are on average 32 students for every teacher, the ninth worst student-teacher ratio of all states.

Like in many other states where it is relatively difficult to be a teacher, public school teachers working in Alabama are not especially well paid compared to their peers nationwide. The cost of living-adjusted average annual teacher pay in the state is $58,145, versus the comparable national teacher pay of $62,898. In its annual evaluation of state education policy goals, The National Council on Teacher Quality awarded Alabama an F for its ability to retain effective teachers.

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11. Oregon
> Average teacher pay: $71,028 (5th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 36 to 1 (5th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 46.0% (24th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 76.7% (2nd lowest)

Oregon has the second lowest high school graduation rate in the nation, at 76.7%. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, Oregon’s education policies promoting teacher quality are severely lacking — the state received F grades in three of nine categories and an overall grade of D-.

Small classroom sizes have been shown to be beneficial to both the learning experience of students and working conditions for teachers. A four-year longitudinal study published by the Center for Public Education found that small classroom sizes of 18 or fewer students is linked to better academic achievement. In Oregon, the average classroom size is 36 students for every teacher, the fifth largest of all states.

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