Special Report

Best and Worst States to Be a Teacher

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5. Massachusetts
> Average teacher pay: $81,535 (3rd highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 11.7 to 1 (8th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for pension: 12.0% (the lowest)
> Teacher employment: 74,460 (42.2% elementary, 21.4% middle, 36.4% high school)
> High school graduation rate: 87.8% (16th highest)

Only two states have better-paid teachers than Massachusetts, where the typical public school teacher earns $81,535 annually. After adjusting for the state’s cost of living, teachers’ pay in the state ranks even higher, second of all states. 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. The average benefit for those who stay on the job long enough to retire is over $43,000, the seventh highest in the U.S.

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4. New York
> Average teacher pay: $85,258 (the highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 11.8 to 1 (10th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for pension: 40.0% (21st lowest)
> Teacher employment: 209,930 (44.1% elementary, 20.0% middle, 35.9% high school)
> High school graduation rate: 82.3% (14th lowest)

Though the New York teachers have the highest annual salaries, making $85,258 a year, when adjusted for the high cost of living in the state, their pay is significantly lower –$73,245 a year — though still one of the highest nationwide. 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 12 students for every teacher in the state, the 10th best ratio compared to all states.

Teachers who retire and are 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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3. New Jersey
> Average teacher pay: $74,215 (8th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 10.5 to 1 (3rd lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for pension: 56.0% (12th highest)
> Teacher employment: 97,460 (41.7% elementary, 27.3% middle, 31.0% high school)
> High school graduation rate: 90.9% (2nd highest)

Teachers’ average annual pay in New Jersey is about $10,000 higher than the national teachers’ pay of about $65,000. The 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 the state’s rank to third best state to be an educator.

Many schools in New Jersey are starting the new academic year full-time online after the state’s largest and most powerful teachers union called for remote-only reopening of schools.

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2. Connecticut
> Average teacher pay: $78,555 (4th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 11.1 to 1 (6th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for pension: 55.0% (15th highest)
> Teacher employment: 40,070 (39.8% elementary, 20.8% middle, 39.5% high school)
> High school graduation rate: 88.4% (13th 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 NCTQ has identified include requiring that all teacher evaluations include observations and that all tenure decisions would be made based on evidence of teacher effectiveness.

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1. Rhode Island
> Average teacher pay: $74,414 (7th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 12.2 to 1 (12th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for pension: 59.0% (7th highest)
> Teacher employment: 10,610 (38.6% elementary, 15.7% middle, 45.6% high school)
> High school graduation rate: 84.0% (19th lowest)

Rhode Island is the best state for public school teachers. While the NCTQ graded the state well overall for teacher quality. People in the teaching profession are paid well in the state, with an average annual salary of $74,414, the seventh highest in the country and the highest after adjusting to the cost of living.

Rhode Island public school teachers also benefit from one of the nation’s more coherent and generous retirement systems. About 59.0% of new teachers in Rhode Island will likely remain in the profession long enough to qualify for a pension benefit, the seventh highest share of all states.

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