Why so many teachers need a second job to make ends meet

by Ninive Calegari

(originally published on the Washington Post Answer Sheet)

Kory O'Rourke teaches English at a public high school in San Francisco. She has 125 students spread over 5 classes. She starts her days at 6 a.m. and works without stopping - not for a lunch date, not for Internet shopping. She works at full speed, all day and then grades sand preps at night. This week, she's teaching her classes, helping her students turn in missing work, complete final projects, and prepare for final exams. That's during the day.

By 4:30 p.m., she’s in her Mazda, shuttling strangers to and fro as she drives for Lyft or Uber. She often picks up foreign tourists who are often curious about their drivers’ stories. Usually, they are shocked that a public school teacher would be forced to resort to a second job. American passengers are different. Their response? “Driving a cab is a great job for a teacher!”

Is it?

Is it “great” that a teacher needs a second job so she can afford to rent a home and raise her kids? Try saying “Driving Uber is a great job for a doctor!” or “Why don’t more attorneys drive Lyft on the weekends?”

So why do we think it’s a good idea for teachers? Either we believe the job isn’t that hard or we believe it’s not worth the kind of professional compensation that we consider standard for jobs that require a similar level of education and ongoing professional development. In both cases, we need to re-examine our view of undervaluing teachers financially.

What does it mean when we live in a society when those who are trusted to take care of our future professionals are a part of our newly minted working poor? What does it mean when our fellow citizens believe that a teacher having a second job is a great idea? A teacher is the most important part of any school and undermining her financially is not allowing her to do her best work. And, her work matters deeply as she prepares her students to participate in our communities and in our shared civic life.

This past August the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute found that the pay gap for teachers is even wider than we had previously thought. Teachers pay is 17 percent lower than other professionals with similar training.

Additionally frustrating is that expert teachers with master’s degrees and 15 years experience earn less than flight attendants in Georgia (who earn on average $40,000), less than sheet metal workers in Oklahoma (who on average earn $45,000), less than truck drivers in Colorado (who on average earn $46,000) and less than Uber drivers in New York City (who can earn on average $90,000).

We have the power to change this and we must.

In November, Oklahoma voters rejected a measure that would have provided all teachers with an immediate $5,000 cost of living adjustment, paid for by a one percent hike in the sales tax. The measure failed by an enormous margin with 59.4 percent of voters opposed to raising the money for a shared better future.

In a recent interview with Tulsa World, Richard Patterson, a teacher in Oklahoma, said he was reluctant to advocate for the change in legislation because it felt uncomfortable to ask for a raise for himself. He will continue to teach high school students and at the same time he will work at Walmart. Shawn Sheehan is Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. He earns $35,419. He recently told a non-profit education news organization, “As a 31-year-old adult with his master’s… I don’t want to keep doing this perpetual struggle until I’m 60.”

Most teachers, like Kory O’Rourke and Richard Patterson, are reluctant to advocate for higher pay for themselves. They went into a profession where they didn’t expect to make a ton of money. They understand that schools are underfunded and they are eager to do anything to improve the lives of their students, including not asking for more money for themselves.

That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve more. They’re not the only ones who could benefit from professional compensation. Our communities would. Our children would. Our democracy would, as well. So, given that it’s challenging for them to stand up and ask for more, we can stand up for them and we must.

The costs of not professionalizing this job will far outweigh the expenses of fair compensation.

Nationally the situation is bleak. While other professions have seen compensation growth, teachers’ salaries have stagnated for four decades. In fact, over the last decade in 30 of 50 states, teacher pay has actually not kept pace with the cost of living.

Forty-seven states face teacher shortages, and there has been a 30 percent decrease in enrollment in teacher credentialing programs in recent years. Why the decline in such a crucial profession? In most cities, the average teacher’s salary cannot compete with the cost of living, and teachers are priced out of homes in all urban areas.

Put simply: though there are pockets of successful schools with supported teachers, teaching is not generally regarded as a financially viable profession in our country. And college students know this.

For the moment, we should not kid ourselves. Allowing the status quo to continue is a choice we are making. And those great teachers who choose not to work a second job just might choose to leave the profession. Think back to the teachers who helped you become who you are today and ask yourself if you would think it was a good idea for that person to be driving Lyft, shelving Ziplock bags, or even finding necessary calories at food bank? These things are all happening to children’s favorite teachers today.

Finally, now, more than ever, if we want to fight global warming, racism, illiteracy, poverty, sexism and homophobia, we need to elevate the teaching profession to the financially viable and prestigious one it deserves to be. Elevating teachers is our chance to show what our values truly are. Let’s pay teachers what we think our students, democracy and future are worth.

Teaching is Still One of the Toughest and Best and Most Important Jobs on the Planet

Dan Moulthrop

August 25, 2016

Earlier this week, attn: media put out a video under the headline, "60% of Teachers Can't Survive on Their Salary." I paid attention for a few reasons.

I used to be a teacher, and a decade a go, I co-authored a book about the impact of our de facto national policy of underpaying PK-12 educators. One of my talented co-authors turned that book into a documentary and a non-profit advocacy organization, The Teacher Salary Project (where I volunteer as a member of the board). We provided some of the footage for the ATTN video, so we were pleased to see it viewed and shared so widely. And it was clear that this resonates with people. An award winning author I know and follow on Facebook shared the video and referred to this wierdness--that our teachers don't make enough to live on--as an example of what he called "America's f***ery." He's a writer, so he's allowed to use colorful language. I don't disagree with the sentiment. 

Occasionally, I am asked to speak to groups of teachers. As it turns out, a few days before the ATTN video came out, I was invited to speak at the Opening Convocation at West Geauga School District, about a half hour east of Cleveland. In a gymnasium full of teachers who had just spent a week in professional development sessions and preparing for the year ahead, I made the comments that follow. This is the prepared text. I went off script a few times. I'm posting it here, because a few people had asked me for a copy. After thanking my hosts, I began...

I want to tell you about an experience I had last summer. I was in San Francisco, for a meeting for the Teacher Salary Project. It's a nonprofit organization that works to advocate that teachers get paid the professional salary they deserve--a salary that would allow them to live in the communities in which they teach. That's possible here, but it's not in San Francisco and many cities around the country. We were spending the whole day talking to one another and creating plans about how we can more effectively advocate for the change we want to see. As a board member, I was leading some of the dialogue and I was also helping with the set up, getting the food and supplies into the downtown location where we were hosting the summit.

Now, I can't be in San Francisco without reflecting on the five years I spent as a teacher. Seventeen years ago I was starting my first teaching job. It was in San Francisco, where I taught in a county jail, and I used to ride my bicycle to work, not because I was a fitness enthusiast or particularly environmentally minded. I was broke. And I was working part time in the county jails, and that's what you do in your 20s. Anyway, after a little more than a year in the jails, and I've got plenty of stories I could share with you, I got a job teaching at a high school. San Lorenzo High School, a medium sized high school in a relatively small district in an unincorporated town in the East Bay. It was poor. It was urban. It was diverse--the largest demographic group was Latino, and the Latino gangs would recruit relentlessly.

And we had the most wonderful English department. When I got there, I was green. I was working on my credential while I was teaching my first year, and there was so much I didn't know about teaching, and my students could smell it a mile away. But my colleagues saw my potential, and they helped. They shared curriculum, they observed my lessons and coached me, they planned with me, and they supported me, and I grew to love them and emulate them, eventually serving as a coach and mentor to other new teachers and student teachers.

There was a student I had that year. She had a complicated Nigerian name--Uriridiakoghene Onovakpuri. She told me to call her Uriri. She was great. She was engaged, and paid attention, in spite of my lack of preparation for the job. She was a strong writer, and she was the kind of child who was obviously going to forge her own way and likely encounter some pushback from peers along the way. She was a great student and over the years I watched her grow into someone who was not only capable of speaking up for herself but eventually to speak up for others.

So back to San Francisco for a second. I'm helping to set up for this board meeting, doing what volunteer board members do for scrappy organizations, bringing trays of food and bottles of water and flip charts and all of that from the car into the building, and I'm walking back and forth, because it's San Francisco and there's no easy parking, and there are these windows I'm walking by, up at eye level, they're tinted but I can see that there's a meeting going on in this conference room. And I'm making all these trips back and forth to the car, and because I'm nosy, I'm checking out the meeting as I walk by. And the first time I walk by, I look at the woman leading the meeting, and I think, she reminds me of someone. And the next time I walk by, I think she really reminds me of Uriri Onovakpuri. And the third time I walk by, I'm wishing the window wasn't tinted, because I'm almost positive it's her.

Anyway, as luck would have it, I got pulled into my meeting in this other part of the building, and a day or so later, I message her on Facebook--we'd become Facebook friends in the early days of Facebook, and I really hadn't kept track of her at all. Was that you, leading the meeting in the building on Mission street? I asked. The answer, as you already know, was yes. 

So happy to have seen her doing what she was doing. It was that moment, that, as teachers, we often long for. To be a fly on the wall in some room where one of our former students is leading a meeting, commanding a room, running a program or an organization, having grown into the leader we hoped she would become.

I think all of you probably know or at least have heard of US Senator Cory Booker. He's the senator from New Jersey who used to be the Mayor of Newark. When he was on City Council, he staged a public hunger strike in an open air drug market to draw attention to the crime and poverty of that neighborhood. He recently wrote a book called United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good. He came to Cleveland last year for an event we hosted with the Cuyahoga County Public Library and he told this story about his father. I'm going to quote him telling the same story at a Stanford Commencement address in 2012.

My dad would touch me almost like he was trying to feel my very spirit. He would look at me and he would say in ways that are eloquent, he would impart to me this truth, he would say to me, "Boy, you need to understand that who you are now, you are the physical manifestation of a conspiracy of love. That people whose names you don't even know, who struggled for you, who fought for you, who sweat for you, who volunteered for you – you are here because of them. Do not forget that.

A conspiracy of love. I'm deeply drawn to that idea. That's what we are--that's what you are. You are a part of that conspiracy of love.

I remember when I was teaching, every day, there were students who would eat their lunches in my classroom. They’d sit down at desks or hop up on the counter next to the white board, and they'd talk to me. At the time, I remember thinking about this one girl, Amanda--why is she here? Why is she telling me all this about her life? And I realized that she understood that I cared about her. We would chat, I would have to draw lines and explain what I shouldn't know about her life, but still, in those few moments, I got to be a part of the conspiracy of love that was holding her up and pushing her forward. The same with Uriri.

You are a part of the conspiracy of love that is lifting up each and every one of your students. I know that when the state once again changes the testing regime you just want to shut it down and find another, easier career. When lawmakers who haven't set foot in a public school classroom since they graduated high school decide that a new set of standards is really the one we ought to be following, you want to weep. When someone says schools should be run like businesses, you want to throttle them and say, I can’t fire the third grade! And, When you meet someone for the first time, they ask what you do and you say that you teach and they say good for you, you want to say no, it's good for YOU and it's good for the community and it's good for democracy, but actually, it's not good for me, it's probably not good for my health, it may not be good for my marriage, and I wish I had more time with my own children but I'm too busy helping to raise your children.

I know that this may not be the thing I’m supposed to say, but when you close the door to your classroom, none of that matters.

But despite all that, you are a part of that conspiracy of love. You all know this, you are part of this conspiracy of love that is making our community a better place. The policy makers will always offer something that’s supposed to change what happens in your classroom, but in the end, it’s you in that classroom, doing your best, delivering a well crafted lesson, differentiating the instruction because even before anyone started calling it differentiated instruction, it was pretty clear to the profession that Brad learned differently than Ebony, who really didn’t have much in common with Uriri, or Laurel. It’s you in that classroom, with the high behavioral standards you’ve always had, the high academic standards you’ve always had, the belief you carry with you that these children—these beautiful young emergent human beings—are capable of doing their best, of learning and contributing and caring. 

I remember those moments, when the door to my classroom was closed, and it was just me and 27 juniors, talking about Toni Morrison's Beloved, and they were making all of these connections and understanding how symbolism works in literature and how a character can be a metaphor, and I felt like I was simultaneously in love with the class, with the literature, with the whole enterprise of public education, and I thought, I can't believe I get paid to do this.

Despite everything going on in the world, the reforms and fads and testing and the legions of folks who believe they know better than you what ought to happen in your classroom, you bring love to the classroom every day because you know that students learn from the people they love. Their favorite teachers aren't the smartest ones, they're the ones they love and the ones who love them. That's all of you.

And beyond each of these lives that you are shaping and informing and nurturing, what you do is literally the foundation of our Democracy. The future of democracy is riding on no other profession the way it is riding on the teaching profession. It can seem trite and cliché to say it, but it's true. The future of this community depends on the great work you do every day, and on you doing it even better in the future. And the future of our democracy and its need for well-informed and engaged citizens, depends on legions of teachers in 13,505 other school districts across the nation. 

You all are going to do amazing things in your classrooms this year, and you’ll do amazing things for your colleagues and for the families of this district. There will be some new program to implement and one of you will step up to do that. There will be some new problem that needs to be solved, and some of you will collaborate to figure out how to implement an innovative solution. There will be a student who doesn’t know how to ask for help and only knows how to act out, and you will figure out how to help him. There will be a moment—more likely a series of moments—where the thousand decisions you make in your classroom every hour of every day will set a child on a path or propel them forward down a path that will find her years from now, in front of a group of people, leading them through some key decision that will maker her community a better stronger place.

You will do that, because you are a part of the conspiracy of love that supports these children and makes democracy work. You are all co-conspirators. And I thank you. 

Pay Teachers More? Of Course We Should

Dave Powell

August 26, 2016

There is an old argument about teaching and teacher pay making the rounds, masquerading as a powerful new insight. The argument is that improving the working conditions of teachers is more important than raising teacher pay. Or, to put it another way: "Just Paying Teachers More Won't Stop Them From Quitting."

If you read the article that follows that headline above, what you find are several anecdotal stories about people who got out of teaching because they just couldn't take it anymore. One quit because she decided, as she put it, that "at a certain point you kind of have to pay for your own sanity," and added: "I don't think anybody told me I was going to cry under my desk." (Can teacher education programs do anything right?!) Another left for a desk job in human resources, where he made more money (interesting point, that) and was relieved to find that "nobody cussed at me, nobody choked me, I never went home crying." 

Another teacher—who also, it should be noted, entered the profession through an "alternative" pathway like teacher number two; the first teacher's entry point wasn't mentioned—left teaching to become a rapper. He added that he couldn't stand his boss, a pretty common feeling in just about every profession. A fourth teacher had a lot of fun being a juror so he decided to become a lawyer. A fifth teacher gets right at the favorite point every opponent of higher pay loves to hear: she believes teachers are born, not made; that she was paid more than enough money to do something she loved; and that the best thing that could happen to schools would be if "government could find its way out of the classroom so it could go back to being about people who understand how to educate." She's lucky enough now to work with her husband, who "owns a medical group"—teaching without all the strings attached.

I don't want to diminish the experiences of any of these teachers. Yes, you should stay sane if you can, and sometimes that means getting a new job. No, you should not tolerate working in a place where you might be cussed at or choked or where you want to crawl up under your desk and cry. Yes, you should follow your "passion," whatever it may be: if being a musician or practicing law turns out to be your thing, and teaching turns out not to be, well, then, do us all a favor and go do your thing. 

What I'm struggling to understand, though, is how it is exactly that these stories prove that we shouldn't improve the pay of the millions of teachers who are perfectly sane, aren't concerned about being cussed at or choked, and haven't found new life in the entertainment industry or working in the family business. So we have a few horror stories from teachers (gathered, it should be noted, from interviews with no "more than a half dozen former teachers," at least some of whom were "tracked down" on Twitter) about why they left. A half dozen is six. There are more than 3 million teachers in America today.

This is the problem with anecdotal evidence: it seems convincing, but actually it turns the process we should use to make informed decisions upside down. Anecdotes are easy to stitch together to support a theory you have about how things ought to be done; they are good at helping you confirm what you already believe. But no one's experience speaks perfectly for everyone else's, so if you read an argument that depends on anecdotal evidence you probably aren't getting anything close to the whole story. In fact, the anecdotes may obscure what's actually happening.

And what is happening? The argument being made in this Atlantic piece, and elsewhere, essentially boils down to this: teacher turnover (which, incidentally, is not the same thing as a teacher shortage) is a huge problem, and if we think just paying teachers more money will stop them from fleeing the profession we're wrong. The conditions of teaching are, in fact, so bad that no amount of money could possibly stop the flood of teachers leaving. Want proof? Here are the stories of five people to confirm it.

There are statistics too. A popular one cited in this story comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that around 259,000 teachers left teaching after the 2011-12 school year, about 28,000 of whom had fewer than four years of teaching experience. That seems like a lot of teachers, but actually it's not: in the end, only about 8% left when the school year concluded. In fact, NCES found that 84% of all teachers returned in 2012-13 to the exact same position they had the year before, while about 8% moved to another teaching position. That means fully 92% of all teachers came back for the next school year.

Those are not outrageous numbers. If you believe this data compiled by a consulting firm called CompData, the employee turnover rate for all industries in 2013 was 15%. At 8%, teaching, at least in 2011-12, had a lower rate of turnover than almost every other major industry in America. Anyone expecting 0% turnover in teaching needs to come back to reality.

So what does this mean? Well, for starters, it probably means that we should be less concerned about how many people leave teaching and more concerned about how many people stay in—and whether they're any good at what they do. But that's a different story. The argument being made here is that we shouldn't bother improving teacher salaries because teaching is such terrible work that it won't keep anybody from quitting anyway. We should "fix" teaching first, then worry about what we pay teachers.

What I want to know is: in what world would we be able to improve the status of teachers without improving their pay? What reason do we have to believe that we can pay teachers rock bottom salaries but expect politicians and "reformers" to take them and their work seriously? What makes us think that status and compensation can somehow be separated in this society? Better compensation brings higher status. For better or worse it commands respect in our world. 

And let's be clear: teachers are workers just like everybody else. They have student loans and mortgages and car payments and children of their own to send to college. The idea that they should settle for lower pay just because they like what they do is ridiculous. I'll bet there are a few bankers who derive a lot of pleasure from their work. Are we asking any of them to do it for less money just because they like it?

But, wait, there's more. If you do a deeper dive into the NCES findings you notice some interesting trends. For example, NCES found that among the 7% of teachers with 1-3 years of experience who left teaching only 51% "reported that the manageability of their work load was better in their current position than in teaching," and only 53% reported better "general work conditions" in their new jobs. I say "only" because I think we'd expect those numbers to be a lot higher if teaching was as terrible as it's made out to be. The data clearly suggests that only half of the 7% of teachers who left teaching after the 2011-12 school year found that the grass was greener on the other side. In other words: work sucks, especially when you're the new guy. If you're lucky enough to find a job with supportive colleagues and appropriate mentoring and if you have the skills to manage what you're being expected to do, then work can be okay. But this data, at least, implies that people (people who chose to first become teachers, in any case) in the first three years of a new job are as likely as not to find that it is no better or worse than teaching was. That's not an insignificant finding, especially if you want to make the claim that paying people more money won't encourage them to stay in teaching.

The bottom line is that this claim, as far as I can tell, is hogwash. In the first place, maybe we shouldn't be too worried about 8% turnover; second, it seems likely, based on what we know (anecdotal evidence collected on Twitter notwithstanding), that many teachers who leave actually would have stayed if they were paid more money. If half of all teachers who left teaching said the work was no better someplace else—and if more people knew that—I'm betting even more teachers would think twice about leaving. Especially if their compensation packages were more competitive.

Look: if you're a teacher almost every job you qualify for outside of teaching pays more. That's just reality, and it's especially true if you are a new teacher. I don't think anyone except wishful-thinking ideological hacks would argue with that. As for me, I'm pretty convinced that paying teachers more would keep many of them who do quit from quitting, if that's what we're concerned about. But I don't even think that's why we should do it. We should do it because we care about the future of the country and the lives our children will lead. We should do it because no one—let alone someone with a college degree—should have to cobble together two or three jobs to make ends meet. We should do it because the best way to improve the professional status of teachers is to treat them like professionals, and that begins with recognizing their work as professional work and compensating them accordingly. We should do it because it's the right thing to do.

Devin Triplett, Teacher Leader on Tacoma's Teach to Lead Summit


Recently, The Teacher Salary Project was invited to Tacoma to participate in the Teach to Lead Summit. We brought along the amazing Devin Triplett, a high school teacher from Sacramento, along as part of the team. Here are his thoughts on his experience at Teach to Lead. 

The author Elizabeth Green describes teaching as “the science of all sciences, the art of all arts.” For, as she states, “Teachers not only [have] to think; they [have] to think about other people’s thinking. It is the highest form of knowing.”

In today’s world, it is not enough to have a teacher who is an expert in their field of study. An excellent teacher is a person who must be knowledgeable in their content, yet also acutely aware of how we as humans learn, develop, overcome obstacles, battle doubt, and progress toward understanding the broader implications our choices have in this world. The lessons they teach are not focused on content alone. A great teacher leads students in curiosity, zeal, resilience, resourcefulness, and compassion. Finally, a great teacher doesn’t just act as a leader for students; they are leaders for other teachers as well.

Recently, I had the tremendous experience of participating in the Teach to Lead Summit in Tacoma, WA. Organized by the U.S. Department of Education, Teach to Lead is focused on bringing together groups of teacher leaders from across the nation in developing and strengthening ideas on how to reinforce teacher voice and leadership within our schools. With Founder and President of The Teacher Salary Project Nínive Calegari, UESF President Lita Blanc, 826 Evaluations Director Lauren Hall, James Lick Middle School teacher Laney Corda, as well as critical friends Annie Tronco and Elizabeth Evans, our team arrived in Tacoma excited to work with so many incredible educators, advisors, and leaders.

One moment that stood out over the course of the weekend came during a talk delivered by Washington Teacher of the Year Nathan Gibbs-Bowling. He reminded us all that if we don’t advocate for ourselves, someone is going to do it for us; but they may not have our best intentions in mind.

I couldn’t shake this thought that teachers--highly-educated and skilled, well-spoken and insightful teachers--would be the ones in need of being reminded to advocate for themselves.   

Yet, it’s true. The education system is facing a crisis in which skilled educators are leaving the profession. Furthermore, fewer college graduates are considering teaching as a career. Of those that do complete the education necessary and decide to enter the field, 46% will leave within their first five years. Teacher shortages are occurring across the nation at a time when over half of the U.S. teaching force will be eligible for retirement within the next ten years.

I can say that teaching is the most difficult, demanding, complicated, yet also the most rewarding job I have ever had. The teachers I have worked with are some of the most intelligent, insightful, and skilled individuals I have ever met. Yet, it is hard to believe that close to half of all who complete the education necessary to be a teacher leave because the job is too difficult. We teachers know that it’s not going to be easy going in, and that’s part of why this profession is so rewarding. I believe that teachers are increasingly feeling that their work is not being adequately supported, and that their efforts are unsustainable given the compensation.

While salaries are not the only cause for falling teacher recruitment and retention rates, poor salaries are the primary cause cited by 61% of the teachers who leave the profession due to dissatisfaction. Teachers work an average of 10 hours a day and 52 hours a week. However, the average teacher salary is 14% less than other professions that require similar levels of education. As a result, it is not uncommon to see one’s local teacher holding part-time employment outside of teaching. If this teacher is also a parent, the financial sacrifice of being a teacher often becomes unsustainable. A great teacher can impart a year and half’s worth of learning to a student in one year, and great teaching over a period of time can help students overcome the disadvantages of poverty. However, these highly educated and skilled individuals need to know that we as a society value their work. So, how much is it worth to us to ensure that our schools have and hold on to the best teachers for our students?

I am in my fifth year as a high school English teacher. As I think of the teachers who have guided me towards becoming the teacher I am today, I also think of the 46% of new teachers leaving the profession before ever having the opportunity to hit their stride as educators. I can’t help but think how many of those might have gone on to become great teachers themselves, leaders for students and faculty alike. I also wonder how many more now in the field might leave the profession without the support and guidance of a skilled teacher leader.

I am grateful to Nathan, Teach to Lead, the Teacher Salary Project, as well as others who have chosen to advocate for our nation’s teachers. Our students deserve the best teachers we have to offer, and the recruitment and retention of great teachers needs to be prioritized within the budgets of schools and districts everywhere. If 3.2 million teachers across the country were to advocate that we pay teachers what we believe our students are worth, who could disagree?


Devin began his teaching career as an English instructor in Querétaro, México. Prior to joining The Teacher Salary Project team in 2009, Devin interned with both 826 Valencia and 826 National. He currently lives in Sacramento, CA where he serves as the Director of Curriculum and English Department Chair at Cristo Rey High School, Sacramento. He graduated from California State University, Chico with degrees in Music and Religious Studies.

New Short Documentary Reveals Tradeoffs of Teachers’ Second Jobs: Teacher Salary Project Continues Push for Equity, Professionalism

This week, The Teacher Salary Project released a brand new short film in their series on the state of teaching in the United States. “Laney’s Story” bit.ly/LaneyStory profiles a public middle school teacher who works two after-school jobs and spends her nights bartending just so she can afford to stay in the classroom. Laney fears she won’t make enough to pay her bills—and fears even more that she can’t give 100 percent to her students because she is so over-worked and exhausted.

“At some point you have to take care of yourself, you have to take care of your own family,” Laney tells us in the film, “and on what I’m making, we wouldn’t make it.”

Laney’s story is not uncommon. According to a recent study by Center for American Progress, teachers in the United States have the lowest starting salary among comparable professionals. Another study by McKinsey notes teachers’ salaries have essentially stagnated for 40 years. In 30 out of 50 states, pay has gone down. Meanwhile, California faces a teacher shortage and has seen a 55 percent decrease in enrollment in teacher credentialing programs (compared to a 30 percent decrease across the nation). In its current state, the teaching profession is failing to attract, retain and value qualified teachers to do this critical work.

The film is the second in a series of new shorts from The Teacher Salary Project—a nonpartisan organization founded in 2010 by educator Nínive Calegari, Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Vanessa Roth, and best-selling author Dave Eggers. In 2011, The Teacher Salary Project produced the documentary, “American Teacher.” Now in its fifth year, the organization continues to raise awareness around the impact of our national policy of underpaying and undervaluing educators. The Teacher Salary Project remains committed to working with everyone in the country to ensure teaching becomes the prestigious, desirable, financially viable, and professionally exciting job we know it needs to be. 

Recently, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan introduced a plan to reduce prison spending and use the savings to spend directly on raising teachers’ salaries. By reducing prison spending by 21 percent across the country, we could double teachers’ salaries in low income schools. The impact of this proposal is clear: If teachers like Laney were appropriately compensated they would no longer need to work two and three jobs outside of the classroom. Instead of struggling to pay rent, they would be able to fully devote themselves to our nation’s children. 

“It makes me really upset to think I’m not giving them my best,” Laney says in the film. “I have so many other things that are going on. And I feel like what I give them now is amazing, because I won’t give them any less—but it can’t possibly be my best.” As the U.S. Department of Education continues to approve State Plans to Ensure Equitable Access to Excellent Educators (Equity Plans), the question of how to recruit and retain enough strong teachers for all students remains a high priority and this new film hopes to broaden the dialogue about the importance of pay in doing so.

The Teacher Salary Project plans to move forward with more films and initiatives to amplify and support teachers voices. The goal is simple: A nation where we pay our teachers what we think our students are worth. 

view the film

Quotes to Share from Kory's Short Film

Help us continue to spread the word about Kory's short film by sharing the images or quotes below with your friends!

"I see kids that are in the gap and I feel they would be more successful if they sat in a room, in a school, in a city, in a state, in a country—that really valued what was happening in the classroom" —Kory O'Rourke, High School Teacher via The Teacher Salary Project. bit.ly/KoryStory

• • •

"We are looking at students and telling them your learning matters, your education matters, but the people we entrust to give that to you, we're not going to value." –Kory O'Rourke, High School Teacher via The Teacher Salary Project. bit.ly/KoryStory

Why do teachers need side jobs to pay bills?

by Nínive Calegari
(from the August 31st San Francisco Chronicle)

San Francisco had its first day of school this month, and Kory O’Rourke, a San Francisco teacher, is still driving Lyft to make ends meet. O’Rourke loves her job as a teacher and says she lives “in fear that the bills won’t get paid.” Her story is not unusual, and teachers who don’t drive Lyft often take on other jobs, such as housekeeping, bartending and tutoring. This is happening at a time when San Francisco is scrambling to find classroom teachers, and teacher-training programs in California have declining enrollment.

In the last salary negotiations, the district offered very little and the union asked for only a bit more. The problem is, we’re thinking about this in the wrong way. As a society, we are stingy with our teachers. What might happen if, instead of paying teachers barely enough, we paid them what we believe our students are worth?

For starters, if teacher pay had kept pace with per pupil classroom spending, average pay in our country would be $120,000.

Imagine who might choose the profession, knowing that it came with a path of financial viability. Imagine college students staying up at night worrying whether they are good enough to teach the same way they worry about getting accepted to law school or medical school.

There is a lot we need to reform in schools, but until we stop skirting around the fact that the vow-of-poverty model deters young people from the classroom and drains those that are there, nothing else will matter. We can forget filling classrooms with well-trained teachers. Forget recruiting bilingual special needs, science and math teachers. Forget recruiting people of color or men. And, worst of all, forget about fighting poverty or being relevant in the international knowledge-based economy.

One refrain I hear from people (and even teachers themselves) over and over is that they don’t work for the money. The people who teach do so because “they love it.” And it’s true: It was why I went into teaching. At the start, the low pay felt like a badge of honor to my colleagues and me. Today, I think the model of underpaying teachers has run its course and I believe this badge of sacrifice is a rotten model on which to sustain a democracy.

So to be clear, I’m not suggesting we pay more for the same labor force with the same results. I’m talking about a world where good and great teachers have more good colleagues, where, because we have an army of talented educators, they enjoy professional norms, prestige, autonomy and trust.

I’m talking about a world where we act like education really is a cornerstone of democracy, and where we see teachers as the solution.

What might happen if we started paying for the work to do that? We know:

•Teachers want to give their all, but being financially stressed and moonlighting does not allow them to teach their best.
•A teacher’s working conditions are the same as the students’ learning conditions.
•The costs of not professionalizing this job will far outweigh the expenses of a fair wage.

Meanwhile, here in San Francisco, 100 percent of the housing is unaffordable on a teacher’s salary, and low salaries are not making the profession sustainable or attractive to students contemplating the field. The highest salary a San Francisco teacher can earn is $86K. Can we find ways to remake the profession into something committed college graduates can’t resist?

Watch our latest film

Meet Kory O’Rourke: a San Francisco resident, mom, Lyft driver, and a full time teacher. Kory started driving Lyft last year as a way to provide for her children. The salary she's making as a teacher is not enough to get by and not enough for a professional. 

Despite the hurdles in front of them, dedicated teachers do heroic work to bring a love of learning to their students. We are in awe of Kory, and all teachers like her, and we continue to be mad as hell that good teachers need second jobs. 

And these issues are not just in San Francisco. Teachers all over the country take on second jobs—driving for Lyft, bartending, housekeeping, working in a warehouse overnight—just to make enough money to stay in the classroom. No wonder we're seeing teacher shortages.

We hope Kory reminds you of the teachers who made you who you are today and we hope you join us in our indignation. 

Kory's film is kicking off our short film series about America's teachers and their importance to our shared peace and prosperity. We're debuting it today, her first day back at school. Please take a moment to watch Kory's film and share her story with your community.


Our guest of honor at this year's Summit was the inspiring, Brad Jupp, Mr. Jupp currently serves as a senior program advisor on teacher initiatives to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Mr. Jupp has fifteen years of teaching experience under his belt—and was instrumental in turning Denver Public Schools into the first major school district in the U.S. to pay teachers based on students' performance.

We pressed Mr Jupp on his work with the Denver schools, on national educational priorities, questions of pay and on elevating the perception of teachers in America. Mr. Jupp also participated in the day's strategy and brainstorming sessions, offering his invaluable experience to a whole host of activities.
We are so grateful for Mr. Jupp's participation and are excited to implement his ideas in our upcoming projects. We want to thank Mr. Jupp for making the trek to give our meeting real gravitas. Thank you!


What happens when you fill a conference room with education policy experts, teacher trainers, designers, film makers, legal experts, incredible teachers, and one senior advisor to Arne Duncan? And you give them all a bunch of coffee? A few weeks ago, we decided to find out. 
This year, TSP gathered all these amazing people together for our first-ever Summit. Experts came from all over the country for a day of intense brainstorming, strategizing, planning, and a literally too many "a-ha moments" to count. 

The entire group of folks (including Teachers of the Year, educators, a principal, political workers—even two attorneys and some rock stars) focused on ways to stay committed to the four key areas of the Teacher Salary Project: storytelling, advocacy, research and social justice while digging into projects that are measurable and attainable (and exciting!).
Stay tuned—this Summit generated a ton of great ideas and killer strategies—and we're excited to share them with you in the coming months.*
A huge thanks goes to all the participants, and especially Jim Wagstaffe for coming up with this idea and for making it a reality! 

*Spoiler alert: we have two films coming out very, very soon,and we think they will knock your socks off!

A "Sad, Alarming State of Affairs:" Why Can't We Find Enough Qualified Teachers?

from our newsletter:
Can you believe it? Summer has finally come to an end. While students are gearing up to return to schools all over the country, many districts can't find enough qualified applicants to fill teacher positions.

We are really feeling this out in California. According to The New York Times, California districts "have to fill 21,500 slots... while the state is issuing fewer than 15,000 new teaching credentials.”

Frank Bruni, in his op-ed “Can We Interest You in Teaching?” has this to say:
”It’s a sad, alarming state of affairs, and it proves that for all our lip service about improving the education of America’s children, we’ve failed to make teaching the draw that it should be, the honor that it must be.”
Here at The Teacher Salary Project, we're working hard to do something to change what it means to be a teacher in America. We advocate for the notion of paying teachers professionally, treating them professionally and changing the value our society places on this role. So, instead of scrambling to find any warm body to fill vacant teacher positions—we will be able to draw in the wonderful folks (of all races and genders!) that America's students deserve.


Elevating the Teaching Profession

by Ellen Behrstock-Sherratt
from Education Week 

March 21, 2014

In 2011, Secretary Duncan kicked off the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession. Education leaders from around the world meeting in New York City concluded that we need to elevate teaching's status. As the 4th annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession approaches in March, what do we have to say for ourselves? Most of the policies introduced since 2011 focus narrowly on teacher evaluation and college and career ready standards. The impact on teachers so far seems to be stress and burnout.

Yet, 2014 is looking brighter. Here are five trends in the U.S. that are elevating the teaching profession, and what you can do to give them teeth:

1. Teacher respect. The U.S. Department of Education has launched a resource for educators to participate in a national conversation on the teaching profession. The goal of RESPECT: Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching is to make teaching as valued and honored a profession as medicine, law, and engineering by lifting up the present cohort of accomplished teachers and recruiting in a new generation of well-prepared bright young men and women. What can you do? Check out the RESPECT initiative's tools to spark conversations.

2. Teacher leadership. More than 60 colleges now offer master's programs in teacher leadership, and eight states have developed teacher leader certifications or endorsements. Last week at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards "Teaching and Learning" Secretary Duncan announced the "Teach to Lead" initiative, which will expand the opportunities for teachers to be leaders without having to leave the classroom. What can you do? Teachers of the Year Josh Stumpenhorst and David Bosso offer suggestions.

3. Teacher voice. The movement to increase teacher voice is growing. A Center for American Progress report summarizes new organizations that, alongside teachers' unions and associations, are elevating teacher voice in policy. These organizations contribute to Education Week and other online media, place teacher leaders in high-level government positions, and serve on think-tank panels.What can you do? Read, listen, and join the conversation. Start with the new Teach Plusbook on teachers' perspectives on policy. The American Institutes for Research and Public Agenda Everyone at the Table resources provide tools for productive teacher-led conversations on controversial teacher quality policy.

4. Teacher pay. Whether teacher pay should be based on effectiveness ratings remains controversial, but most agree that the average teacher salary of $56,383 falls short. Officials in Hawaii have recently commissioned a statewide study of the adequacy of teacher salaries. Meanwhile, the Teacher Salary Project's Governors' Challenge aims to raise public awareness and political will to double teacher pay, and many state governors have come on board. What can you do? Sign on to this national movement!

5. Generation Y. These bright-eyed, bushy-tailed newbie teachers have inherited their Baby Boomer parents' idealism, optimism, and commitment to helping underprivileged students in particular. Gen Y'ers want to make their workplace better and make friends at work. Ninety percent want their workplace to be social and fun, and 71 percent want their coworkers to be like extended family. The down side? They are prone to job-hopping if they can't reach these aims. What can you do? Read our tips for supporting teachers from Generation Y and, watch our Gen Y videos , and spark discussions using our Gen Y discussion facilitator guide.

Why Teachers’ Salaries Should Be Doubled — Now

by Ninive Calegari
from The Washington Post - Answer Sheet blog

March 25, 2014

My friend Erik Benner, a Texas high history teacher by day, works nights and weekends hauling flooring supplies at a warehouse with a forklift. “Honestly, I am invested and I love what I do, but I am run down and exhausted. There aren’t enough hours in the day.” Teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, are wearing jeans to work to protest their low pay and high expectations. They recently threatened to stop writing college entrance recommendation letters to try to get the point across: they don’t want to be poor to do this important work and they do far more than an honest day’s job. Most teachers pay for their own graduate school and ongoing professional training, and over 92 percent buy supplies for their students out of their own pockets. But over the past few years, we’ve seen over 60 percent of teachers working second jobs, dining with their children at food banks, and even selling their blood to make ends meet. Examples of such financial stress and strain can be found in every state in the country; quality teachers are walking away from the profession, and salaries are part of the reason they leave.

Is this the way we want any of our teachers to live? Is this what we think will lead students to higher levels of achievement?

As the founder of the Teacher Salary Project, a nonpartisan organization devoted to elevating teachers’ pay, I’ve heard countless stories of professionals who have awards and recognition for their work, yet who feel forced for financial reasons to rethink their career. I interviewed a National Board Certified teacher who also won Teacher of the Year named Karina Colon. She recently left North Carolina for a job in Maryland to earn $12,000 more to support her family.

When we undervalue a profession, we also tell the next generation of bright educators they shouldn’t bother teaching—or that if they do, they must take a vow of poverty. And students pay a price: Teachers who spend nights and weekends working other jobs cannot possibly devote the necessary attention to their students or lesson plans. Even worse, talented college students who are passionate about teaching, but seeking a stable future, opt out before they even begin. No teacher should have a second job and teachers should struggle less financially so they can focus on their critical work in the classroom.

According to a McKinsey Study called “Closing the Talent Gap,” teachers’ salaries have declined for the past 40 years. In the past decade alone, salaries have decreased further in 30 states.  Had salaries grown proportionally to our classroom spending, the average salary would now be $120,000. Instead, a teacher’s starting salary is, on average, $39,000.  To some this might not sound so bad — but consider this: after 25 years of teaching, 25 years of professional experience, the average salary of a teacher is $67,000. That’s less than teachers would be receiving had they chosen to be a skycap at an airport ($75,000) or an insurance appraiser ($72,000). That’s not to take anything away from these other jobs, but what message does it send to the men and women who we entrust with our children’s education, well being, and safety that we don’t truly value their contributions? Do we really expect that top college graduates will choose this profession under these conditions?

There’s another way: Imagine a world in which teacher salaries are doubled—yes, doubled. Imagine the prestige and applicants that would bring to the profession. Highly motivated college graduates would more frequently ponder: “Internet start-up, research medicine, or my hometown high school?” Schools with chronic teacher shortages would see many more qualified applicants and dedicated teachers would not be compelled to leave the classroom in order to support their family.

That’s why the Teacher Salary Project launched the Governors’ Challenge, asking governors to take action to make a long-term investment in their students’ futures, in the form of truly sustainable teachers’ salaries. With a million current teachers retiring in the next six years, what we have is a unique opportunity to transform the profession and attract a new generation of top-notch educators. Governors have the power to spark real change in a way that our severely divided federal government does not.

Finding additional funding is never easy, of course, but districts and schools across the nation are having success with many different models. Helena, Montana, passed an early retirement plan. Denver passed a $25 million bond.  There’s a different solution for each state or district. Where there is a will, there is a way and it’s time for the top leaders in our 50 states to step up. Some are starting to do just that.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is proposing to raise minimum pay in Iowa from $28,000 to $35,000.  Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina wants to increase all starting salaries to $40,000, from less than $30,000 in some areas. Recently, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of West Virginia awarded all teachers a two percent raise with no strings attached, calling the teachers the “backbone of everything that makes our gardens grow.” Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee claims he’s going to have the fastest-rising salaries in the nation on the day he leaves office in 2015. Additionally, Governors Scott (FL), Martinez (NM), Patrick (MA), McCrory (NC), Bentley (AL), Abercrombie (HI) and Cuomo (NY) are seeking or have already found ways to raise teacher pay, but in some cases, in small amounts and for select groups.

Let’s not let these governors be the only ones trying to improve salaries for teachers and let’s not allow any governor to make minuscule or divisive changes. Join our grassroots movement by reaching out to your governor to ask him or her about their plans to boost pay to professional levels. Keep track of how your governor is faring on our interactive map. Let’s reward governors who do the right thing with our future votes and gratitude, and let’s say farewell to those who won’t.

Filmmaker Statement from Ninive Calegari

by Nínive Calegari, Producer of American Teacher
from the American Teacher screening kit

Even though I’ve watched our film countless times, unexpected moments still make me cry. This summer, during a screening at a teachers’ conference, I got teary watching a former English teacher named Gretchen Weber describe moving her two thousand novels from basement to basement in the hopes that she might still someday go back into the classroom. I couldn’t help but think of the boxes of original lesson plans and primary document materials in my own basement—like Gretchen, I keep them just in case I ever go back. Teaching wasn’t ever just a job for me; it was a way of life, and it shaped the way I still think about the magnificence and fragility of our democracy, an honest day’s work, creating community, and being responsible for other people. 
After receiving my master’s in Education and my teaching credentials, I taught in three different settings: a large urban public school, a large suburban public school, and a tiny public charter school, San Francisco’s first. There were huge differences in these settings in terms of resources: I was laid off from my first job due to a budget cut combined with our union’s “last in, first out” requirement; the second school was in a wealthy suburb with plenty of resources and meaningful professional training; and the charter school didn’t even have a building until a few weeks before the start of the year. 
What the three schools had in common, however, were superb faculties. I marveled at the teachers at those three schools: How David Sondheim knew the souls of every kid in the halls of Drake High. The way Jonathan Dearman brought an entire music department to our under-supplied charter school. The eye-popping science experiments that Sarah Kerley designed on a limited budget and with scrappy materials. I could go on and on. 
I witnessed firsthand how these creative, warm, hilarious, and intelligent teachers made sincere connections with students and provided inspiring lessons day after day, but I knew the outside world didn’t see what I saw, and I often felt and heard a very different impression about our profession. In 2003 I was thrilled to team up with Daniel Moulthrop and Dave Eggers to attempt to address this lack of awareness, and we wrote a book collecting vivid depictions of teachers’ lives. We interviewed hundreds of teachers about the complexities of their work, their passions for their profession, their frustrations with public conceptions of their value, and their financial struggles to make it all possible.

We talked with people who said they would have loved to go into teaching, but didn’t want to be undervalued professionally or scraping by financially. We also examined schools that had raised their teachers’ salaries and saw good results: increased applications for openings, increased teacher retention, increased graduation rates, and, yes, increased test scores. The book was well received, and yet, I wanted to speak to people beyond the educational community. American Teacher is our attempt to bring these stories to a wider audience. 
At the moment, we have a rare opportunity to fundamentally shape the future of the teaching profession. Over half of our nation’s teachers will be eligible to retire in the next ten years, and we can take advantage of this shift in personnel to spark a cultural shift as well. We have to make teaching a desirable profession, with fair pay, opportunities for professional growth, and acceptable conditions. I want to live in a country where collegestudents stay up at night wondering if they will be successful enough to become a teacher, the same way they worry about getting into medical school.  
Many people tell me that teachers aren’t motivated by money, and there’s a lot of truth to that; for many teachers, the job itself is the real reward. But that view overlooks the many long-term consequences of undervaluing a profession. Many college students want to teach but can’t see a financial and professional future in it. Of those who do take the leap, over half have to work second jobs outside the classroom. We can’t ask teachers to take a vow of poverty and then expect miraculous results. If we want a different future for our kids and grandkids, we need to give education reform the time, attention, and money that it demands and deserves.  
As we take this film from city to city, I often think about all those boxes of lesson plans stashed in my basement. I’m still in touch with many of my former students, but I miss the challenges and excitement unique to being in charge of a classroom of young people. I know many of my old colleagues feel the same way. For all of them, and especially for all the recent graduates currently considering the profession, I hope this film helps build support for vital change. Our kids and our country deserve the most talented, dedicated teachers available who can stay and thrive in the profession—and those teachers deserve our respect and fair pay.

Filmmaker Statement from Dave Eggers

by Dave Eggers, Producer of American Teacher
from the American Teacher screening kit

My mom was a teacher, and a lot of my good friends from high school and college became teachers. One of my best friends was a teacher in San Francisco when we were both in our twenties and living in the city. She lived down the street from me, and we would see each other often, and she would talk about her job, her students, her school. She was easily the most passionate and accomplished and adult among all of us twenty-somethings. I was happy for her, and for the students who had her as a teacher.  
But then, after about four years teaching, she had to quit. She couldn’t afford it. She had loans, she had expenses. She was living with a roommate in a small apartment, couldn’t afford her own place, couldn’t afford a car, couldn’t afford most of the things she needed. So she quit to sell educational software, and eventually went into real estate.  
So that was a lesson to me. Great teachers, born teachers, were leaving the profession because of the salaries and conditions. And over the years, through our 826 National centers, I’ve met dozens of other young teachers who were inspiring, gifted, and who left the profession. In most cases, it wasn’t just about the money. But money drives a lot of co-factors, like prestige, autonomy, and respect.  
So Nínive Calegari, Daniel Moulthrop and I put together the book Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers, allowing the teachers to tell their stories, what they love about their job and what makes their job unnecessarily difficult. 
After the book was published, a documentary seemed like a natural extension of the story. We could reach new audiences and update the stories of some of the teachers profiled in the book.  
The hope for the film now is to share the stories of actual teachers: what the job is really all about, how hard it is, and how many of the things we assume we know about the profession aren’t quite right. We’re in an unprecedented age of scrutiny for teachers, and much of the debate is shrill and misinformed. We’re hoping the movie presents a clear, sober picture of the lives of teachers, and can hint at a roadmap for improving conditions and retention.

The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

by Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari
from The New York Times 

May 1, 2011

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

We have a rare chance now, with many teachers near retirement, to prove we’re serious about education. The first step is to make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates. This will take some doing.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and Décor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again. Does this look like “A Plan,” either on the state or federal level?

We’ve been working with public school teachers for 10 years; every spring, we see many of the best teachers leave the profession. They’re mowed down by the long hours, low pay, the lack of support and respect.

Imagine a novice teacher, thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher. For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools — especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest — is devastating.

But we can reverse course. In the next 10 years, over half of the nation’s nearly 3.2 million public school teachers will become eligible for retirement. Who will replace them? How do we attract and keep the best minds in the profession?

People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.

Can we do better? Can we generate “A Plan”? Of course.

The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.

McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.

For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.