Teachers Matter: Recruit. Retain. Repeat.

by | Mar 13, 2019

The school days seem long this time of year for a teacher. Especially, as the days stay cold and the stresses of testing begin peeking around the corner. For Kentucky teachers, this time of year has coincided with rhetoric and action from the state Capitol that leaves them wondering why.

Why teach?

After checking out social media posts with the hashtag #WhyITeach, you will see many images of teachers who love inspiring students and watching them grow. What you won’t see? Paychecks or dollar signs in their pictures of praising the profession.

We know that teachers are one of, if not the most important factor in closing achievement gaps and ensuring excellence with equity. Talented teachers who connect with their students are vital for a vibrant educational system. Retaining talent comes at a cost, even for teachers.

Under traditional teacher compensation policies, education and experience determine a teacher’s pay. Most districts utilize an education attainment and experience-level based salary schedule that locks teachers into a set pay amount. Teachers can receive supplemental pay for special duties on top of their teaching responsibilities, such as serving as a department chair, mentoring younger teachers, or sponsoring an extracurricular activity.

But what if there was an alternative system that was redesigned from the ground up to keep the best and brightest teachers in the classrooms that need them most?

The biggest issue facing districts is a supply and demand imbalance. Notably, despite the highest salary schedule for teachers in the state, Jefferson County can’t recruit teachers to their neediest classrooms. Other areas of the state can’t find highly-qualified teachers for key disciplines like science, math, and foreign languages. This problem requires additional study from Education Professional Standards Board and the Kentucky Department of Education to identify the inefficiencies the teacher supply is causing the state.

If Kentucky can identify the high-need schools and positions, districts should begin active recruitment for the profession in high school. New initiatives like Educators Rising offer hope, especially in recruiting candidates from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, districts should look to build the capacity to offer recruitment or signing bonuses for teachers in high need areas to help reset the supply imbalance.

Next, the state must begin defining effectiveness, which is a sticky point for administrators, teachers, and policy makers. Most teachers would prefer test scores not be the only determining factor for their pay. And administrator evaluations can muddy the effectiveness picture, especially if interschool politics factor into their paychecks. But the traditional model of education level and years of experience does not fully capture the picture of effectiveness.

Student growth ratings should be included, as should many of the elements that were implemented in the original Professional Growth and Effectiveness System that Kentucky used for teacher evaluations for a brief time. With these decisions now pushed to the local districts, teachers, administrators, and policy makers need to take time to define teacher effectiveness in a meaningful way.

As a final piece to retaining teaching talent, additional professional advancement opportunities need to be created for teachers to have a path to boost earnings outside of entering school administration. We should provide room for multi-classroom leaders or expert teachers, like what has been defined by Opportunity Culture and DC’s LIFT and ImpactPlus programs and reward teachers for going above and beyond through programs like KY CTEPS (Classroom Teachers Enacting Positive Solutions), which engages teachers in meaningful professional development to solve problems that they see in their schools, classrooms, or districts.

The underlying theme of these proposals is the fact that additional funding would be needed to implement any of them successfully. But education funding has flatlined and even declined in some areas in Kentucky over the last few years. With renewed investment into the education system, however, paths to the neediest classrooms and higher pay can become clearly illuminated for teachers.

The fact that these paths did not exist pushed me out of the classroom. I didn’t want to become a school administrator. Yet, I wanted to have a larger impact beyond the four walls of my classroom.

It’s not too late to make the investment. The future of the state’s jobs and economy depend on it.


Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.

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