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An Exploratory Analysis of the Content and Availability of State Administrative Data on Teacher Compensation
NCES 2008-601
April 2008

Executive Summary


Salaries and benefits for instruction are the largest component of school operating costs for public schools (U.S. Department of Education 2007). The level and structure of this compensation can play an important role in the recruitment and retention of a high-quality teaching workforce. Thus, detailed and reliable data on teacher pay and benefits are important in making informed education policy. Unfortunately, available data do not readily permit reliable comparisons of teacher pay between states or accurate estimates of changes over time. While the sophistication of data systems maintained by states is growing rapidly, no systematic inventory of state-level data collection on teacher compensation has been undertaken. This report identifies state education agencies (SEAs) that maintain records on pay for public school teachers, the comparability of these records, and whether the data might be available to the research community.

Selected Findings

Based on a initial feedback from 40 SEAs, follow-up telephone conversations, and internet searches, the following was found:

  • At least 34 states maintain teacher-level records with earnings and other teacher characteristics, such as teacher demographics, experience, and educational attainment, that are linkable over time (figure 1).
  • At least 25 states indicate a willingness to share these data with researchers using appropriate confidentiality safeguards (figure 2).
  • Most states with teacher salary data also collect basic employment data, such as job title (100 percent) and full-time-equivalent (FTE) status (91 percent) (derived from figure 5).

It is feasible to use teacher employment and compensation data collected by SEAs to conduct large multistate comparative studies of teacher pay. These studies would not only permit overall comparisons of pay, but also comparisons of teacher pay at various points along typical career trajectories (e.g., bachelor's degree with no experience, master's degree with 10 years' experience), with breakdowns by teacher demographics and state or district characteristics.

For research purposes, data on teacher characteristics and pay from pension systems are likely inferior to data in SEA systems. Because their primary focus is on calculating retirement benefits, pension funds do not uniformly collect some data elements, such as teaching experience and educational attainment, in a manner that would allow for comparisons of teacher compensation.