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New Report Based on Flawed Assumptions

NEA Urges Teacher Retention, Pension, and Salary Policies Based on Current Realities


WASHINGTON - January 29, 2009 -

A report released today by the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia on their ability to recruit, retain and evaluate teachers.    

While NEA agrees with several aspects of The 2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook’s conclusions, such as the need to expand high-quality teacher induction programs in order to reduce teacher turnover, NCTQ’s underlying assumptions about quality teaching, how to grow it, support it, and measure it, are seriously flawed.

NEA has and continues to advocate for strong policies that promote recruiting and retaining effective teachers, which are the cornerstone of a high quality education for all students. Unfortunately, while this report claims to provide an in-depth analysis of the retention of effective new teachers, in reality, it oversimplifies the impact of state policies on teacher recruitment and retention. 

“Improving state policies to recruit, retain, and reward quality teachers is essential if we are to offer a great public school to every student, but growing, supporting, and assessing good teaching is a far more complex process than this report indicates,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. 

For example, NCTQ offers a definition of teacher effectiveness centered on student scores on standardized tests.  Van Roekel emphasizes that “test scores are imperfect measures of student learning and are even worse measures of teacher effectiveness.  What a teacher does with her students, how she relates to them, and how she translates her subject knowledge into effective teaching practice are all the central measures of quality teaching.  When teachers do these things well their students have the best opportunities to learn.” 

Moreover, the report overlooks some of the key elements to recruiting and retaining teachers who can meet the needs of the 21st century. NCTQ’s Summary Grade Chart indicates that schools are incapable of attracting and retaining quality teachers. “There is no consideration paid to schools’ ability to treat and respect their teachers as professionals, which we know is one of the key factors that influences whether talented people are attracted to teach and remain in teaching.  Such respect is manifested through professional pay, retirement security, and fair working conditions that are best determined by teachers and their representatives at the local and state level,” said Van Roekel.  “That must be made clear at the local, state, and federal level if our schools are to improve.”

The report fails to mention an obvious solution to teacher recruitment and retention—raising teacher pay to ensure that students who choose teaching are able to repay their student loans, meet the needs of their families, and have a paycheck that is comparable to that which their peers in similarly skilled professions receive. It also includes conflicting advice on teacher pay methods.

“On one hand the report recommends that we should throw out the single salary schedule and other similar ‘regulations,’ while on the other hand it warns that we should recognize the limitations of alternative pay systems that are based on performance. When one takes both of these conflicting messages into account, what NCTQ seems to suggest is that we should simply experiment with our teachers (and therefore our students) until something is determined to be effective.”

With regard to retirement security, the NCTQ's recommendations on teacher pensions are both misguided and based on an inaccurate understanding of this crucial aspect of teacher compensation.  For example, the Yearbook recommends that states should provide the option of a defined contribution plan as teachers’ primary pension plan.

NEA's research shows that when teachers have the option of choosing which plan they prefer, they choose defined benefit plans almost 94 percent of the time. Contrary to what the report would have us believe, defined contribution plans are inadequate to meet teachers' retirement needs,  and more costly than a traditional defined benefit pension plan to the state, as the West Virginia experience shows.

“Millions of Americans in the private sector are reeling from losses to their retirement funds in defined contribution plans such as 401 (k)s.  NCTQ is saying that more people should have this option? It’s too risky, especially in today’s economic climate,” said Van Roekel.  “Our teachers need a retirement they can depend on after their years of service in our schools.  We know defined benefit plans will provide that for them.”

For more information on NEA’s retirement security initiatives, please go to NEA Retirement Security Resources

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 2.8 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Sara Robertson
 (202) 822-7823, srobertson@nea.org