Where Should Teachers Go?

The best and worst places to teach in America

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Update: An earlier version of this post included incorrect cost-of-living estimates from the National Council on Teacher Quality. The cost-of-living estimates for various cities, and therefore the estimates of overall adjusted lifetime earnings for teachers in those cities and time it takes to reach those salaries, have been updated. We regret the error.

Columbus, Ohio. That’s where American teachers should go if they want the most financial stability over their lifetimes, according to a new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The report looks at 2013-2014 teacher salary data from 113 U.S. school districts, including the 50 largest districts in the country and the largest district in each state.

Best Places to Be a Teacher in the U.S.
Data: National Council on Teacher Quality

This chart only includes the calibrated lifetime pay—earnings over 30 years, adjusted for cost-of-living expenses—for the average public school teacher. Some school districts report variations in earnings based on different performance benchmarks—standardized in this study as “average,” “above average,” or “exemplary.” Each of those districts’ salary levels are ranked separately. Taking those variations into account, Pittsburgh would be first on the list—but only for exemplary teachers, who make $2.74 million in adjusted lifetime earnings, while the city’s above-average teachers would rank sixth, with $2.25 million. Similarly, exemplary teachers from Washington, D.C.’s school district would be second on the overall ranking, with $2.64 million in adjusted lifetime earnings, while salaries for above-average and average teachers from the city fall lower on the list, to 13 and 32, respectively.

It's worth noting that the rankings do not take into account benefits and incentives, which vary widely across states and districts. There’s also no reliable way to measure whether the differences in pay have an effect on student performance since achievement is measured differently across state lines, says Nancy Waymack, managing director for district policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality.

But, according to Waymack, knowing how much money a teacher is going to make over the course of 30 years is valuable in planning for a career and family, and the prospect of an attractive long-term earnings trajectory could help bring high-quality teachers to a district.

Another important factor is the cost of living in the area. Sure, teachers make more in New York City public schools up front, but Columbus has a much lower cost of living. That means New York’s maximum pay equates to only $23,200 in buying power, compared with $100,400 for Columbus teachers at the top of the pay grade, according to the council's findings.

Nationwide, the maximum teacher salary is worth about $71,000 after adjusting for cost-of-living differences. According to the report, it takes Columbus teachers about 11 years to achieve that level of buying power, and New York teachers more than 30 years.

In fact, with the average teacher earning a cost-adjusted $1.37 million over 30 years, New York is by one measure one of the worst places in the country to be a teacher.

Worst Places to Be a Teacher in the U.S.
Data: National Council on Teacher Quality