A Review of State Teacher Policies

What Are Their Effects, and What Are Their Implications for School Finance?
Susanna Loeb
Stanford Graduate School of Education
Luke C. Miller
University of Virginia


This work was conducted for the California school finance and governance project, Getting Down to Facts: A Research Project to Inform Solutions to California’s Education Problems.

California and states across the nation are attempting to meet the challenge of staffing classrooms with high quality teachers. Each state has designed and implemented a web of policies targeted at teachers—from regulations on teacher education programs and certification to salary structures and recruitment and retention incentives. Despite the plethora of teacher policies, little is known about the variation in the specifics of the policies across states, their effects on teacher quality or student outcomes, or their implications for school finance. This study seeks to fill some of these knowledge gaps by detailing and reviewing a large number of teacher policies across all fifty states and the District of Columbia. It also describes, more generally, what research tells us about teacher labor markets and promising approaches for strengthening the teacher workforce.

This report collects information on state teacher policies in the following eight broad areas.

  • Pre-service training policies cover state accreditation requirements for teacher preparation programs regarding minimum subject matter coursework and field and clinical experiences as well as measures by which states hold the programs accountable for the quality of the teacher candidates they train.

  • Licensure and certification policies address the authority of state professional standards boards, required teacher assessments for initial licensure, second-stage license requirements, alternative routes to certification, and state implementation of the highly qualified teacher provision of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

  • Tenure policies detail the processes through which teachers transition from probationary to non-probationary status and their due process rights.

  • Professional development policies detail professional development requirements, induction and mentoring programs, and teacher performance evaluations.

  • Recruitment, retention, and assignment incentives policies common among states include tuition support, loan assumption, salary bonuses, and housing assistance. State incentives for teachers to complete the National Board for Professional Teacher Standards (NBPTS) certification process are also reviewed.

  • Salary structure policies encompass state-level minimum salary schedules and output-based pay structures such as career ladders, merit pay, and pay-for-performance programs.

  • Teacher association policies speak to teachers’ collective bargaining rights as well as related right-to-work laws.

  • Teacher retirement policies center on the teacher retirement systems and detail system management, membership in the system, mandatory contribution rates, service requirements for vesting and benefits, calculation of retirement benefits, and health insurance coverage.

By pulling together information on all eight policy areas across the fifty states and the District of Columbia, the report characterizes the state-level context in which schools and districts operate. State statutes and regulations are the primary source of data on teacher policies. Other sources of data include NASDTEC’s Knowledgebase database, Education Week’s Quality Counts 2005, individual state websites, and state policy summaries by the Education Commission of the States.

The paper is laid out in three sections. It begins by providing an overview of teacher labor markets in general and reviews the recent dynamics in California. Next, it discusses each of the eight policy areas in turn. For each area, it presents California’s approach and then compares it with approaches taken by other states. Conclusions from this review of state policies and the effectiveness literature include the following examples.

  • States’ role in teacher labor markets is neither small nor simple. States have passed bundles of laws that reach into every aspect of the teacher workforce. California is not an exception.

  • While states have implemented a slew of policies, they have systematically evaluated very few of them. If this approach does not change, we will be in no better position to choose effective policies in the future than we are today.

  • The current structure of salary schedules presents several problems. First, it tends to treat all schools in a district in the same way. This creates a situation in which the appeal of a school for teachers is based solely on working conditions. Since teachers, on average, express preference for higher scoring students, this policy disadvantages schools with the lowest performing students. In addition, current salary structures treat all specialization in teaching equally, making it more difficult to attract teachers to fields such as math and science that have good alternative occupational opportunities or to fields such as special education or bilingual education that require either additional training or additional effort during employment.

  • While typical salary structures do not include incentives based on teacher performance, the research to date is not clear as to whether such incentives are beneficial or not. The research does show that it is difficult to design and monitor an effective system that creates appropriate incentives for teachers.

  • There is substantial evidence that while some professional development and more formal education can improve teacher effectiveness, generic credits do not. For example, teachers with master's degrees are, on average, no more effective than those without. However, teachers who participate in some sustained professional development that is linked closely to the work that they do in their classrooms, do, on average, become more effective. There is little evidence on the effects of preservice education requirements. That which does exist is mixed, some finding positive effects and some no effects. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that preservice requirements affect the pool of potential teachers. Early entry (intern) routes into teaching with reduced preservice coursework tend to attract a larger pool of candidates. We have a lot to learn about which requirements improve teaching and which deter good teachers from entering the classroom; the evidence so far suggests that policies that address these factors can have substantial impacts because they affect both the pool of teachers and the experiences that these teachers bring with them into the classroom.

  • Teacher tenure in California occurs earlier in teachers’ careers than it does in most states. While there is no evidence that we know of concerning the effects of early tenure on student outcomes directly, there are indications that this policy is problematic for districts and schools in the state. In theory, schools and districts can dismiss tenured teachers with poor evaluations, yet we currently know very little about teacher evaluation procedures, the evaluation clauses in teacher contracts, or how these affect teacher assessment and career trajectories.

In considering specific policy approaches it can be useful to think more broadly about the role of the state in the teacher workforce. Perhaps the outstanding issue in state teacher policy is how interventionist states should be in determining the allocation of resources related to teachers within districts and schools. One role of the state is to coordinate across districts, perhaps adjusting for differences in needs or providing information and resources that districts would not be able to attain on their own. The role for the state within districts is less clear and varies more across states. Districts, left on their own, often have done poorly at allocating teacher resources across schools. Schools with the lowest scoring students and the highest proportions of nonwhite students and students in poverty often employ less experienced teachers and those with lesser qualifications. State and even federal policies can help reduce these differences, either through incentive programs that are directed at teachers or by greater incentives on districts to insure that evident differences in teacher resources disadvantaging the lowest achieving students do not persist. California, for example, targets incentives to attract national board-certified teachers to difficult-to-staff schools. There is some evidence from North Carolina that monetary incentives can extend teachers' stay in schools; however, there is less evidence on whether these types of incentives can attract new teachers to these schools.

State policy does more than address the differences across districts and across schools within districts. California, for example, has mandated a number of professional development programs. It also has a minimum salary level, though this is not binding in most districts. The direct involvement of the state in within-district resource allocation could be beneficial if the state (1) has better information than school or district leaders about what policies and practices would benefit students; (2) has a greater ability to regulate the implementation of policies and practices that would benefit students; or (3) has goals for students that are more in keeping with residents’ goals. There may be cases in which this is the case and cases in which this is not the case. Having the information to assess the extent to which a state role is warranted would put us in a much better position to design and implement effective policies to attract, develop, and retain the most effective teachers.

Suggested citationLoeb, S., & Miller, L. C. (2006, December). A review of state teacher policies: What are they, what are their effects, and what are their implications for school finance? [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.