Redefining Teacher Pensions: Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teachers and Fiscal Sustainability for All

Raegen Miller
Publication Date: 
September 30, 2011

Teachers are the most important school-based resource affecting student achievement. Few would argue with this statement, or that the future competitiveness of the U.S. economy requires improved academic results from public schools, including those serving predominantly low-income students and students of color. These facts should inform an array of changes to policies around the licensing of teachers and their performance evaluations, tenure, and compensation.

As a facet of compensation, teacher pension policy should be subject to the outcome- and equity-oriented workforce goals of broader teacher reform programs. Teacher pension policy should help attract to teaching especially promising college graduates and career-changers—candidates with combinations of cognitive and noncognitive characteristics known to predict the future effectiveness of teachers. Pension policy should also attract candidates with expertise in shortage subject areas, such as math and science, as well as encourage especially effective teachers to remain in the profession and to work in the schools with the greatest needs. 

Yet pension policy is not a potent lever, on its own, for serving these workforce goals. Pensions, a matter of deferred compensation, represent a relatively small slice of total teacher compensation. The trick, then, lies in identifying pension policies that enable, catalyze, reinforce, or complement other policies sharing the goals of improving the overall quality of the teacher labor force and creating greater equity in the distribution of teaching talent.