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Teacher Pension Reform

Can It Contribute to More Effective Elementary and Secondary School Teaching?

SOURCE: AP/Alex Brandon

Fourth graders listen to their teacher, Mianca Delatte, at Fischer Elementary charter school on the first day of school for charter schools in New Orleans, Monday, August 7, 2006.

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Elementary and secondary school teachers are the most important classroom resource for improving student achievement. The search for ways to ensure our students have consistent access to effective teachers focuses, among other things, on teacher compensation, including on the deferred compensation meant for post-retirement income. With the release of two new papers, the Center for American Progress offers two views on that debate, with the goal of refocusing the discourse on evidence and spurring a more analytical conversation.

In “Redefining Teacher Pensions: Strategically Defined Benefits for New Teachers and Fiscal Sustainability for All,” CAP’s Associate Director for Education Research Raegen Miller argues that defining pension benefits for new teachers using a so-called cash-balance approach would facilitate other changes to teacher compensation and bolster the caliber of the teaching workforce.

In “Buyer Beware: The Risks to Teacher Effectiveness from Changing Retirement Benefits,” CAP Senior Fellow Christian Weller uses statistical simulations to estimate how changes to pension policy might affect the strength of the teaching workforce, concluding that the shift to a cash-balance approach could have unintended consequences.

Although these two papers use different approaches to reach somewhat different conclusions, we at CAP believe the publication of both of these papers is an important step in fostering thoughtful debate about how to reform teacher compensation, and specifically teacher pensions. Their release highlights the dearth of knowledge about the relationship between teacher compensation policies and teacher efficacy. More research is needed, to be sure, but in the meantime, we hope these two papers will provide tools useful for raising questions and injecting progressive voices into the debate.

Cynthia G. Brown is Vice President for Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. Sarah Rosen Wartell is the Executive Vice President at the Center.

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