University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Archive for 2019|Yearly archive page

Class Size and Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on January 23, 2019 at 2:03 pm

Class size has been in the news a lot this week as teachers striking in LA Unified identified reducing class sizes and raising salaries as two of the main issues. This got us wondering- how large ARE the classes in LAUSD, and how do they compare to class sizes in Arkansas?

In LAUSD, the average class size was 25.3, and minimum teacher salary is $50,368.  

In Arkansas, the average class size was 15.6, and minimum teacher salary is $31,800.

If we think about this on a per-student level, on average, a new teacher with a BA in LA would get $1,991 per student, while a beginning teacher with a BA in Arkansas would get $2,038.  And that’s not adjusting for the cost of living difference between here and there!

There’s BIG differences in per-student teacher salaries throughout Arkansas, with Nemo Vista being the highest paying district in Arkansas, on a per-student level. A new teacher in Nemo Vista makes $31,980 (only $180 more than the legal minimum) but the average class size is 8 students, meaning that the teacher is paid (in theory) nearly $4,000 per kid!

It’s so confusing! We want smaller classes AND higher salaries for teachers. Last week, we discussed teacher salaries around the state and how the proposed increase in minimum teacher salaries would affect teachers (relatively few) and students (probably won’t). This week, we have a new data visualization presenting minimum teacher salaries in each district throughout the state.

You can interact with the map by selecting specific districts or using the sliders to limit to ranges of minimum teacher salary, average class sizes, or % FRL. Additional information regarding each district’s academic achievement and growth percentile, average and maximum teacher salaries, as well as per pupil expenditure is included. If you just want the data- you can grab it at our website here.

salary viz


Last week we brought up how teacher salary is related to average class size, so here’s a simple visual of average class size and minimum teacher salary for districts in the state. In Arkansas, higher paying districts have larger class sizes.

Figure 1. Average class size and minimum teacher salary, by district.

cs and salary

We wondered if class size was the same across different types of schools. Nationally, elementary schools have lower average class sizes than middle or high schools (21 students per class compared to 26 at the higher levels).  We made some quick charts to check out if the same is true here. We found that, in Arkansas, Elementary schools have the largest class sizes, and High Schools have the smallest average classes.

  • Elementary schools have an average class size of 18.4 students per class.  Values range from 10 to 25, and schools with higher FRL rates generally have smaller classes.
  • Middle schools, with an average of 16.4 students per class, land in the middle of elementary and high schools with regard to class size.  Values range from 6 to 25, and schools with higher FRL rates usually have smaller classes.
  • High schools have an average of 10.8 students per class.  Values range from 4 to 20, but high schools don’t demonstrate a strong relationship between average class size and school FRL rates.

Figure 2. Average class size for Elementary Level schools by % FRL.

es class size

Figure 3. Average class size for Middle Level schools by % FRL.

ms class size

Figure 4. Average class size for High schools by % FRL.

hs class size

So- the good news is that across Arkansas students are in very small classes relative to their peers in LA across the country, which some research has linked to greater student achievement.  We think we should like how even smaller class sizes are showing up in schools serving more at-risk populations. Given Arkansas’ relatively small class sizes, our teachers should be able to give students quality opportunities to learn and grow every day.

The downside of such small class sizes, however, is that they contributes to lower teacher salaries.  This is because funding is provided to school districts on a per-pupil basis, so if a district has an average of 10 kids in each class there just isn’t enough funding to pay the same salaries that a district with an average of 20 kids in each class can.  It’s not a direct relationship, however, with starting salaries ranging over $10,000 among districts with the same average class size.

Higher teacher salaries and lower class sizes both sound great, but evidence of positive outcomes for students is unclear and large costs are associated with both choices.  Local school boards set the salary schedule for their teachers, and we think the decisions about how high to make teacher salaries, and how large to make classes, should be done strategically with careful consideration of resource allocation and district and community goals.

Raising Teacher Salaries

In The View from the OEP on January 16, 2019 at 1:26 pm

As the legislative session began this week, Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, introduced a bill that would raise the minimum public school teacher salary in Arkansas from $31,800 to $36,000 over the next four years. Here at OEP we expect the bill to pass, but suggest that while the $60 million investment will lead to greater financial stability for teachers in the affected districts, it likely won’t increase outcomes for their students.

We pulled together some information about which school districts would be raising their salaries and how many teachers would be affected by the raises. We then ask the most important question (at least to us)- “Will raising teacher salaries benefit students?” To get an idea, we looked into the relationship in Arkansas between teacher salaries and teacher supply and turnover, as well as student outcomes of achievement and academic growth.

Which school districts would be affected?

According to the latest teacher salary analysis from the ADE, 33 school districts currently pay the minimum salary for a first year teacher. These districts pay $31,800 to a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree, and $36,450 to a teacher with a Master’s degree. While salaries increase in one-third of these districts, 22 districts continue to pay the minimum salary for teachers with 15 years experience: $38,550 to a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree, and $43,950 to a teacher with a Master’s.

Figure 1: Districts Paying the Minimum Salary, 2017-18.


There are an additional 51 districts that are paying more than the minimum salary, but less than the salary proposed in the bill ($32,800) These districts would have to increase their salaries to meet that proposed minimum.

How many teachers would get raises?

About 2,500 teachers work in the 33 districts that pay a minimum starting salary.  That’s 6.5% of teachers in the state. An additional 4,200 work in districts that would need to raise their salary to meet the new minimum, which means 18% of teachers could see raises.

Would the raises help recruit and retain teachers?

There is good research that recruiting high-quality teachers and retaining them can have a positive effect on students’ learning, but would raising minimum salaries in Arkansas salaries help recruit and retain teachers?

OEP research on Arkansas Teacher Supply found that beginning teacher salary was not a significant predictor of teacher supply.  While districts paying the highest teacher salaries reported receiving more teacher applications than lower paying ones, once other factors like district location were taken into consideration, teacher salary had no effect on the number of applications recieved per open teaching position.

The Arkansas Department of Education has developed a measure of workforce stability for each district. We compared the measure between districts paying the minimum salary and districts paying more, and found a slight difference (minimum =86.9% and higher paying districts= 89.9%). There was also just a slight correlation between base salary and the stability index (r=0.18), so it doesn’t seem that raising the minimum salary would have an impact on the stability of the teacher workforce at the school.

Would teacher raises help kids learn more?

We dug into the relationship between starting teacher salary and student outcomes like academic achievement and academic growth, and found essentially no relationship. Kids in Arkansas learn (or don’t) regardless of the district salary schedule.

For academic achievement, as measured by the 2017-18 ACT Aspire scores, districts with the minimum salary had achievement scores ranging from better than 98 percent of districts statewide to worse than 73 percent. As presented in the figure below, there was a low correlation between achievement and beginning teacher salary (r=0.28), indicating that paying teachers more doesn’t translate into higher test scores for students.

Figure 2: District Starting Salary and Student Achievement, 2017-18.

salary ach

For (our favorite!) academic growth, there was also little relationship with minimum teacher salary.  As we have discussed before, growth is measured by the 2017-18 ACT Aspire scores and reflects how much students improved compared to how much we thought they would improve based on their prior test scores. Districts with the minimum salary had growth scores ranging from better than 99 percent of districts statewide to worse than 77 percent.

As presented in the figure below, there was a low correlation between achievement and beginning teacher salary (r=0.26), indicating that paying teachers more doesn’t translate into better academic growth for students.

Figure 3: District Starting Salary and Student Academic Growth, 2017-18.

salary growth

We want to shout out the districts with the top 5% of growth in the state.  We are including the beginning teacher salary so you can see for yourself how varied pay is among these high-growth districts. We also include the district % FRL and average class size to demonstrate that high student academic growth can happen anywhere!

district salary growth

Hooray for the teachers in these districts that are getting it done for kids!  It’s also important to note that the highest paying districts in the list have the largest average class sizes. This reflects what OEP’s teacher salary research found- that class size was one of the most important factors in teacher pay.

In summary, here at OEP we understand that raising teacher salaries is popular, but suggest that while the $60 million investment will lead to greater financial stability for the teachers in the affected districts, it likely won’t increase outcomes for their students. 


Q and A about Arkansas teacher salaries

Q: What is the average teacher salary in Arkansas?

  • $49,615 was the average salary for classroom teachers in Arkansas for school districts including charters (2016-17).

Q: Are teacher salaries in Arkansas higher or lower than in other states?

  • Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 40th in the nation but increases to 22nd after adjusting for our state’s low cost of living.
  • Compared to surrounding states, Arkansas’s average teacher salary ranks 3rd, moving up to 2nd among our neighbors after adjusting for cost of living.

Q: Where does the money for teacher salaries come from?

  • Arkansas schools are funded through a funding matrix, which determines the per-student cost of an adequate education. In 2016-17, all schools received $6,646 per student, of which 69% was associated with salaries and benefits for classroom teachers, pupil support staff, school principal, and school secretary. At this funding level, the average teacher salary (and 25% for benefits) could be covered by a class of 13 students. It is important to note, however, that although there is a matrix for funding, there is no matrix for spending, and districts can allocate the funds as they choose.

Q: Who decides how much teachers get paid?

  • Teacher salaries in Arkansas are determined by local school boards. There is a minimum salary enacted by Arkansas Code § 6-17-2403 ($31,400 for 2017-18). The minimum salary has increased in each of the last four years, and the vast majority of districts in the state (87%) pay higher salaries than legally required.  Arkansas teachers typically receive an increase in salary each year and additional increases for further education credits.

Q: What kinds of districts pay higher teacher salaries?

  • Given that districts all receive the same per-pupil funding from the state (read more here), we wondered WHY districts were paying teachers such different salaries. Even after we controlled for differences in experience and education of teachers, and median income of counties, there were still substantial variations in pay between districts. You can read the details in the full report or shorter brief, but we found that districts with lower student : teacher ratios paid lower salaries. In a district that employs 50 teachers, if each teacher’s class was increased by one student, the average teacher salary would be expected to increase by about $1,815, holding all other factors equal.