Three Essays on Teacher Labor Markets

Mahler, Lynn Patten Priestley, Economics - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Turner, Sarah, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Friedberg, Leora, Department of Economics, University of Virginia
Wyckoff, James, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Teachers are an important piece of the education production function. How teachers vary in both their effectiveness and in their distribution across schools has large ramifications on student outcomes. These three chapters uncover how specific policies have affected teacher labor markets by altering characteristics of the group of teachers in the workforce and the allocation of teachers to different types of schools.

In the first chapter I explore how public school teachers respond to the incentives embedded in North Carolina’s retirement system. Like most public-sector retirement plans, North Carolina’s teacher pension implicitly encourages teachers to continue working until they are eligible for their pension benefits, and then leave soon afterward. Given that salaries are generally fixed by the state, I find that pension benefit eligibility subsumes most of the variation in pension wealth, making these eligibility thresholds the major facet driving retirement behavior. I find that teacher retirements are quite responsive to pension incentives; furthermore, these incentives generally prevail over non-pecuniary benefits of continued teaching such as working conditions and teacher effectiveness.

The second chapter is an extension of the first. I investigate the effects of a return-to-work policy that allowed North Carolina retired teachers to receive pension benefits along with a full-time salary. Using a hazard model I find that this policy had the unintended effect of increasing retirement rates by 16 percent for those eligible to receive their pension. Additionally, pension-eligible teachers who have not retired have exit rates twice as high as returning retirees. I find that this return-to-work policy was beneficial on two fronts: attracting higher quality teachers back to the profession and filling vacancies in high-poverty schools.

The third chapter describes the ways in which New York City teacher labor markets changed after sweeping changes were made to education policies. In particular, uncertified teachers, who made up over half of the entering workforce, were eliminated entirely and a new alternative certification pathway was created called the New York City Teaching Fellows. We describe how the certification and school placement of Teaching Fellows changed from initially supplying childhood-certified teachers in high-poverty elementary schools to supplying teachers of hard-to-staff subjects (math, science, English as a second language, and special education) across a wider variety of school levels and student populations. Our analysis suggests that this alternative pathway to teaching was able to meet the changing demands of the New York City school system more quickly than traditional certification pathways.

Taken as a whole, these essays describe how changing incentives for teacher recruitment and retention has the potential to bring about large effects on the teacher workforce and the distribution of teachers across schools. These analyses highlight important intended and unintended effects that inform education policies going forward.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
education, labor markets, public policy, retirement
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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