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At MPS, data on teachers raise resource-equity questions

North High classroom
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Are resources being distributed equitably, and would a realignment in which the money more faithfully followed students, and not teachers, create incentives for wealthier schools to try to serve more challenged students?

In a culture that has historically regarded every conversation about resources as a zero-sum game, the topic of equity has a tendency to be painful for the have-nots and frightening for the haves.

Nowhere is this more true than in Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). And nowhere in the district is it more red hot than when it comes to the issue of teacher assignment and compensation.

As in every other school district in the country, state and federal funds are supposed to follow students, with extra money directed to schools that have concentrations of kids who arrive with multiple challenges.

Yet a MinnPost analysis of 2012-2013 MPS salary data shows the teachers with the highest salaries clustered in the wealthiest, whitest schools. These are the teachers with the most experience and the most advanced degrees. Meanwhile the lowest paid, least experienced are concentrated in the district’s most challenged schools.

The most common question prompted by this kind of disparity is whether the students facing the most academic challenges are getting the best teachers — the presumption being that experience equals effectiveness. Teacher evaluations now in their second year in MPS should help to answer that.

Allocation issues

But there’s another set of questions posed by the data: Are resources being distributed equitably, and would a realignment in which the money more faithfully followed students, and not teachers, create incentives for wealthier schools to try to serve more challenged students?

Among mainline programs, Lake Harriet’s lower campus boasts the highest median teacher salary, at $80,355, not including benefits. Located a few blocks from its namesake landmark, the program is a popular option with wealthy southwest Minneapolis families who compete for admission.

Some 85 percent of its K-3 students are white. Fewer than 8 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. That poverty level is so low that the school does not qualify for federal Title I funds, the main pot of money that is supposed to offset the challenges of educating poor children.

A few miles to the north, Bethune Community School has a student body that is entirely impoverished and the lowest median teacher salary in the district, at $49,449. One fourth of its K-8 students receive special education services and a third are homeless or lack stable housing.

And because 94 percent of Bethune’s students are minorities, nearly a third more than the district as a whole, it’s considered racially identifiable — the state’s legal definition of a segregated school. A little further to the north at Lucy Laney, also racially identifiable, the median teacher is slightly higher at $51,510.

The budgeting process

At budgeting time, however, the district bases individual schools’ budgets on the average district salary — this year $66,412 per teacher, plus 31 percent for benefits. Schools may use discretionary funds to “buy” additional teachers at this rate to bring down class sizes or for particular programming.

For more than a decade, parents and other stakeholders have argued that this budgeting process obscures a fundamental inequity. The formula, they note, shortchanges schools with the most poorly paid teachers and subsidizes those with better-paid faculties.

To make the chart below, a list of every MPS teacher’s actual pay was used to calculate each school’s median salary. This was juxtaposed against the schools’ poverty rates, which are closely correlated with minority population. The line across the center of the map shows the district median salary, $70,053.

MPS median salary vs. free/reduced lunch percentage

Source: MinnPost analysis of Minneapolis Public Schools data, via Chris Stewart
Schools on the left side of the chart, with the lowest proportion of students receiving free/reduced price lunch, also have some of the highest median salaries in the district. A table of the data used for the chart is available below.

The highest median salaries by building are displayed in the upper left. The schools represented by green markers are programs that do not serve enough impoverished students to qualify for federal Title I aid. Six of MPS’ seven non-Title I schools occupy this spot on the map.

On the opposite side of the chart, schools identified by orange markers are racially identifiable; they have concentrations of minority students that are 20 or more percentage points higher than district averages for their grade levels. These programs meet the state’s definition of racially identifiable, or segregated, schools.

Many of the other programs on the far right side of the chart are just as heavily minority but are not among the types of schools that have to report under the state’s desegregation laws. (Not appearing on the map at all are some specialty schools, like stand-alone special-ed programs, which have very high, uncommon costs, such as staff psychologists.)

Median teacher salaries at six of the district’s seven non-Title I schools are higher than the district median. At 10 of its 13 schools that are so segregated they meet the state’s statutory definition of racially isolated, median salary is less than the district median.

Similar results in 2007 study

A 2007 study initiated by a group of MPS parents and conducted with assistance from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Regional and Urban Affairs found similar results. Of 28 schools with above-average percentages of students of color or impoverished students, 26 had below-average teacher pay.

Among other findings, that study reported that per-pupil spending on teacher salaries from the district’s general fund, the pot of money not earmarked for specific uses, ranged from $916 to $3,859, with poorer schools getting lesser amounts.

In recent days, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a report on equity in American schools that found that minorities are three times as likely as white students to attend schools with concentrations of new teachers.

Add these to a mountain of research showing that teachers with seniority tend to gravitate to schools with fewer challenges. And to the common-sense proposition that teachers are most effective when they want to work in the school where they are assigned.

And while there are numerous experiments in teacher compensation reform under way around the country, teachers unions — badly battered on the political playing field over the last four years — have dug in here and elsewhere on attempts to change the role seniority plays in staffing. 

MPS administrators were busy ironing out a snafu involving next year’s estimated school budgets and unable to respond to an interview request for this story. There is, however, a major change in the works that may help address the issue of equity in resources.

The district is moving toward adopting “weighted student funding,” a system now in use in a number of large districts including Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Hartford, Houston, Oakland, San Francisco and Seattle.

Although details vary by community, the system allocates funding to students based on their needs. More dollars would follow a pupil who was learning English, for instance, or who is homeless. Funds could be adjusted to support district priorities, such as early literacy.

MPS is currently in the process of setting a threshold for academic programming for all schools. Right now, the amount of math, reading and other subjects students receive fluctuate widely.

New funding system coming

Under the new funding system, expected to roll out in the 2015-2016 academic year, money would be budgeted to pay for this equitable level of programming, and schools can use the rest of their budgets to meet their unique needs.

What it doesn’t mean — at least not in the short term — is an end to the practice of allocating teacher salary lines by average salary. Nor does the future budgeting system come with new state or federal dollars for schools.

But it might entice back some of the families that have left MPS over the last decade. And it might fundamentally change the game to give schools incentives to compete for underserved students. 

Minneapolis Public School salary data

School Median salary Mean salary Free/reduced
lunch %
North (ISA) 62,327 59,365 92 Racially identifiable
Pratt Elementary 73,659 70,642 75 Other
Lake Nokomis Wenonah 70,568 66,362 53 Other
Seward Montessori School 76,234 70,535 53 Other
Folwell Performing Arts 67,993 65,491 86 Other
Kenwood Elementary 77,265 75,719 28 Non-Title I
Lake Harriet Upper (Fulton) 72,113 71,701 9 Non-Title I
Armatage 69,023 65,449 28 Non-Title I
Hale Elementary 76,234 74,539 17 Non-Title I
South High 70,053 67,758 55 Other
Edison High 65,932 64,264 91 Other
Henry High 69,023 67,002 90 Racially identifiable
Nellie Stone Johnson 71,083 64,537 96 Racially identifiable
Richard Green Central 60,266 59,875 95 Racially identifiable
Bryn Mawr Primary 69,023 66,994 83 Racially identifiable
Hmong International Academy 69,023 65,005 90 Racially identifiable
Whittier Community School 63,872 62,106 67 Other
Northrop Elementary 65,932 66,030 49 Other
Emerson Spanish Immersion 61,812 56,918 79 Other
Hiawatha Elementary 75,719 75,605 55 Other
Jenny Lind 65,932 63,327 94 Racially identifiable
Lake Nokomis Keewaydin 65,932 65,353 56 Other
Sanford Middle School 69,023 69,419 63 Other
Anne Sullivan 70,568 67,755 93 Racially identifiable
Jefferson Elementary 67,993 64,584 95 Other
Anishinabe Academy 67,993 67,056 96 Other
Harrison Education Center 58,206 58,292 97 Other
Burroughs 72,629 72,314 12 Non-Title I
Bancroft Elementary 70,053 67,716 88 Other
Pillsbury Math/Science/Technology 72,113 68,520 88 Other
Northeast Middle School 63,872 62,215 81 Other
Dowling Elementary 78,296 76,633 39 Other
Anthony 65,417 64,191 39 Other
Ramsey Middle School 58,206 59,030 42 Other
Olson Middle School 52,540 54,772 93 Racially identifiable
Wellstone Intl High School 69,023 65,785 93 Other
Loring Elementary 71,598 71,298 65 Other
Sheridan International Fine Arts 67,993 65,469 94 Racially identifiable
River Bend 59,751 60,736 99 Other
Transition Plus 75,719 71,856 80 Other
North High 64,387 63,357 91 Racially identifiable
Kenny Elementary 72,113 71,034 37 Other
Bethune 49,449 56,036 100 Racially identifiable
Lake Harriet Lower (Audubon) 80,355 78,020 8 Non-Title I
Southwest High 74,174 69,721 39 Other
Field 75,204 71,868 26 Non-Title I
Barton Open 73,144 72,332 26 Non-Title I
Hall International 72,113 68,099 88 Racially identifiable
Lyndale Elementary 67,993 67,265 76 Other
Washburn High 65,417 62,484 48 Other
Lucy Laney Elementary 51,510 56,486 99 Racially identifiable
Waite Park Elementary 73,144 71,007 61 Other
Roosevelt High 67,993 66,521 86 Other
Windom Elementary 65,932 66,431 53 Other
Stadium View 73,659 72,629 93 Other
Marcy Open School 70,053 67,757 45 Other
Pierre Bottineau French Immersion 49,449 52,128 68 Other
Source: MinnPost analysis of Minneapolis Public Schools data, via Chris Stewart

Data and description of data-processing techniques available on GitHub.

Comments (12)

Seniority and Staffing

If a school district allows senior teachers to pick their schools based on seniority, that is something that they gave away in collective bargaining that they didn't need to give a way, and should not have given away. Teachers should be assigned to schools based on competence, strengths, interest, training, and the need of that school. There is nothing in Minnesota law that requires a school district to give up its right to transfer and assignment, and frankly it is probably an unfair labor practice for the union to demand the right, unless the school district gives up that right voluntarily.

Transfer and assignment should be done through a collaborative process, just as any large company seeks to place its people where they are needed and where they want to be. Teachers feel their classroom is their home away from home. When they are transferred, its a huge deal, and so they should be transferred and assigned with compassion.

The other aspect of this is reflected in today's op ed in the Strib in which a teacher explains why some teachers just don't have the emotional endurance to teach in some schools. If a teacher can't handle a classroom environment, then it doesn't do a lot of good to transfer her there. So now, what does a wise school administration do under the following scenario. Mabel is a fabulous teacher. She's been tried at a high poverty school; she does her best and after five years, she comes in and says, I did my best. I can't take it any more. You can transfer me or I am going to have to look for a position outside the district that gives me an environment I can handle emotionally. Do you let her go, or do you keep that great teacher and put her in an opening at another less challenging (for her) school.

The issue isn't the salary distribution among schools. That's not the problem. The issue is that there are some classrooms that require more resources than others. So some kids need much smaller classes, and more support personnel, to have a chance. Comparing the average salaries doesn't get to the core of the problem. The issue is putting more competent people in certain classrooms, so that the kids in that classroom have a chance to make it.

Old news

While I was still a young and idealistic teacher in the 1960s, research was already beginning to show that the greatest determinant of student achievement was the socioeconomic status of that student’s parents. While the chart that Beth provides with this article is absolutely (and depressingly) an eye-opener, what it does most effectively is provide a graphic representation of that 50-year-old supposition, now supported by decades more of research that essentially reinforces the initial conclusion.

My 30 classroom years were spent in a pair of lower-middle-class high schools. Mostly white when I began, perhaps 60% white when I retired. I didn’t find color or ethnicity to be a significant factor in who was or was not an acceptable student. I did find, however, that the research referred to previously was surprisingly on the mark. Students of color whose families at least aspired to the middle class were as well-behaved as one might reasonably expect of adolescents anywhere, of whatever color or ethnicity. Students living in poverty (and my district had far fewer of them than does MPS) were much more of a gamble in terms of behavior, and frequently actively hostile to the academic world. No one I knew in the district was consistently successful with those kids. Among other things, they seemed to need parents, just the people who were typically absent, either physically or emotionally, or sometimes both.

As for seniority, I can’t support it as the ONLY determinant of a teacher’s status and assignment, but I do feel it should be a major component of any school system’s process of evaluation and assignment. Even big corporations don’t typically put employees in environments where the deck is stacked against them, and against successful completion of the tasks they’ve been assigned. It was always a big deal, for both individual and school, when someone was reassigned, and in many cases, the issue of why they were reassigned wasn’t even the most prominent one. Changes in working environment affect people in every job, and everyone has strengths and weaknesses, regardless of their specific job or field. Personally, I loved teaching at a high school. I’d also have enjoyed – for a while, at least – Kindergarten or first grade. Middle school? Not so much.

I’m ambivalent about financial incentives being applied to historically tough schools. I wasn’t in it for the money, and I don’t see any six-figure salaries in Beth’s chart, so my guess is that most MSP teachers aren’t driven by the material as much as they are by the idealistic. Evening out the playing field in terms of resource allocation is an idea that’s hard to argue with in the abstract, but if it means that Mrs. X, who is wonderful at my granddaughter’s elementary school, gets transferred to another school that’s basically the result of economic and racial segregation by the community at large, with that transfer being based on the assumption that Mrs. X will be equally wonderful at that school, I’m going to be a very unhappy district patron. I understand both sides of that issue, and at least in my own mind, there’s no easy or simple solution that’s also equitable for all the relevant parties.

One of my somewhat larger questions is: Why are there 14 “racially identifiable” schools in the MSP system? Why has that phenomenon taken place, and, since it surely did not happen overnight, why has it been tolerated? What are the political and economic leaders of the Twin Cities metro going to do to address it?

Another somewhat larger question is: Has there been, or will there be, a similar comparison between / among charter schools in the metro? Between / among charter schools and “regular” public schools? Are the “academies” listed in the table charter schools?

But this isn't the whole picture

I appreciate seeing the data, but just because some schools have teachers with more experience (and are paid better for being so), doesn't mean that the amount of money spent on teachers is the same proportion. The students in the schools in the southwest area have to deal with much larger class sizes.

For instance, the largest disparity according to your data is between Bethune Elementary and Lake Harriet Lower.

However, Bethune has 31.5 teachers for 351 students.
And Lake Harriet Lower has 23.66 teachers for 536 students.

Using class size numbers, then, each student at Bethune (your malnourished school) has spent $4,437 on teachers. And each student at Lake Harriet Lower has spent $3,547 on teachers. So the students at Bethune actually have 25% more spent on teaching staff than Lake Harriet.

Using the district's latest population numbers (from February 3rd), you can see that the schools you note as being shortchanged are spending more on staff than the schools you write that are doing quite well. See this chart for the relationship:

There are lots of reasons why teachers teach where they do. Personally, I left Roosevelt to teach at Southwest just because my commute wouldn't include Crosstown and it was closer to my home. But there are drawbacks as well. I do miss class sizes of 15 to 20 instead of 35 to 40.


Your analysis doesn't address equity, but I do recognize it as one that I hear frequently from parents and teachers at Southwest High and in southwest Minneapolis neighborhoods. For example, at Lake Harriet Lower, 6 percent of students are in special ed. At Bethune, almost one in four students are. Bethune needs many more teachers, as do programs that serve other students with high needs. Plus, the students at Bethune are supposed to be receiving a lot more than 25 percent more instructional funding than the students at Lake Harriet Lower. Compensatory aid alone is nearly $3,000. There's even a term in education finance circles for money that's supposed to be following one student but that ends up subsidizing another. It's called "seepage." And I am doubtful that there are such small general ed classes at Roosevelt. If teachers and the school board approve the new contract, K-3 classes at challenged schools will have a cap of 18:1. That might be the overall staff-student ratio, but it wouldn't support your hypothesis. A third of Roosevelt students are learning English and one fifth are in special ed.

I think Jerry Nailed It

Seniority is power in the Union hierarchy, therefore the Teachers with the most Seniority get to pick their School and Classroom.

It would be more interesting to see how many $ per student each school has available by category of student. I took a SWAG at this for Robbinsdale ~4 years ago. (see link) I was frustrated that my well behaved healthy smart daughters were not seeing much of the funding, however I was very happy that they did not need that much of the funding...

I am pretty sure that it would show that the more diverse schools are still getting significantly more funding per student. However they may have the money, that does not mean that the senior Teachers are going to willingly move there.

One last thought, does anyone here really believe that the high priced Teachers are more capable just because they are paid more? Remember: pay is only based on steps and lanes... Capability and performance are not in the compensation policy.


Mr. Schoch asked: Why are there 14 “racially identifiable” schools in the MSP system? Why has that phenomenon taken place, and, since it surely did not happen overnight, why has it been tolerated? What are the political and economic leaders of the Twin Cities metro going to do to address it?

Here's my view from Kingfield. By in large the political, economic and I'll add social leaders of Minneapolis along with many good progressive liberals have an aversion to sending their own children to schools with a majority of students living in poverty or students of color or children of immigrants. Add a school placement system with no room at our more affluent schools for students from outside the neighborhood let alone services for poor or ELL students and a school choice system that perpetuates and protects privilege not only do you get racially identifiable schools you get public schools close to each other with vastly different student demographics.

Our Minneapolis Public Schools system is out of balance and if you challenge or suggest changing the status quo the answer...we must minimize disruption (to parents of children of privilege). Children of poverty deal with disruption every single day. We then put additional stress on our higher poverty schools by concentrating students facing the greatest obstacles. We need to act with much greater urgency. Sure this is about where teachers teach but is also about where we as parents decide to send our children to school.

Let's look to see where leaders send their children in the fall. Do their actions match their words?

Does any of this really matter ?

No. Ok lets assume for a fact that the best teachers are in the wealthiest white schools. So what.

The fact no one will dare state is as follows. Even if they were in the minority schools would that have such an effect on minority performance. Marginal at best. Common folks, problems at minority schools are not because they don't have the best of the best teachers. Minority kids don't do homework, don't come prepared to class and plenty of other don'ts. Not any of this would be benefitted by having the highest paid teachers in the class. All this hand wringing is farcical. It's not as if hordes of minority kids are being denied some advantage that is keeping them behind. If minority communities for whatever reason cannot get kids to do basic homework, what exactly is a highly qualified teacher going to help.

If it was the case that minority kids were scoring really well on tests and doing their homework and studying really well but being denied a good science education or something like that, then they have a case. You could be sure that in those circumstances the public outcry would be so high that the state would have to step in.

When u have kids who don't even step up to the plate to be prepared for daily classroom work, what exactly is all this hand wringing about. Thats like me demanding an Olympic conditioning coach when i can't go to the gym twice a week !!!

Good Point

My kid's attend Plymouth Middle School and Armstrong HS in Robbinsdale, both of which are pretty diverse. After 19 years of attending parent teacher conferenences, I am always amazed that I only see the same Parent's and kids year after year.

Some Teachers have said that they would be over joyed to have some new faces at the conferences. Though enjoyable, only having the parents and children that are serious about education is somewhat pointless. Since they are already usually doing well.

an accounting problem

The inputs of a public education have always been assumed to be the brick and mortar structure, materials books and testing, and the teachers that earn a wage for forty hours a week of work. But as the other commentators have noted there are many other factors that contribute to the successful education of children.

Say for instance that in a classroom of 25 kids each student receives twenty minutes of homework help every evening. Those hours alone, voluntarily donated by the public, already top the hours the teacher contributes in the education of that classroom.

The public is very much a part of the creation (or destruction) of public goods. In order to address success and failure in the system we need to properly account for this contribution.

Accountability Problem

The question I often pose is how does society hold parents accountable to being responsible parents?

They chose to have child and all the costs and rewards that come with those little bundles of joy.

analysis of public contribution

I guess I’ve always tended to be more of a carrot person instead of a stick. So instead of seeking how to hold parents accountable, I would prefer to focus on how to show them what is in it for them. For those of us raised in settings where education was always a priority, we go through all the motions without really evaluating why. We do it because we know the work will make our kids better off, and that in turn we will be better off, and in turn once again our communities will be better off.

Some groups may have legitimate reasons for believing that this scenario wouldn’t apply to them; some may hide behind convenient fallacies to justify not supporting the educational needs of the children close to them; and some may simply not be in a position to contribute in any way due to a laundry list of social issues.

Like in any market system, transparency and lack of monopolies promotes the best system. So those making excuses need to be reminded of all the successful outcomes achieved through education. And for those who think it is advantageous to cluster all the public resources in pockets need to be reminded that this simply weakens the larger community (and elite neighborhoods have other problems). That’s why Scott’s comment is interesting; those most capable of leading parent groups both in terms of skill and available time are most likely to cluster.

It would be nice if there was some effort made to analyze and compare the public contributions to educational outcomes instead of the continual focus on the efforts and salaries of teachers who have no control over all the enrichment activities that occur in some households or all the social distractions that happen in others.

Many Factors

My readers and I created this list.

Personally I think the "education system" is only responsible for ~20% of the problem. The only reason to focus on them is that they are the 20% that clear expectations, effective performance management, good compensation policies, etc can quickly address. The goal like in any company is to get the most capable people in the correct positions, and reward them correctly in order to get and retain them.

The current system rewards the "survivors", not those that get the desired results. It is very odd.

Going over that 80% is a much larger challenge. Search the Harlem Children's Zone for some ideas. But I don't think a governmental entity can implement those change... Too much change resistance and they can't kick parents/kids out of the program.