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Talk about investing in a job: America's 2 million elementary school (K-8) teachers collectively spend about $1.8 billion on classroom materials every year, and over half of those dollars come from their own wallets, according to a study by Denver-based research firm Quality Education Data (QED). The average teacher spends $521 of his or her hard-earned paycheck on pupils' needs, in addition to the $332, on average, provided by the school or school district annually. Educators who spend significantly more of their own money on their students include first-year teachers ($701), teachers at schools where the majority of the students are Hispanic ($656) and those who work at schools in low-income neighborhoods ($593).

The study, Teacher Buying Behavior and Attitudes, 2001-2002, was conducted in an effort to better understand the purchasing behavior of today's elementary school teachers. The survey was mailed to randomly selected U.S. public school teachers of kindergarten through eighth grade; 4,618 responses were received. Results were released in the spring of 2002.

“As the national dialogue accelerates about the need to improve the quality of education through stricter accountability, we may lose sight of the personal contributions that teachers make to quality classroom materials,� says Jeanne Hayes, president and CEO of QED. “Teachers as a group are generally committed to educating children effectively, with price being the least important factor in their buying decisions and relevance to curriculum the most important.�

When asked to list the materials that are needed most, 41 percent of teachers say they lack supplies tailored to at-risk students. Not surprisingly, since blacks and Hispanic children are more likely to be considered “at-risk� than white children, teachers from majority black (52 percent), Hispanic (46 percent) and multicultural schools (46 percent) are far more likely to say they need such products. Teachers from the South are also more likely to be in the market for them because Southern teachers are significantly more likely to be evaluated based on their students' performance on standardized tests, according to the QED report. Tools that help teachers strengthen their students' writing skills are also in demand, especially among teachers from suburban and rural schools, at 40 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

But while teachers claim they want and need resources for at-risk kids, marketers must be careful about the wording they use in advertisements, states the report. In the study, teachers were asked to rank the importance of certain product characteristics. “Offers remedial intervention� came in only eighth among the top 10 most important attributes selected by teachers. The report suggests that marketers should refrain from using words such as “remediation� when touting their products, because it may have a negative connotation for the educators. Instead, words such as “relevant,� “reinforce,� “motivate� and “meeting needs� are recommended because of their favorable connotations.

When it comes to where teachers go to buy classroom materials, the top two venues are office supply stores (45 percent) and teachers' stores (41 percent). However, the Internet is gaining momentum: More than half of all teachers (54 percent) use the Web to research product information, and a quarter (26 percent) have placed an order online, spending, on average, $202 per year. Of those who have ordered materials online, 34 percent say that the supplies were for students' use in the classroom, 9 percent say the materials were for their own professional development and 44 percent say the materials were for themselves and their students. Brand-new teachers and those with less than a year of experience are significantly more likely (48 percent) to say that their purchases over the Internet are for in-classroom use.

In fact, 3 out of 5 teachers (58 percent) use the Internet as a learning tool in the classroom. Predictably, those from majority white schools and affluent schools are even more likely to do so (63 percent and 68 percent, respectively). Still, even when teachers are less likely to incorporate the Web into their lessons, Internet usage levels are relatively high. Among teachers in majority Hispanic schools, for example, almost half (44 percent) say that they integrate the Web in their curriculum. And 92 percent of teachers from Hispanic schools who use the Internet say that doing so has had a positive effect on student learning, compared with 84 percent of all teachers who use the Web in their classrooms.

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When looking for classroom supplies and learning tools, teachers are less concerned about price than they are about other product attributes.


Relevant to curriculum 4.57
Reinforces instruction 4.52
Motivates students 4.51
Meets individual needs 4.50
Enriches instruction 4.44
Supports classroom themes 4.27
Meets state standards 4.27
Offers remedial intervention 4.23
Attractive format/design 3.96
Price 3.57
Source: QED
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