The Imaginary Teacher Shortage

October 19, 2012

The challenges facing America's schools have become a major focus of the public dialogue. Over the past few decades, many have been lamenting the decaying quality of education in America. Case in point, in the past 40 years, and a million teachers later, student performances have remained stagnant. And despite this stagnancy, a large portion of policymakers continue to propose "more teachers" as the answer, says Jay P. Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.

Given limited resources, states should consider shrinking their teacher labor force and explore new alternatives. There is extensive data that support this push to rein in the teacher-splurge.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics, in 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students. In 2012, there are 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.
  • Despite the increase in the number of teacher, math and reading scores for 17 year olds have remained stagnant since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • To put it bluntly, unless the next teacher-hiring craze delivers an improved academic reality compared to before, there is little reason for further investment.
  • Although more individualized attention is an important ingredient for a child's academic development, the dilemma to watch out for is that "expanding the number of hires means dipping deeper into the potential teacher labor pool. That means additional teachers are likely to be weaker than current ones."
  • A flip-model alternative is to have a more meritocratic structure, where the system has better-paid but fewer teachers. This also relaxes the enormous burden of pension and health benefits, which have increased greater than salaries per teachers.

The education system must import more innovative means to improve the system.

Source: Jay P. Greene, "The Imaginary Teacher Shortage," Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2012.


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