NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Myth Of A Teacher Shortage

September 25, 2002

A new federal law bans unqualified teachers, public school enrollment is growing and baby-boom teachers are retiring. These factors may aggravate a looming teacher shortage, say education analysts.

However, evidence from New York City "suggests there was never a shortage, only an unwillingness of qualified teachers to work at previous pay levels," says Richard Rothstein.

The teacher shortage mostly disappeared in New York City after teacher pay was raised -- with starting teachers now receiving $39,000 a year, up from $32,000 in 2001. Since those with experience elsewhere start as high as $61,000, certified teachers have left parochial schools, the suburbs and other professions to work for the city.

At the right price, supply grows to meet demand.

  • Nationwide, only about two-thirds of new education graduates take teaching jobs.
  • Of those who do teach, nearly one-third quit within five years.
  • Many teachers leave public education for the private sector, thus there is a large pool of qualified teachers "ready to re-enter the profession when the price is right."

The shortage seems more real in some specialties: high school math and science, special and bilingual education and schools in high-poverty communities. But teachers in middle-class areas will move to disadvantaged schools if the pay differential is big enough to compensate for the greater skill and dedication required.

And those with math and science degrees will take up teaching if salaries in education are competitive.

Impediments to this market solution include paying all teachers the same, the dependence of public schools on property taxes, and the opposition of teachers' unions.

Source: Richard Rothstein, "Teacher Shortages Vanish When the Price Is Right," New York Times, September 25, 2002.


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