The Outrageously Mythical ‘Teacher Shortage’
A nationwide shortage of teachers threatens quality education, according to the education establishment and its advocates in the media. But as with the population bomb, Y2K and the Devils of Loudon, the reality is quite different.
The shortage claim has been around for some time. The National Education Association warned in 1921 that there was “an appalling lack of trained teachers throughout the country.” At the time, we had a student-to-teacher ratio of 33 to 1; we have more than halved the ratio in less than 100 years.
The late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson gave us a more up-to-date perspective in 2015, explaining that since 1970 “the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent.”
According to the US Department of Education, we now have over 3.8 million public-school teachers, an increase of 13 percent in the last four years. During that same time period, student enrollment rose just 2 percent. Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency, adds that, between 2008 and 2016, student enrollment was flat but the teaching force expanded from 3.4 million to more than 3.8 million, a rise of 12.4 percent.
University of Pennsylvania education professor Richard Ingersoll avers that not only is there no shortage of teachers, there’s actually a glut. Ingersoll, who has long studied teacher-staffing trends, says the growth in the teaching force, which goes well beyond student growth, is financially a “ticking time bomb.” He adds that the “main budget item in any school district is teachers’ salaries. This just can’t be sustainable.”
The myth that America suffers a scarcity of teachers is promulgated by the teachers unions and their supporters in the education establishment. On the California Teachers Association Web site, we read that “California will need an additional 100,000 teachers over the next decade.”
But this means the CTA expects about a 2.8 percent yearly attrition rate. In reality, California is following the national trend in overstaffing. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California had 332,640 teachers in 2010. By 2015, there were 352,000. But the student population has been virtually flat, moving from 6.22 million in 2010 to 6.23 million in 2016.
True, legitimate general shortages exist in some school districts, while other districts may lack teachers in certain areas of expertise, like science and technology. Workers in these fields can earn higher salaries in the private sector; one solution would be to pay experts in these subjects more than other teachers as a way to lure them into teaching.
Unfortunately, that’s not possible: Throughout much of the country, and certainly in California, salaries are rigorously defined by a teacher union-orchestrated step-and-column pay regimen, which allows no room for flexibility in teacher salaries.
What’s necessary is to break up the unaccountable big-government/big-union education duopoly. More school choice, from privatization to charter schools, could go a long way toward solving the teacher glut. The government-education complex will always try to squeeze more money from the taxpayers, irrespective of student enrollment.
Its greed has nothing to do with teacher shortages, small class sizes, educational equity or any other rationale it can come up with. Paramount to the interest of the educational bureaucracy is more jobs for administrators, and more dues money for the unions, which they use to buy and hold sway over school boards and legislators.
While there is a surfeit of teachers and administrative staff, clarity and transparency regarding the reality of union control of the schools are scarce indeed.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post
Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network and a contributor to City Journal.
This piece was adapted from City Journal.
This piece originally appeared in New York Post