Teacher Shortage? Blame the Economy

*Cross posted at the Teacherpensions.org blog

What’s causing teacher shortages across the country? Although it might be fun to blame your least favorite thing in education–the Common Core, say, or teacher evaluations or millennials–new research suggests the economy is the primary driver in the supply of new teachers (h/t InsideHigherEd).

The new paper looks at the college majors of students who turned age 20 between 1960 and 2011. Then, it linked the students’ decisions with data on macroeconomic trends to examine how business cycles affect student choices. Of the 38 majors included in the study, education was the biggest loser. When recessions hit, both men and women were less likely to want to become teachers and instead turned to fields like accounting and engineering. In number terms, the researchers estimate that, “each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate…decreases the share of women choosing Early and Elementary Education by a little more than 6 percent.” (For men it was even higher.)

To put that in context, the national unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent in May 2007 to 10.0 percent in October 2009. Using the paper’s estimates, that would imply the recent recession caused a decline in female enrollment in elementary education of 33.6 percent (the 5.6 percentage point change in the unemployment rate multiplied by the 6 percent figure above).

A 34 percent decline due purely to economic conditions may sound high at first blush, but it would help explain much of what we’re seeing out in the field. For example, it would explain most but not all of the decline in program completers that we documented in our recent paper on California’s teacher pipeline. State-by-state changes in economic conditions may also help explain why some, but not all, states are experiencing declining interest in teacher preparation programs. (And all of these figures put Teach for America’s much-publicized 10 percent decline in perspective. So far, TFA has weathered the decline better than other preparation programs.)

While the declines are not good news for schools–it means they’re competing for a smaller number of candidates–a recent paper found that teachers hired during the recent recession tended to be stronger than those hired during better economic times.

What’s ironic about all current attention to teacher shortages is that teacher shortages are the exact thing that will lead to the next boomlet in teacher prep. The media will cover the shortages, districts will raise their wages to attract workers, and we’ll start this cyle all over again. And then the next recession will hit and we’ll be back to hearing about teachers who can’t find teaching jobs. And so on, and on…

–Chad Aldeman

10 thoughts on “Teacher Shortage? Blame the Economy

  1. Arthur Goldstein

    I love being a teacher. It’s the best thing I do. And there is almost nothing that makes me prouder than seeing one of my former beginning ESL students as a colleague, which has happened more than once. But I don’t know if I could advise kids to take a job in which they are rated by junk science unsupported by research and clearly refuted by the American Statistical Association. And the fact is that, in some states, the more work, less pay and miserable working conditions are simply not the best calling care.

    You’re quite right that this will have to change if they wish to attract people. But it will be a whole lot easier for them to lean on things like merit pay, which has never worked anywhere in 100 years, which they likely don’t intend to pay much of anyway, than to actually address the situation.

  2. Bill Jones

    More counter-intuitive stuff from the wonks.

    Ahem….let’s push aside the policy, and the nice long sentences, and the incisive conclusions for just a second here…

    1. The shortages are occurring in exactly the fields MOST CRUCIAL to economic growth, national security, and career and job readiness. That is, if we believe what you wonks said just 1 hour ago.

    2. Teachers are rational. These best and brightest can, within 5 minutes, get wage surveys, working conditions evaluations, and student performance, and school climate. They can make a solid decision in 5 minutes to turn up their noses at teaching and do something else. Of course, this is painfully obvious to those of us who live in the real world and have the opportunity to meet and talk to the best and brightest in STEM.

    I can assure that these “brights” feel absolutely no sense of urgency about education reform, or any kind of moral calling to help people they do not know, or the need to work for and be supervised by a bureaucracy and the entire edu-industry filled with a bunch of self-inflated, liberal arts know it alls. They especially do not want to be blamed for someone else’s failure.

    On top of that, they see the futility of teaching and how they could lose years off their life, leave with NOTHING, and perhaps even a black mark for NOTHING that they did.

    Most of them also RESPECT THEIR PRIVACY and refuse to let some weirdo muck racker go after them for posting a pic. of them holding a glass of wine and a cigarette.

    You folks DO NOT GET IT.

    You won. You have slain your foe. The public has caught on. They do not especially want to be the bloody corpse on the ground under your foot.

    Anyway, it was never a fair fight anyway.

    Smart folks are RATIONAL, and they CAN make solid decision. Right now, the solid decision is avoid teaching like the plague.

    You guys did your job. Congrats. Now what do you do?

    Time is running out.

  3. Bill Jones

    Here is when teaching will be an acceptable JOB, never a profession, for the ‘brights”

    1. Privacy in compensation and evaluation.
    2. Privacy in private life.
    3. Logical work environment and rules.
    4. More control over inputs and outputs.
    5. Steady, consisten, prompt CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK.
    6. A culture of change, adaptation, along with respect for the individual.
    7. Employment at will for teachers. NO MORE CONTRACTS that hold teachers in place only to dump them when the job market is out of season.
    8. A REAL possibility for career advancement and increased leadership which does not include every single little crappy job that comes from some state or federal bureaucrat.
    9. The flattening of the supervisory chain of command, and the halving of the state education code.
    10. Legal representation in the case of a frivolous lawsuit, and the ability to counter sue for defamation or libel.
    11. The end to adolescent like consequences for non-performance.
    12. The end to the idea that teaching involves some kind of moral obligation which requires a self-sacrifice of those personal things that most rational people hold dear.

    To the wonks, you think you can criticize and condemn your way to a high quality work force.

    It HAS NOT WORKED. And for that your heads need to roll. But that will never happen.

  4. Bill Jones

    Folks criticize the military. It is a good think they do. It is the cone shaped hat they can wear in perpetuity.

    The military has a very simple, transparent, pay system that rewards merit, and SPECIAL SKILLS.

    The evaluation system is also transparent AND respectful AND PRIVATE.

    But you wonks, all you ever did was look for a fight.

    You found it. You fought it. You won.

    But what about the kids? WHAT DID THEY LOSE FOR YOUR PETULANT BEHAVIOR?

  5. Bill Jones

    When recessions hit, both men and women were less likely to want to become teachers and instead turned to fields like accounting and engineering. In number terms, the researchers estimate that, “each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate…decreases the share of women choosing Early and Elementary Education by a little more than 6 percent.” (For men it was even higher.)

    What’s ironic about all current attention to teacher shortages is that teacher shortages are the exact thing that will lead to the next boomlet in teacher prep. The media will cover the shortages, districts will raise their wages to attract workers, and we’ll start this cyle all over again. And then the next recession will hit and we’ll be back to hearing about teachers who can’t find teaching jobs. And so on, and on…

    Chad, uuhhhh…the idea here is the OPPORTUNITY COST RIGHT NOW to NOT having a current supply of teachers. Chad, we are all dead in the long run, but that is NOT the issue. Kids need MATH TEACHERS RIGHT NOW.

    Chad, if we take you at your work, even one year of sub-standard education bleeds billions from our GDP, and creates a severe national security risk.

    Chad, the SHORT RUN SUPPLY OF LABOR is where you need to focus.

    I suggested earlier that we START A DRAFT for teachers in the time of shortages. Chad, your draft number is 0000001. Right behind you is every single seat warmer at TFA and Students First.

    This IS a cris, if we are to believe the Chetty study and every other hand wringing scream article from your posse.

    Chad, SOLUTIONS NOW. The kids cannot wait. Time to draft the rear echelon ice-cream eaters.
    (Military slang for the useless hangers-on).

  6. Arthur Goldstein

    You don’t actually have to raise compensation, and in fact in states where they’ve eliminated collective bargaining (another significant change omitted in the blog) that’s unlikely to happen. Otherwise why would they have eliminated collective bargaining?

    You could always just lower the standards. And if it doesn’t work out, you blame the teachers. And if you don’t actually send your own kids to public schools anyway, like Gates, Duncan, Obama, or any number of people who advocate things they find unfit for their own children, it’s a WIN-WIN.

  7. Bill Jones

    Checked on the creeds. of the Eduwonk partners. Education backgrounds are just as I predicted. Bachelors either NOT identified or in a weak liberal art. The graduate degree is often in public policy (another word for wearing a suit and lobbying and sycophancy.)

    The deep irony is that the partners have degrees in subjects that are NOT IN SHORT SUPPLY RIGHT NOW IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Their degrees are a dime a dozen off the shelf box of cereal.

    So….one more time..What BRIGHT person, with a degree in a scarce subject, wants to put their neck on the chopping block for a rotten education bureaucracy, be subjected to the withering criticism of the policy wonks, and then perhaps face a career/life ending circumstance that was entirely outside their control. On top of that, have the awful luck of working for some liberal arts third raters with their puffed up Ivey degrees or some look alike.

    Teaching is awful. TNTP now admits openly in their “Mirage” that they failed despite tons of time, money, and resources, and ACCESS. Hmmmm…but their public mea culpa only means they get ANOTHER 20 years to get it right….Heck when you use words like re-define, re-engineer, redesign, re-structure, re-think, re-program, and re-everything, then you can cloak yourself with aegis of invincibility and infallibility.

    One last note: Smart people, bright people, STEM folks, do not believe that anyone can do anything. Read some of the mission statements of the fellows at Eduwonk and it becomes clear: These guys and gals are advocating scientology and the unlimited perfection of the individual by removing impediments.

    The only edu-reform effort that succeeded was the Marshall Plan for STEM education in response to Sputnik.

    It worked. It can work again. RPI has written extensively about how this program could again succeed.

    As for the rest of the edu-acracy. Get rid of it. The two basic premises of their ideology are foolish:

    1. Anyone can learn anything. (scientology)
    2. Perfect humans and teachers exist (thetans, scientology again).
    3. Removal of barriers to a perfect education will bring human perfection to fruition (scientology again).
    4. Rejection, annihilation of the enemies of human perfection (ineffective teachers) (scientology again).

    The edu-reform movement IS SCIENTOLOGY.

  8. Bill Jones

    Ouch. Let’s throw away the concluding snotty comment in Chad’s piece and get down to it:

    When the business cycle is down, no one wants to teach….

    How is that? It is such an easy job, and it is often for those who have nothing to lose.

    But….for those with SOMETHING TO LOSE, when the business cycle is down, teaching is the absolute worst thing they could do.

    Opportunity cost is the key concept here. When labor markets are in a bad way, no TALENTED, BRIGHT, individual can afford to LOSE TWO YEARS doing a dead end job like teaching. Instead, they must re-educate themselves to fill good positions. To teach at that time would be much like throwing two years of one’s life away.

    When job markets are good, giving two years to teaching may not hurt that much. The job will be there when you finish your combat tour.

    So….no matter the resources, mental energy, and time that has been invested in teacher reform and edu-reform, things are NOT better. Not only has the wealth gap NOT DIMINISHED, but it has gotten worse. And we still are not attracting the best and brightest to teaching, despite the claims of TFA.

    TNTP is wringing its hands. They are looking for that magic elixir that will make smart people lay down their lives for other people. They are looking for some potion that will make extremely talented people sacrifice their lives for others for no compensation.

    The search has been futile.

    I do have one solid recommendation. Every single public policy edu-reformer needs to be a hero, give up their suit and career, and do what they have screamed at the top of their lungs for others to do for the past 15 years.

    Edu-reform is NOT a profession or a career. It is not an avocation. IT IS A VOCATION.

    Those of you who have chosen it, have a MORAL OBLIGATION to children in this nation. And that means getting into classrooms and helping.

    I will not hold my breath for any of you to do the right thing.

    In the Navy we ran to our damage control teams in order to put out the fire. We did not go sit in an office and write papers about putting out shipboard fires.

  9. Linda/RetiredTeacher

    Only a person not closely acquainted with public school teachers could have written this post. It is based on statistics and trends but demonstrates little awareness of a significant change that is now occurring:

    Teachers everywhere, like Arthur Goldstein in the above post, are counseling their children and their students to avoid teaching in the present environment. And these young people are listening.

    In former times, when districts became desperate for teachers, they could always depend on women without many career options to take the jobs. But those women are now entering the same fields as men. As my friend’s daughter said about eight years ago, “What, become a teacher, work my tail off, and be treated with gross disrespect? No, thanks.” She is now a “hospitalist” (pediatrician based in a hospital). None of the children of my teacher friends has chosen teaching as a career. In fact, I can’t think of a single family member, friend or acquaintance who is preparing to be a teacher.

    My prediction is that we will face the worst teacher shortage in American history within the next ten years. It will be directly related to the gross disrespect shown teachers during this “reform” (i.e teacher-bashing) period. In order to hire well-qualified teachers, districts will have to offer decent salaries, benefits and professional autonomy. To me, the last is most important. Like other people whose jobs require advanced degrees, entry tests and state certification, teachers want to be free to practice their profession and apply what they know. I predict the powerless teacher under the thumb of a principal who got his degree from the University of Phoenix will be a thing of the past. It’s time.

  10. Gloria Graham-Knighten

    I am currently in a teacher preparation program, and I must say that while the teacher shortage can create a problem for school districts; we must look at the risks taken when the wrong person is hired into a classroom. We have teachers who are using and or abusing drugs, posing harm for the students, and committing even worse acts of unethical behavior.

    Are we best served by having the number of teachers we need or having quality teachers who are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that students are learning and making progress?

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