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Today's Teaching Force Is Larger, Less Experienced, More Diverse Than Ever

Over the past 25 years, the U.S. teacher workforce has grown larger, less experienced, and more diverse. But according to a new report, these changes have not affected all types of teachers and schools equally. 

The report by Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, and Lisa Merrill of New York University's Research Alliance for New York City Schools, an organization that studies the local education scene, used the Schools and Staffing Survey to analyze changes in the elementary and secondary teaching force from 1987 to 2012. The Schools and Staffing Survey includes information on teachers' backgrounds, qualifications, and work locations. Key findings fall into several categories:

Size of the Teaching Force

The teacher workforce as a whole grew by 46 percent between 1987 and 2012, to 4 million elementary and secondary school teachers. But this growth varies widely depending on what criteria you are looking at. For example, the number of female teachers increased at a higher rate (56 percent) than male teachers (22 percent). The result is that the teaching force is becoming ever more dominated by women.

Growth also varies widely depending on what teaching field you're looking at. The number of English-as-a-second-language teachers, a small part of the teaching force, has exploded in the past 25 years with a 1,088 percent increase. The second-largest teaching field, special education, saw a 92 percent increase. The growth in the number of elementary, vocational-technical education, and art/music teachers, on the other hand, was below average.

teachingfield.jpgThe growth in the teaching force has varied by type of school as well. High-poverty public schools, for instance, have seen the biggest growth. In schools where at least 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the teaching force has increased by nearly 325 percent. By contrast, the number of teachers working in low-poverty public schools, where less than a third of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, decreased by one-fifth.

school_graph.jpgThe number of teachers working in private schools increased between 1987-88 and 2011-12 at a higher rate than in public schools. Still, U.S. private schools only accounted for about 12 percent of the teacher workforce in the 2011-12 school year. What's more, the number of private school students declined during the same time period.

Experience of the Teaching Force 

The period between the 1987-88 and 2011-12 school years saw an increase of 43 percent in the number of beginning teachers (those with five or fewer years of experience), or a gain of more than 250,000 inexperienced teachers. As you might expect, those high-poverty public schools that experienced the largest growth in the teaching force absorbed most of these inexperienced teachers, at an increase from 41,000 to 189,400 during this time period. By contrast, the number of inexperienced teachers in low-poverty public schools decreased by one-fifth during the period.

FullSizeRender-23.jpgPublic school teachers, in general, have more experience than private school teachers, but this experience gap became smaller between 1987-88 and 2011-12. In the 1987-88 school year, 20 percent of beginning teachers worked in public schools, while 38 percent worked in private schools. In the 2011-12 school year, 21 percent of beginning teachers worked in public schools, while 27 percent worked in private schools.

Diversity of the Teaching Force

Minority teachers remain underrepresented, but their numbers are growing at a faster rate than that of white teachers. Between 1987-88 and 2011-12, the number of minority teachers grew by 104 percent, compared with 38 percent for white teachers. In the 1987-88 school year, there were about 327,000 minority teachers. By 2011-12, there were about 666,000.

FullSizeRender-21.jpgAsian and Hispanic teachers made up a small part of the workforce, 2 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, in 2011-12. Yet their numbers increased at higher rates209 percent for Asians and 270 percent for Hispanicsthan both black and white teachers, whose numbers increased by 25 percent and 38 percent, respectively. The number of American Indian teachers, who made up less than 1 percent of the teaching force in 2011-12, declined during this period.

Teachers of English as a second language, foreign language, English/language arts, math, science, social science, and special education showed above-average gains in racial/ethnic diversity. ESL, with a 647 percent increase in minority teachers, has become one of the most racially/ethnically diverse fields. By contrast, elementary, vocational-technical, and art/music teachers each showed below-average growth of minority teachers.

From the 1987-88 to the 2011-12 school years, the number of white female teachers increased by 49 percent, while the number of minority female teachers increased by 102 percent. In the same time period, the number of white male teachers increased by 12 percent, while the number of minority male teachers increased by 110 percent.

FullSizeRender-22.jpgIn both the 1987-88 and 2011-12 school years, high-poverty public schools had the highest percentage of minority teachers. That percentage grew in the years in between. But during that period, there was almost no growth in the number of minority teachers in low-poverty public schools. So the distribution of minority teachers across schools, by poverty level, is uneven.

In the end, the authors write that their job was to describe the teaching force trends and not to explain or evaluate their implications. Questions about the reasons behind teacher workforce growth, the increase in the number of inexperienced teachers and its impact on schools, or the reasons for the rising number of minority teachers in high-poverty public schools, warrant further investigation.




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