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The Teaching Force Has Grown Faster Than Student Enrollment—Except in These 4 States

Over the past two decades, the number of the teachers in U.S. schools has increased by 21 percent, while the number of students has only increased by 12 percent, according to an Education Week Research Center analysis of federal data.

In other words, for 41 states and the District of Columbia, teachers are being hired at a faster rate than students are enrolling. But the more telling data might be in states where the growth in student enrollment outpaced the growth in the teacher workforce. 

Four states experienced larger growth in their student populations than in their teaching forces: Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, and Oklahoma. In Alabama, the student population didn't grow at all, but the number of teachers in the workforce decreased.

Source: Education Week Research Center analysis of Common Core Data, 2018

This overall picture isn't necessarily new information: Researchers have documented the "ballooning" of the teaching force for some time now. The latest federal data show that the number of U.S. teachers has grown by 13 percent over four years, while the number of students has gone up about 2 percent during that same time.

Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies teacher-staffing trends, has attributed some of the growth to an increase in special education teachers and those teaching English-language learners. He also said that as states increased their math and science graduation requirements, some districts hired more teachers in those subjects.

Still, he told Education Week last summer that he was never able to pinpoint the exact reason for the national labor market trends. 

However, it's notable that two of the states that had faster growth in the student population than in the teaching force have experienced teacher unrest in recent weeks: Oklahoma and Arizona. Oklahoma teachers just concluded a nine-day statewide walkout, in which they rallied for more education funding and higher pay. In Arizona, teachers there are threatening a strike—while the governor said he will urge the legislature to pass a 20 percent pay raise by 2020, teachers plan to vote this week on whether they will walk out for more education funding. 

In Arizona, the student population grew 49 percent over the last two decades, while the teaching force grew just 26 percent. In Oklahoma, the number of students grew 12 percent, while the teaching force grew 8 percent. 

This is likely because of the vast number of teachers leaving the profession or the state for jobs in which they can make more money, said Gene Perry, the director of strategy and communications for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank. Before this year, teachers in Oklahoma hadn't received a pay raise in 10 years. Districts have had to increase class sizes and eliminate teacher positions, Perry said.

Spurred on by the teacher activism, legislators passed a $6,100 pay raise for teachers this session. 

"That's going to help with retaining the teachers who are there already," Perry said. "But it's not going to be enough to hire more teachers and bring class sizes down. ... That's still going to be a challenge for schools as a whole."

Arizona, the state with a growing amount of teacher frustration over the state of education funding, has the most significant difference among states where student growth outpaced that of teachers. The next closest was Nevada, where the student population grew 76 percent and the teaching force grew 64 percent.

Interestingly, Alabama—where the number of teachers decreased and student enrollment stayed still—was identified by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution as a state that's high-risk for future teacher activism. 

That analysis said Alabama was high-risk because it ranks 37th in the country in average teacher salary, has experienced an 8.2 percent reduction in inflation-adjusted teacher salary since the Great Recession, and has seen a 21.6 percent reduction in per-pupil spending since that economic downturn. 

Alabama's student population has remained consistent over the last two decades, while its teaching force has decreased by 7 percent, according to the Education Week Research Center analysis. 

Also worth noting are the states that saw decreases in both student and teacher growth—but the teaching force declined at a slower rate. Those states are West Virginia, Ohio, and Maine. West Virginia, of course, is where teachers went on strike for nine school days over low pay—its student population declined by 10 percent, and its teacher workforce declined by 7 percent. 

In South Dakota, the teaching force remained stagnant, while student enrollment declined 7 percent. 

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