There has been a teacher shortage problem in the United States for 50 years. Why?


On World Teachers’ Day, Grid looks at the numbers behind one of America’s biggest education challenges: finding professionals to run the classroom.

The US education system has long struggled to recruit teachers, who often take pay cuts compared to their fellow graduates. But the shortage has never been worse than it is now, even as states ease requirements.

Fewer people are getting education degrees for decades

Over the past 50 years, a lower percentage of students earned a bachelor’s degree in education, even as “the total number and share of Americans with college degrees has increased,” according to a recent Pew Research report. Center.

In the 1970-71 academic year, 21% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded were in education, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. By the 2019-20 school year, that figure had dropped to just 4%.

Not only are fewer people studying education, but the number of people earning degrees and certificates in “high-needs specialties” – such as special education, science and math education, and language education. foreign languages ​​– is particularly rare, according to a recent American association. teacher training colleges report.

Teacher training programs—additional educational tools that may offer additional certification beyond or in place of a degree—are also not as popular. Over a 10-year period from 2008, the number of people completing these programs fell by a third, Education Week reported earlier this year.

Biggest Barrier to Entering the Profession: Teaching Isn’t Profitable

According to a recent NORC poll at the University of Chicago, fewer than one in five Americans said they would encourage a young person to become a K-12 teacher. Respondents who were white and wealthier were less likely to recommend the profession.

Why? Low pay, lack of resources and a stressful work environment are just some of the reasons cited. When it comes to salary, 69% of survey respondents said they thought it was a major consideration when deciding whether or not to become a teacher.

Average weekly salaries for public school teachers have been stagnant for years, according to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute this summer.

In 1979, teachers earned $1,052 a week, after adjusting for inflation. This is 22.9% less than what other university graduates earned. From 2010, the gap widened significantly: teachers’ salaries remained stable while the salaries of other university graduates increased. The result? A gap of 32.9% by 2021.

And it only got worse. Since the 1990s, the so-called teacher salary penalty has been on a worsening trajectory, wrote the Economic Policy Institute. The penalty shows how much less teachers earn than those with a university degree. If, in comparison, teachers earn more, this is called the teacher salary premium.

In 2021, the wage penalty reached historic levels.

In the mid-1990s, women who were teachers saw a relative salary advantage, where their salaries were on par with those of other college-educated women.

Male teachers, however, have always faced a salary penalty compared to their non-teaching counterparts. “The steep wage penalty that men face in the teaching profession is a big reason why the gender composition of the profession has not changed much in recent decades,” PPE wrote.

Teachers often receive a larger portion of their compensation in the form of benefits, compared to other professions. But even factoring in the benefits, teachers still see a 14.2% penalty.

How are school districts fixing the pipeline?

School districts are trying all sorts of strategies to reduce barriers to entry into the profession and build a pool of qualified teachers. Some colleges are offering scholarships to students pursuing studies in critical areas, Education Week reported.

Other programs, like the one at Utah State University, allow teachers and paraprofessionals with emergency licenses to continue working in schools while they work toward their teaching license.

Some states, such as Arizona and Florida, have relaxed requirements, the Washington Post reported, allowing high school graduates to become teachers or placing community college graduates and military veterans in classrooms with mentors.

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for writing this article.


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