3.1 Recruitment: Who Teaches, and Why?
Here’s what 4 out of 5 elementary grade teachers have in common, still.
Attracting talented people to the teaching profession in sufficient numbers has become difficult in California. Part of the challenge is demographic.
Women comprise more than 80% of the teaching workforce in elementary grades
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) regularly surveys the demographics of teachers. Women comprise more than 80% of the teaching workforce in elementary grades and more than half of it in secondary grades. This ratio has remained stable for generations. In 1964, more than half of working women with college degrees were teachers. By 1996, however, the ranks of working college-educated women had grown dramatically. The teaching profession’s share of educated women’s work had fallen to 15%.
With increased professional options for women, the teaching profession has struggled to attract the strongest candidates. In the 1960s, about a quarter of all female teachers graduated in the top 10% of their college class. By the 1990’s, only a tenth did so.
K-12 education is very labor-intensive, and therefore expensive. Staff-related costs (wages and benefits) are by far the largest category of expense in the school system. As the US economy has grown more productive, wages for jobs requiring a college degree have risen at about twice the rate of inflation. Teacher pay, which has merely kept pace with inflation in the last 40 years, has failed to keep up with this trend.
Wages for jobs requiring a college degree have risen at about twice the rate of inflation. Teacher pay has merely kept pace with it.
Ultimately, the supply of teachers depends on the attractiveness of the teaching profession. As these demographic changes have taken place, teaching has become less attractive relative to alternative professions.
In an analysis of 2001 data, McKinsey, a consultancy, compared teachers in the US with top-achieving school systems such as Finland, Singapore, and South Korea. They found that these education-focused countries consistently attract teachers from the top ranks of college graduates, and that teachers in these countries earn salaries comparable to lawyers and engineers. In the US, by contrast, teaching disproportionately attracts graduates from the bottom third of college graduates.
To overcome this macroeconomic challenge to the attractiveness of teaching, take a direct approach. If you want brilliant people to become teachers, ask them. They might say yes. The most prominent example of this strategy is national college-campus recruiting powerhouse Teach for America, which actively recruits top talent from top colleges to begin their careers by teaching at least for two years.
Teaching is not always a first career, however. For example, California-based Encorps (founded by a former member of Full Circle Fund) recruits talent among experienced professionals who want a meaningful next career. If you’re wondering whether teaching is for you, and what would be involved in making a career switch, have a look at Teacher.org.