The Teacher-Shortage Myth

By Larry Sand
September 14, 2017

There is no dearth of teachers; in fact, we may have too many.

A nationwide shortage of teachers threatens quality education, according to the education establishment and its advocates in the media. But as with the population bomb, Y2K, and the devils of Loudon, the reality of the supposed crisis is quite different from its representation. A look at the data puts the situation into perspective.

The shortage claim has been around for some time. The National Education Association warned in 1921 that there was “an appalling lack of trained teachers throughout the country.” At the time, we had a student-to-teacher ratio of 33 to 1; we have more than halved the ratio in less than 100 years. The late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson gave us a more up-to-date perspective in 2015, explaining that since 1970 “the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent.”

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education states that our teaching force is still growing proportionate to the student population. In fact, we now have over 3.8 million public school teachers in the U.S., an increase of 13 percent in the last four years. During that same time period, student enrollment rose just 2 percent. Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency, adds that, between 2008 and 2016, student enrollment was flat but the teaching force expanded from 3.4 million to more than 3.8 million, a rise of 12.4 percent. University of Pennsylvania education professor Richard Ingersoll avers that not only is there no shortage of teachers, there is actually a glut. Ingersoll, who has long studied teacher-staffing trends, says the growth in the teaching force, which goes well beyond student growth, is financially a “ticking time bomb.” He adds that the “main budget item in any school district is teacher’s salaries. This just can’t be sustainable.”

And it’s not only the teaching force that’s ballooning: the number of other school personnel has been expanding at an alarming pace as well. Researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that, between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times as fast as the uptick in students. But even more outrageous is the fact that other education employees—administrators, aides, counselors, social workers— rose more than seven times the increase in students. Despite all this new staff, student academic achievement has stagnated—or even declined—over the past several decades.

This piece originally appeared in City Journal. To continue reading, go to https://www.city-journal.org/html/teacher-shortage-myth-15440.html

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