3.1 Recruit Talented Teachers
Attracting talented people to the teaching profession in sufficient numbers has become difficult in California. Part of the challenge is demographic.
The National Center for Education Statistics 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 college-educated women had grown dramatically. Teaching’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.
Teaching 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 has failed to keep pace with this trend.
Ultimately, the supply of teachers depends on the attractiveness of the teaching profession. In the decade after 2000, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning (CFTL) documented that enrollment in teacher preparation programs had fallen significantly.
As these demographic changes have taken place, teaching has become less attractive relative to alternative professions. In 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.
In response to this macroeconomic challenge to the attractiveness of teaching, it has become more and more important to 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 in teaching. Teachin 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.