Hey, fellow teachers. Feeling a little too relaxed after the Fourth of July weekend? Here’s an opportunity to raise low blood pressure. Today’s Wall Street Journal includes an article by Cato education scholar Andrew Coulson stating that “America has Too Many Teachers.” (By the way, in my last post I contended that I’m not really a libertarian. Coulson – and Cato – are the genuine article.)
I’m posting a link to the article, of course. But just in case you don’t get past the first paragraph of this article before your head explodes, let me suggest one argument that Coulson, in this paean to private schools and educational choice, fails to make – but that AEI’s Rick Hess has made repeatedly.
The huge expansion in the teacher workforce relative to student enrollment has swelled state budgets . . . but not teacher salaries. Basically, we’ve chosen as a nation to focus on teacher quantity more than teacher quality, and teachers have paid an economic price.
Okay, now I’ll quote from the article at length, in case non-subscribers can’t get access:
President Obama said last month that America can educate its way to prosperity if Congress sends money to states to prevent public school layoffs and “rehire even more teachers.” Mitt Romney was having none of it, invoking “the message of Wisconsin” and arguing that the solution to our economic woes is to cut the size of government and shift resources to the private sector. Mr. Romney later stated that he wasn’t calling for a reduction in the teacher force—but perhaps there would be some wisdom in doing just that.
Since 1970, the public school workforce has roughly doubled—to 6.4 million from 3.3 million—and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Over the same period, enrollment rose by a tepid 8.5%. Employment has thus grown 11 times faster than enrollment. If we returned to the student-to-staff ratio of 1970, American taxpayers would save about $210 billion annually in personnel costs.
I’ve quoted from this article before, but here is Rick Hess’s commentary on the same topic:
Our massive, three-decade national experiment in class-size reduction has exacerbated the challenge of finding enough effective teachers. There are other options. Researchers Martin West and Ludger Woessmann have pointed out that several nations that perform impressively on international assessments, including South Korea, Hong Kong, and Japan, boast average middle-school class sizes of more than 35 students per teacher.
To improve schooling, the U.S. has adopted the peculiar policy of hiring ever more teachers and asking them each to do the same job in roughly the same way. This dilutes the talent pool while spreading training and salaries over ever more bodies. As Chester Finn wryly observed in Troublemaker, the U.S. has opted to “invest in many more teachers rather than abler ones.… No wonder teaching salaries have barely kept pace with inflation, despite escalating education budgets.” Since the early 1970s, growth in the teaching force has outstripped growth in student enrollment by 50 percent. In this decade, as states overextended their commitments during the real estate boom, the ranks of teachers grew at nearly twice the rate of student enrollment. If policymakers had maintained the same overall teacher-to-student ratio since the 1970s, we would need 1 million fewer teachers, training could be focused on a smaller and more able population, and average teacher pay would be close to $75,000 per year.