Surveys vary widely on what percent of young children dream of becoming teachers. This is no surprise given the sometimes less rigorous methods employed by the surveyors. But most of these surveys suggest that perhaps 10 to 20 percent of school aged children, mostly girls, hold teaching up as their dream job. So, how many see that young dream come true?
I’ve tried to collect as much data as possible to trace the path of young dreamers to adult practitioners. In so doing, I have examined data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, the Department of Education, the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Labor, the National Education Association, and a few others. Although data are certainly available, making sense of those data can be a bit trying. Surveys can capture a moment in time, but time moves on, and so does the nature of the populations at the heart of this analysis. Just as the number of people wanting to be teachers declines over time, so does the available pool from which they can be drawn. This is a moving target.
Let’s start by describing the big picture. I’ve tried to keep the numbers as round as possible, so when things don’t add perfectly, it’s only because that level of detail is not necessary for this post.
|Number of public schools in USA||100,000 (67k elementary, 25k secondary, 8k other/combined)|
|Number of private schools in USA||30,000|
|Number of (public/private) preK–12 students in USA||55 million (50/5.4)|
|Number of homeschooled students in the USA||1.6 million (increasing rapidly)|
|Number of (public/private) certified teachers in USA||3.6 million (3.1/0.4)|
|Percent of teachers that are female||75%|
|Percent of school staff that are teachers||50%|
|Ratio of public school teachers to public school students||16.1 to 1|
|Ratio of private school teachers to private school students||12.2 to 1|
|Average class size for public elementary/secondary schools||21.2/26.8|
Just a couple things to notice here, the portion of students being homeschooled is on the rise. This coincides with the growth in Internet communities dedicated to homeschooling as well as access to educational materials found online. Private schools have a significantly lower student to teacher ratio than public schools, and within public schools class sizes are much larger in secondary schools than in elementary.
|High school attainment||88%|
|Number of annual high school graduates||3.5 million|
|Percent of college freshmen that want to be teachers||4.2% (decreasing rapidly)|
Okay, back to the dream. The next step in our young dreamers’ lives is to graduate high school and enter college. As seen in the table above, about 88 percent of adults get their high school diploma, which means about 3.5 million students graduated from high school last year. In their annual survey of college freshmen, the National Education Association found that less than 5 percent of them want to be teachers. This number has been in a steady decline over the last 10 years where it had remained above 10 percent for decades.
|Number of new college enrollees||2.4 million|
|Number of Teacher Preparation Programs (TPP)||2,000|
|Number of students enrolled annually in TPP||500 thousand (declining rapidly)|
|Percent of college students who change majors at least once||80%|
Of the 3.5 million students who complete high school, about 2.4 million of them enroll in colleges and universities. Scattered throughout those institutions of higher learning are 2,000 teacher preparation programs. Those programs enroll about 500 thousand students annually. That number, just like the percent of college freshmen that want to be teachers is in rapid freefall. However, there is a huge phenomenon here. Those 500 thousand represent over 20 percent of the annual college enrollees, not the under 5 percent declared in the NEA survey. Now, it should be clear that entering a TPP does not typically happen during the freshman year, but it is an annual number, so the two percentages are comparable. In fact, given attrition in the college ranks by year (more sophomores drop out than freshmen), the real percentage is probably higher.
Is it possible that the number of dreamers just got much larger during college prior to entering the TPP? The data seem to suggest that something is happening. Most college students change majors at least once, and the reasons behind those changes can be both proactive and reactive. That is, students may fall in love with a new field of study, but often, they come to realize that their ambition is beyond their commitment. The fact is, the average college student changes majors 3 times, and it is likely that most of these changes are reactive. That means, for many students, entering a TPP seems to provide a more achievable path to completion and employment than other majors. Studies suggest that most students entering a TPP dream of working with young people, but who would admit that they chose entering a TPP as a path of less resistance? It’s probably a mixture of the two, and the ratio is not reliably measurable.
|College attainment (Bachelor’s)||33%|
|Percent of college enrollees who graduate in 6 years||60%|
|Number of annual Bachelor’s degrees||1.8 million|
|Percent of TPP enrollees that complete||30%|
|Number of annual TPP graduates||150 thousand|
Nonetheless, a large number of dreamers have entered training, and now they must graduate. Of the 2.4 million students who started college, about 60 percent of them graduate within 6 years. Unfortunately, for the students entering teacher preparation programs, that number is half as large. Thus, the number of dreamers has declined dramatically as a proportion of college trained individuals. The 150 thousand trained teachers this year represent just above 8 percent of the college graduates.
|Percent of TPP graduates who enter the profession||50%|
|Percent of teachers with less than 2 years experience||10%|
|Percent of teacher annual attrition (leaving the profession)||8%|
|Percent of teacher attrition by third year||20%|
Unfortunately, even before our dreamers get their first teaching job, half of them change course again. That leaves just over 4% of the college educated workforce opting to teach. Additionally, we can see that much of the teaching workforce is young, and attrition takes a significant portion every year. If you think of teaching as a 40 year career, and teachers only leave the profession at the end, then attrition should be about 2½ percent. The figures in the table show that attrition affects every stage of the teaching life cycle, with a greater impact on the beginning.
|US Labor Force||150 million|
|Number of teachers in US||3.6 million|
Finally, there are 150 million American adults in the US labor force, and about another 100 million American adults not included in that number who are unemployed, retired, or not seeking work. Thus, teachers make up about 2½ percent of the nation’s labor force and about 1½ percent of the adult population. Given the 10 to 20 percent I called “young dreamers” at the top, this number seems disappointing.
For whatever reason, many youngsters perceive teaching to be an honorable goal, but much of the shine is worn away by the time students complete high school and enter college. And despite the massive influx of entrants into teacher preparation programs (even with declining enrollment), numbers decline to catastrophic levels later on.
Schools need to nurture the dream. Teacher preparation programs need to dramatically step up their game. The argument about privatization needs to take a back seat to issues regarding teacher recruitment and training. Otherwise, both public and private options will fail equally.
The data here are interesting. What was not presented, however, is how these numbers play out in states, communities, and neighborhoods with fewer resources. If our poorest schools hope to provide reasonable educational opportunities to their students, every stage of this process needs attention; and needs it now.