Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WSJ Wednesday - Do We Need More Teachers?

This edition of WSJ Wednesday comes to you thanks to an opinion article by Jay P. Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, from the Tuesday, October 9, 2012 issue.

Greene opens his article, "The Imaginary Teacher Shortage," by stating that President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have one thing in common:  they believe, "We need more teachers." Greene believes, however, the teacher labor force should shrink. Here's the logic behind his opinion:

  • In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students.
  • In 2012, there are 3.27 million teachers, or one for every 15.2 students.
  • Math and reading scores for 17 year olds remain virtually unchanged since 1970.
  • Estimates of high school graduation rates show no progress--about 75% of students complete high school then and now.*
According to Greene, while the teacher labor force has grown by almost 50% over the past 40 years, the average salary has only grown 11%. He believes we would be better off hiring fewer better-paid teachers, which would also reduce the amount spent on pension and health benefits. These costs have risen much higher than salaries in cost per teacher over the past four decades, he states. 

Greene also believes the money spent on additional teachers could be used to develop and purchase innovative educational technology. He admits educational technology is still young, but mentions free classes from Coursera offered for those in higher education and taught by the best professors in the world. Some K-12 charter schools in California and Arizona have the computers doing most of the teaching, while the teachers act as "tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers." While this is occurring outside of the public school model, Greene believes this could offer much more individualized instruction with fewer teachers. 

What are your thoughts on this issue? Have the stats mentioned in this article changed your mind about the need for more teachers?

* Stats provided by the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress, and D.O.E. reports. 


Patty Woodland said...

Did the article indicate how those teachers were distributed? If he was simply taking the number of teachers and dividing by the number of students the result is not indicative of true class size. Many inner city schools are suffering from overcrowding while rural schools are dying out. Do you cause the city students to suffer for a lack because the rural students have a surplus?

Do you deny students the opportunities to try music, language visual arts because the number of teachers is reduced?

It's not simply a game of numbers

Cheryl said...

No, just the overall numbers, which as you mention, could be misleading.