Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force

Has the elementary and secondary teaching force changed in recent years? And, if so, how? Have the types and kinds of individuals going into teaching changed? Have the demographic characteristics of those working in classrooms altered? To answer these questions, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania embarked on an exploratory research project to try to discover what trends and changes have, or have not, occurred in the teaching force over the past three decades. They were surprised by what they found. They discovered that the teaching force has been, and is, greatly changing; yet, even the most dramatic trends appear to have been little noticed by researchers, policy makers, and the public.

To explore these questions, researchers used the largest and most comprehensive source of data on teachers available—the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and its supplement, the Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS). These data are collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education (for information on SASS, see NCES, 2013). NCES has administered eight cycles of this survey over a 29-year period—1987-88, 1990-91, 1993-94, 1999-2000, 2003-04, 2007-08, 2011-12, and 2015-16. The most recent cycle, administered in 2015-16, was renamed the National Teacher Principal Survey (NTPS). In each cycle, NCES administers questionnaires to a nationally representative sample of 40,000 to 50,000 teachers, 9,000 to 11,000 school-level administrators, and about 5,000 district-level officials, collecting an unusually rich array of information on teachers, their students, and their schools. The study decided to take advantage of both the depth and duration of these data to explore what changes have taken place in the teaching force and teaching occupation over the three decades from 1987 to 2016.

The seven major trends uncovered are as follows:

Trend 1: Larger. The teaching force has ballooned in size between the late 1980s and 2016.

Trend 2: Grayer. The teaching force has been getting older.

Trend 3: Greener. As the proportion of older, veteran teachers has increased, so has the proportion of beginning teachers.

Trend 4: More Female. Both the number of women entering teaching and the proportion of teachers who are female have gone up.

Trend 5: More Diverse, by Race-Ethnicity. The percent of all public school teachers who belonged to minority groups increased from 12.5 percent in 1987-88 to 19.9 percent in 2015-16.

Trend 6: Consistent Academic Ability. There has been a decrease in the proportion of male teachers from highly selective colleges and universities since the late 1980s. But in the last three decades, this has not been true of female educators.

Trend 7: Unstable. Almost half of of all public school teacher turnover takes place in just one quarter of the population of public schools. The data show that high-poverty, high-minority, urban and rural public schools have among the highest rates of turnover. Over the past couple of decades, minority teachers have had significantly higher rates of turnover than white teachers, and this gap has widened in recent years. This is potentially due to the fact that minority teachers often choose to work in high-poverty schools that are also more likely to offer less-than-desirable working conditions.

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