The Teacher Glut

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Many of you will be familiar with Mike Antonucci, who is probably America’s last remaining full-time education labor reporter. On his website, he regularly compiles up-to-date Census data on enrollment, staffing, spending and teacher salaries for all school districts in each of the 50 states; he now has almost all the states done for 2005-06.

Lately he’s been commenting on how teacher hiring continues to far outpace enrollment growth; even states where enrollment is flat or shrinking are still hiring like crazy. Maryland, for example, expanded its teacher workforce 10 percent from 2001 to 2006, while enrollment grew less than 1 percent. California, which is still carrying around an extremely bloated teacher workforce from its apparently failed experiment in class size reduction, has just announced that it’s cancelling the large majority of its planned teacher layoffs.

This isn’t a new phenomenon; as somebody pointed out you-know-where, the teacher workforce has been expanding relative to the student population for decades.

What effects does this have? You might expect it to reduce class sizes. The benefits of class size reduction are seriously doubtful and can’t possibly be cost-effective anyway, but never mind that for now. The fact is, class sizes don’t seem to have been reduced. Data from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics indicate that while the system’s student/teacher ratio has been falling, class sizes have been flat, partly because each teacher teaches for fewer hours per day; there are also probably more teachers with non-teaching assignments (as mentor teachers, etc.) but I don’t know if we have data for that.

One effect the teacher glut is almost certainly to exert negative pressure on teacher salaries. Now, despite what you’ve been told, teachers are not underpaid. (See also the chapter on this in . . . well, you know.) But teacher salaries have remained stable, growing only a little faster than inflation. If we didn’t have a teacher glut, the laws of economics tell us salaries would be growing faster.

So who benefits? Well, the teachers’ unions make out like bandits. More teachers means bigger budgets without the hassle of selling the membership on dues hikes, and more political clout because the public school gravy train is larger. And while the unions’ political clout is badly overestimated – witness, for example, the startling political success of school choice – they do have enough power to exercise significant influence when no one else is looking, such as where staffing policies are concerned.

All of which reminds me of a story Antonucci covered recently (see Item 5 here) about a complaint filed with the IRS by the Ohio teachers’ union against White Hat Management, a charter school operator. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported: “Susan Taylor, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said White Hat, which is supposedly hired by the schools’ boards, exercises too much control over the schools, boards, and finances, violating IRS rules, she said.”

The teacher’s union files an IRS complaint because a tax-exempt organization has too much influence over education policy. So when does the union disband?

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7 Responses to The Teacher Glut

  1. [...] at Jay Greene’s blog, Greg Forster takes on the issue (via the extraordinary education investigator Mike Antonucci) of states with growing teacher [...]

  2. [...] make in comparison to other professions. I was flabbergasted really. I’ve been one of the many teachers that work in public schools and honestly I didn’t think I was making that much in [...]

  3. Deborah Wallace says:

    Jay,

    Just wondering if it upsets you when a guest blogger makes it obvious that he didn’t bother to read all the way to the last paragraph of an article of yours, even if he cites it in the blog. Can I quote you?

    “In the end, the pay of public employees is largely shaped by political judgments that incorporate subjective values and preferences. Because the level of public school teacher pay is set by governments with taxing power, the market has only a limited influence. “

  4. Greg Forster says:

    I don’t know how I missed this comment when it was posted, but I didn’t see it until now. For the record, there’s nothing inconsistent between what I said and what Jay said. I agree wholeheartedly with Jay’s assertion that “the market has only a limited influence” on teacher salaries. I’ve always said the same myself. But I also think, as I wrote, that the laws of economics tell us teacher salaries would be higher if there were fewer teachers. In order for what I wrote to be false, market influence on teacher salaries would have to be, not “limited,” but nonexistent – or at least nonexistent as far as the impact of supply on price is concerned. And that’s manifestly not the case. To say that market influence is “limited” means, at least in this context, that other forces besides the market are at work. But market forces are also at work, in addition to those other forces. And I know Jay thinks the same, because we co-wrote that book chapter on the subject – and we also co-wrote an op-ed making this exact argument, which was published (if memory serves) in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. (And if he had changed his mind about this, he’d have said so.)

  5. I hadn’t seen this either. And I agree with Greg.

  6. [...] getting state legislatures to direct enormous geysers of money into the government school system, especially by hiring too many teachers, which puts lots of money into our pockets. And in the past, when people asked why our results were so lousy, we just told them we needed more [...]

  7. [...] a parent’s nightmare. Across the country, the government school system is shot through with featherbedding, rewards for mediocrity, and absolute job protection for even the worst teachers, all courtesy of [...]

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