An Interview with Richard Ingersoll: An Examination as to Who is Teaching Our Kids and What is Happening Out There.

Dec 18, 2012 by

Richard Ingersoll is an expert on teachers - how they work, where they work, and why they work.

Richard Ingersoll is an expert on teachers – how they work, where they work, and why they work.

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

 1)        Richard, you and some of your colleagues have taken a long hard look at the current crop or generation of teachers. Basically, who funded this study and what did you find?

We began this study in 2009 with a small amount of seed funding from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future and the Gates Foundation.

But, we have since continued on our own.  Using the best national data available, we set out to discover what changes have occurred, if any, in the nation’s elementary and secondary teaching force over the past couple of decades.  We were surprised by what we found. We 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.

2)         You found a “larger“ number of teachers. Can you discuss proportionally? And how many in elementary, middle school, high school, and then specifically in special education? And have these numbers significantly increased?

Yes, we found that the teaching force has ballooned in size since the late 1980s.  Since then total K-12 student enrollment in the nation’s schools (public, private, and charter combined), went up by 19 percent. During the same period the teaching force employed in schools increased at over two times that rate, by 48 percent.  The number of general elementary school teachers increased by a third, while middle and secondary school teachers have gone up by 50 percent.

Among the largest increases is special education teachers; they have gone up over 100 percent.  Interestingly, the number of teachers employed in private schools has increased at a faster rate than in public schools, but students have not.

3)         Obviously, the current crop of teachers is somewhat older- is this due to the economy? Or are our older teachers simply a group that enjoys teaching?

Actually, no.  The current crop of teachers is decided younger and less experienced than in the past.  Because of the ballooning, mentioned above, instead of a “graying” there has been a “greening” of the teaching force.  In 1987-88, there were about 65,000 first-year teachers; by 2007-08, there were over 200,000.  In 1987-88, the modal, or most common, public school teacher had 15 years of teaching experience under his or her belt. But by 2007-08, the modal teacher was not a gray-haired veteran; he or she was a beginner in their first year of teaching.

4)         Teaching has always somewhat been a female profession- or is it that the males go into coaching, administration and other realms?

Yes, school teaching force has historically been women’s work and school administration has been men’s work.  But, both are becoming far more female.

Since the early 1980s there has been a steady increase in the proportion of teachers who are female, from 66 percent in 1980 to now over three quarters of all teachers.  Moreover, there has been a simultaneous rapid increase in female administrators; over half of school principals are now women.

We are very interested to watch if this trend continues.  Will there be fewer and fewer male teachers and what might this mean for educating the next generation.

 5) When you say “ more diverse “ could you be a bit more specific?

While the teaching force is becoming more homogenous gender-wise, the opposite is true for the race/ethnicity of teachers.  In the late 1980s, there were about 325,000 minority teachers; by 2007-08, there were over 642,000. Growth in the number of minority teachers has outpaced growth in minority students and was over twice the growth rate of white teachers.  While, the proportion of minority students in schools is still far greater than the proportion of minority teachers, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the teaching force has rapidly grown more diverse.

6)         “ Consistent in academic ability“—does this mean that they have a master’s or are “ highly qualified “ or more experienced?

Some researchers and commentators maintain that the academic ability of teachers has been declining over time— and that gender is at the root of the issue.  With alternative careers and jobs increasingly available, this view holds that the “best and brightest” women have decreasingly entered traditionally female-dominated occupations and professions, such as teaching.   We re-examined these trends using another possible measure of academic ability—the selectivity or competitiveness of one’s undergraduate institution, which is no doubt correlated with SAT/ACT and other standardized test scores.

The measure we used is Barrons’ six-category ranking of colleges and universities: most competitive, highly competitive, very competitive, competitive, less competitive, not competitive.

Our data show that there has been a decrease in the proportion of male teachers from top institutions since the late 1980s. But these data also show this trend has not been true of female teachers. And, because of the ballooning mentioned above, in sheer numbers, teaching is getting far more of both males and females from top institutions than before.

So, contrary to the view that there has been a decline in the academic caliber of female teachers, our data suggest this has not been true in recent decades.

7)         I am interested in your phrase “less stable “ How did you operationally define this? Does this mean transitory ? Or are teachers continually moving up the administrative ladder?

By less stable, we are referring to attrition from teaching — the percent of teachers who leave teaching each year. The group of teachers with the highest rates of attrition are beginners.  In earlier research we found that between 40 to 50 percent of those who enter teaching leave teaching within five years

We have now found these already high levels have been going up since the late 1980s. Rates of leaving for first-year teachers rose by 34 percent since the late 1980s.  For instance, after the 1987-88 school year, about 6,000 first-year teachers left teaching, while after the 2007-08 school year, more than four times as many—about 26,000—left the occupation. Hence, not only are there far more beginners in the teaching force – the greening mentioned above, but these beginners are less likely to stay in teaching.

8)         Can we talk turnover? Early retirement?

Conventional wisdom has long held that retirements are a major factor behind teacher shortages. But our research has documented that teacher retirements have always represented only a small portion of all of those leaving teaching—less than a third in recent years.  In our research on math and science teacher shortages, we have found that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the new supply of qualified teachers has been more than sufficient to cover for student enrollment increases and teacher retirement increases in mathematics and science. In contrast, the main, but under-recognized, source of mathematics and science teacher staffing problems is pre-retirement voluntary turnover.

9)         Where can others review this report?

I suggest two links:

This is our 23 page report:

This is a short summary page:

10)       Last most difficult question- does anybody in Washington read these reports,and do they really make a difference?

Yes and no.  My experience is that there are legislators, policy makers. commentators and pundits of every type — just as in the larger population.   Some want to know the facts and some don’t.  There are those whose minds are already made up and are only interested in data to the extent that they can serve as ammunition for their preconceived views.  On the other hand, I have also found there are legislators and commentators, aligned with both political parties, who genuinely want to learn from the facts and want to understand what ails our education system and how we might try to fix it.

11)       What have I neglected to ask?

For each of the trends I’ve mentioned, two large and important questions arise:

1. Why? What are the reasons for and sources of the trend?

2. So what? What difference does it make? What are the implications and consequences of the trend?

It is also striking that while these trends raise important questions, we have seen little awareness or discussion of them or their implications—whether by researchers, by policy makers, by educators, or by the public. But there are good reasons to investigate the sources and continuation of these changes—because if these trends do indeed continue, there will be large implications, with serious financial, structural, and educational consequences for America’s educational system.

Our research on these issues has only just begun and we plan to continue to undertake further research to uncover the answers to these questions.

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