Hire 100,000 More Math & Science Teachers?
Dr. David Mielke, Retired Dean of the College of Business, Eastern Michigan University
President Obama has touted on the campaign trail one of his ideas for his second term—to invest in education by hiring 100,000 math and science teachers. This may sound good to some, but would this be the “Right Thing to do?”
Let’s look at some issues:
1. What would be the real impact on each state if we did this? By simple division this yields 2,000 teachers per state. Given the large number of public school systems in each state, we may get one per school district–not to mention the distribution across all grades of K through 12. Hardly a big impact.
2. This plan assumes there are 100,000 math and science teachers who are currently unemployed and geographically evenly distributed to immediately fill these positions. It is a well known fact that there is a big shortage of teachers of math and science. This reminds me of the stimulus bill to fund “shovel ready” construction projects.
3. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students. In 2012, public schools have 3.27 million teachers or one for every 15.2 students. Despite the increase in teachers per student, math and reading scores for 17 year olds has remained virtually flat according to the U.S. Department of Education Assessments. Graduation rates are also virtually the same at 75%. Do more teachers mean better results? Doesn’t appear to be the case.
4. Should the federal government be hiring teachers? Isn’t this a decision for local school boards?
5. There are many states and school districts that are experiencing financial difficulties. They cannot afford to pick up more teacher costs after the federal money goes away. How effective is a one shot deal for a year or two to have more teachers and then have them laid off?
6. There is a trade-off between the number of teachers and the salary we offer to attract better qualified people. As the teacher work force has grown by over 50% over the past 4 decades, the salaries adjusted for inflation have increased only 11%. What if we had flipped the percentages—11% more teachers but 50% increase in salaries? Would we have better teachers?
7. Public school systems have been slow to develop and purchase innovative technologies. Almost all industries have increased productivity by using technology—substituting technology for more costly people. Education has done the reverse, making little use of technology and hiring more expensive people.
Hiring 100,000 more math and science teachers, even if we could find them and somehow continue to pay for them, is not the “Right Thing to do.” We need to have local control, not more federal control, and we must increase competition for the public school teacher monopoly. We need school choice and a voucher system and charter schools, because there is little incentive for public schools to innovate or economize. 100,000 more teachers will not improve educational results and will not rebuild our economy.