National Teacher Shortage Is Unlikely, RAND Studies of Ind. Trends Suggest

By Ann Bradley — January 08, 1992 5 min read

Despite widespread predictions to the contrary, the nation is unlikely to experience a general shortage of public-school teachers in the 1990’s, two new reports from the RAND Corporation conclude.

Researchers from the think tank---which in 1984 issued a report sounding the alarm for a predicted shortage-examined data on Indiana teachers only. But they say their findings are applicable to the nation as a whole because they hinge on trends affecting the entire teacher workforce.

Some of the patterns that the researchers discovered among Indiana teachers contradict several popular notions that have led to the fears about a teacher shortage.

For example, the studies paint a picture of far less turnover in the teaching profession, far less reliance on new education-school graduates to fill jobs, and a far greater number of women choosing to teach than had been assumed, the authors note.

Previous studies--including the 1984 RAND report--had predicted a teacher shortage based on low enrollments in teacher-education programs, increasing K-12 student enrollments, an aging teaching force, low salaries, and a growing array of career choices for women.

These studies, in turn, led the RAND researchers Sheila Nataraj Kirby, David W. Grissmer, and Lisa Hudson to conduct the analysis of Indiana’s supply of teachers. They chose to examine Indiana because the state has compiled information on its teachers for 24 years, accumulating one of the most extensive data bases in the nation.

The researchers supplemented that information with a survey of some 3,000 teachers who were hired to teach in Indiana during the 198788 school year.

Ms. Kirby and Mr. Grissmer also conducted a study of how many Indiana teachers leave the profession permanently each year.

The results of the two studies suggest there will be no teacher shortage in the 1990’s, the authors maintain, even though the student population nationwide is expected to increase by 7 percent between now and the year 2000.

Low Rate of Attrition

The researchers found that the permanent “attrition rate” for Indiana teachers has fallen steadily since the late 1960’s, from 11 percent in 1969 to 3 percent or 4 percent in 1987.

Among teachers who have been in the classroom for five years or less-those who tend to leave in the greatest numbers--the attrition rate of about one-third stands at a 25-year low, the study found. In 1965-66, half of the teachers in the state had permanently left teaching by the end of their fifth year.

The authors attribute their Indiana findings to factors that affect the entire teaching force. For example, most teachers are between 35 and 55 years of age, a time when attrition is low in all professions.

The fact that more women in their 30’s are entering teaching also has contributed to lower attrition rates, the study notes, since this age group tends to be more professionally stable than people in their 20’s.

Moreover, because two-thirds of teachers are women--and the drop in attrition has been most apparent among women teachers--the authors believe that teachers are simply following the labor-force trends among women.

Women now are less prone than in the past to take prolonged absences from their jobs to raise families, the researchers point out. When they do leave work, women today are more likely to go back, and they return to the job faster than they once did.

Just as the number of women in many occupations is rising, the study found, so is the number of women entering teaching. In Indiana, the number of men hired to teach has declined from 30 percent of new hires in the late 1960’s to about 22 percent in 1988-89.

Finally, the report concludes, the attrition rate has fallen because higher salary levels have kept more people in the profession.

“Over all, the teacher labor market has been strongly influenced by general demographic and laborforce trends,” the study says.

‘Nontraditional’ Candidates

In a separate study on the state’s supply of teachers, the researchers discovered that newly graduated young teachers account for only about one-fourth of Indiana’s new teachers hired to fill annual vacancies.

While some projections of teacher shortages had focused on the gap between this traditional source of new teachers and the need for teachers, the new RAND study found evidence of an increasing number of “nontraditional’’ teacher candidates.

For example, older teachers who were inexperienced made up another 20 percent of new hires. These were individuals who had delayed entering teaching until age 25 or older, either because they had not finished college, not become licensed to teach, or had worked in other occupations.

“Migrating” teachers coming into the state from other locations made up another 20 percent to 25 percent of new hires. About 40 percent of those teachers had attended high school or college in Indiana.

Teachers who had taught previously in the state and were returning to the profession after a hiatus accounted for another 30 percent of the new hires, the study found. In all, inexperienced teachers now make up a much smaller proportion of annual hires in the state--about 40 to 45 percent--than they did during the 1966-67 school year.

At that time, the study found, they accounted for more than 60 percent of new hires.

The proportion of hires who are returning teachers has grown from 15 percent to 30 percent. These teachers are considered to be part of a “reserve pool” of licensed individuals who may decide to teach under certain conditions.

Although the studies conclude that there is little reason for concern about a teacher shortage in this decade, the authors warn that there will be “cause for concern after the turn of the century.”

At that time, they say, increased retirements, smaller pools of returning and migrating teachers, and a declining number of women between the ages of 25 and 35 will converge to reduce the supply of teachers. The authors also say that the nation cannot expect significantly more women to enter the labor force.

The issue of future teacher supply will be the subject of a forthcoming RAND report.

Copies of “New and Returning Teachers in Indiana: Sources of Supply,” number R-4049-LE, and the forthcoming “Patterns of Attrition Among Indiana Teachers, 19651987,” number R-4076-LE, may be ordered by writing to RAND’s library and distribution department, 1700 Main St., P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, Calif. 90407-2138, or by calling (310) 393-0411, extension 6686.

A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 1992 edition of Education Week as National Teacher Shortage Is Unlikely, RAND Studies of Ind. Trends Suggest