Who’s Teaching Our Children?

May 7, 2010 - In an analysis of 20 years of demographic data, Penn GSE Professor Richard Ingersoll has uncovered some trends, many of which challenge conventional wisdom about the teaching profession in the U.S.

In a recent article in Educational Leadership, Dr. Ingersoll describes the findings from their analysis of the Schools and Staffing survey, the most comprehensive source of information available on the teaching force. Lisa Merrill, a doctoral student at Penn GSE, also worked on the study.

The elementary and secondary teaching force has changed in recent years in a number of ways, Dr. Ingersoll says. “It is larger. It is older—and younger. It is more female. It is less stable. However, its academic ability remains about the same.”

Key findings from the study are:

  • The number of K-12 teachers in the United States has increased by 48 percent since the mid-1980s, far outstripping the growth in elementary and secondary student enrollment (19 percent).
  • The number of teachers 50 years or older increased from about 530,000 in 1988 to 1.3 million in 2008.
  • At the same time, the ballooning of the teaching force has resulted in a surge in beginning teachers (both young teachers and career-switchers).
  • The proportion of teachers who are female increased from 66 percent in 1980 to 76 percent in 2007–08.
  • Teacher turnover has increased by 28 percent since the early 1990s. This figure includes both those who move between schools and those who leave the field altogether.
  • As for the widely held perception that “the best and the brightest” college graduates are increasingly choosing other career paths, Ingersoll and Merrill’s analysis found little evidence of dramatic change.

Who’s Teaching Our Children, by Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill, is available here.


Contact: Kat Stein, Exec. Director of Communications / katstein@gse.upenn.edu / (215) 898-9642