Have Millenials turned away from teaching profession?
(District of Columbia) In what may prove to be another national socioeconomic trend with roots in California, education planners in a number of states are looking with alarm at the sudden drop of college students entering the teaching profession.
In North Carolina, school administrators are already dealing with a teacher shortage as enrollment in the state university’s educator preparation program has fallen 28 percent since the fall of 2010.
In Michigan, the decline has been closer to 40 percent between 2009 and 2013, the most recent data available. And in Georgia the drop has been almost 36 percent.
The experience in California dates back more a decade and shows a decline of 74 percent in the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs.
The recession is the most likely cause of the exodus, public policy experts say, but there is also a growing sense that Millennials as a group view the teaching profession as less desirable than did their parents or grandparents.
“I’ve noticed an increased interest in education policy and education research but less so in actually teaching,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy. “I don’t have statistical data and we are here in Washington D.C. where people who are interested in policy tend to come – but you do hear from young people a little trepidation about classroom teaching.
“We also see a number of young folks who have taught for three years or four – and then decide they are done,” she said. “They find this isn’t what they want to do, they want a different career or they want to make more money.”
The U.S. Department of Education reports that the nation’s elementary and secondary schools employed close to 3.5 million full-time equivalent classroom teachers.
Of that total, 44 percent were under age 40 in 2013 – which is why federal officials say schools will need to hire 1.6 million new teachers to replace baby-boomer educators that will retire over the next ten years.
That wave of new hiring coincides with growing concerns from both Washington D.C. and many state capitols that teacher training programs are failing to produce high-quality graduates.
Indeed, in its 2014 review of almost 1,700 of the nation’s teacher preparation schools, the National Council on Teacher Quality gave just 26 elementary programs and 81 secondary programs top scores.
Perhaps an even bigger problem, however, is the long-standing inability of the teacher profession to attract high-achieving undergraduate students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 23 percent of all teachers – and only 14 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools – come from the top third of college graduates in 2010.
Those numbers are likely to slip even further based on the findings of a poll of college students conducted in December by Third Way, a public policy think tank based in Washington D.C.
Drawn from an online survey completed by 400 college students that had a grade-point average of “B-plus” or better – the polls found just 17 percent who said they would be interested in pursuing a K-12 teaching position.
Perhaps even more telling, 32 percent said they had “absolutely zero” interest in teaching.
When asked to characterized the types of people who go into different college majors – education was again disparaged:
- 66 percent called engineering students “smart”
- 52 percent said business major are “motivated”
- 27 percent called education majors “mediocre”
- 12 percent called education majors “lazy”
Meanwhile, when it came to ranking college majors by degree of difficulty, 54 percent of high-achievers rated education as easy – just ahead of English and communications.
To be fair, a poll taken ten or even 20 years ago using the same pool of respondents might have produced similar results. That is, high-achieving undergraduates have probably always had a bias toward college majors generally considered difficult like math, engineering or the sciences.
But one final finding is hard to ignore: 49 percent of those polled said the teaching profession has become less prestigious in recent years.
Kate Walsh, president of the Council on Teacher Quality, said some institutions share in the blame for the decline in the perceived status of the teaching profession because they do not hold education students to higher standards. “Education programs are notorious among college students as a place where you can get easy A’s,” she said. "That’s what needs to be changed.” “Teaching is one of the easiest professions to get into and ironically, it is one of the hardest to do.”
Researchers from the NCTQ have found that teacher preparation students are 50 percent more likely to graduate with honors than any other major.
Walsh said the fact that the pipeline isn’t providing as many new teachers isn’t really a problem.
“We train way too many teachers now,” she said. “We need to be more selective, but the incentives aren't there for institutions to do so: they are under pressure to bring in tuition. Today it’s even worse because institutions are admitting people they wouldn’t five years ago to keep their enrollment numbers up.”
As far as why fewer young people are going into the profession – Walsh said economics is the biggest factor.
“To me it’s immediately obvious that you can’t hand out pink slips the way they did in California without word moving pretty quickly that becoming a teacher can mean a high level of uncertainty when it comes to job security,” she said. “It’s utterly demoralizing to be told year after year that you might lose your job – that's not the way to motivate talented young people to enter the teaching profession.