Too Many Elementary Teachers Makes Case for Market-Based Differential Pay

Thanks to Ed News Colorado, my attention today was brought to an interesting Education Week story by Stephen Sawchuk that says colleges of education are graduating too many elementary school teachers:

Finally, the tendency toward oversubscription in the elementary fields is also a function of candidates’ interest, said Amee Adkins, an associate dean of the college of education at Illinois State University, in Normal, and the president of the Illinois Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

“It’s content material they were less intimated [sic] by,” she said, ticking off a list of reasons. “Kids are cuter when they’re little. And it’s probably when [the candidates] remember having the most fun in school.”

The Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci has been on the case of “teacher shortage alarmists” for quite awhile now, a much needed service. But I don’t think that until now there has ever been evidence so compelling to shoot down the alarmists’ case.

Education Week‘s original analysis shows that the excess of elementary teachers isn’t really a problem in Colorado (where supply outstrips demand by only 6 percent). Not so much as say Delaware–where there are three times as many qualified people as available positions. Or how about Illinois? For every opening, there are more than nine times as many people in the elementary education job market.

How terribly surprised should we be? Especially when elsewhere in the article we’re told, “States subsidize an important part of teacher training through public university systems and loan-forgiveness programs.” That has to have some effect on distorting the market.

But another factor not explored in Sawchuk’s piece is the single salary schedule, which pays all teachers based on seniority and degree credentials but makes no distinction for the type of teaching position. As a result, districts have a harder time finding good science teachers and special educators but are often overwhelmed with applications from English instructors and… (wait for it) elementary teachers.

One key way to help iron out the disparities is for education agencies to develop and implement thoughtful market-based, differential pay systems. As my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow pointed out a couple years ago in a report on Colorado K-12 compensation innovations, The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs is a forerunner in this area.

More recently, on a much larger scale, the Douglas County School District is moving full speed ahead with market-based pay bands to attract qualified candidates to hard-to-fill positions. What a great idea! Just one small way to help balance supply and demand in the world of education.