Re: The Imaginary Teacher Shortage

There was an interesting opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal  today: “The Imaginary Teacher Shortage” by Jay Greene. Both Obama and Romney think we need more teachers, but as Greene notes:

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students. Yet math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress.

That study Greene refers to can be found here. Interestingly, while scores for high school students haven’t changed, scores for nine- and thirteen-year-olds have improved. It’s also worth noting that the pupil to teacher ratio depends on what kind of school we’re talking about. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “the public school pupil/teacher ratio was 15.4 in 2009. By comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was estimated at 12.5 in 2009. The average class size in 2007–08 was 20.0 pupils for public elementary schools and 23.4 pupils for public secondary schools.”

While I agree that hiring more teachers isn’t necessarily the solution to our education problem, I disagree with Greene’s proposed alternative: using more technology in classrooms to allow for “more individualized instruction with many fewer teachers.” I don’t think that letting young students sit for hours in front of a computer screen, with teachers serving merely as “tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers,” is the answer. What do you think?


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