25 Years of Changes: The “Greening” of the Teaching Force

National Center for Education Statistics released a comprehensive report detailing changes in several key characteristics of the teaching force between the 1987-88 and 2011-12 school years, including the number of teachers, the level of teaching experience, and the racial/ethnic diversity of the teaching force. The report focuses on how these demographic changes varied across different types of teachers and schools.

This report builds on and expands an earlier study by Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey (2014) that analyzed SASS data to explore what demographic trends and changes have, or have not, occurred in the elementary and secondary teaching force since the late 1980s. This earlier study found considerable changes in the teacher force. Among the key findings were that the teaching force has become

larger—The teaching force dramatically increased in size, growing at over twice the rate of student enrollment.

less experienced—With increases in hiring there has also been a = large increase in the number of teachers who are beginners. In 1987–88, the most common teacher had 15 years of teaching experience. By 2007–08, the modal teacher was in his or her first year of teaching.

more diverse—The teaching force has rapidly become more racially/ethnically diverse. Growth in the number of minority teachers has outpaced growth in minority students and has been more than twice the growth rate of White teachers.


The objective of the Ingersoll, Merrill, and Stuckey study was to provide a broad overview of national changes in the teaching force and to explore some of the possible reasons for, and implications of, the changes discovered. It did not disaggregate the data, nor did it investigate how the changes differ by type of teacher and by type of school.

This recent study does explore the changes more closely. The basic findings remain undisputed, but a more clear picture is offered this time and, personally, the implications are clear as well.

Among the findings about changes in the teacher workforce over this 25 year period:

  • The teacher work force grew by 46 percent between 1987-88 and 2011-12. Above average growth was seen among teachers of English as a Second Language, English language arts, math, foreign language, science, and special education. Below-average growth was seen in general elementary education, vocational-technical education, and art/music.


  • The growth in the teaching force varied across different types of schools. The teaching force in high-poverty public schools grew by nearly 325 percent while the number of teachers in low-poverty schools declined by almost 20 percent. The number of teachers in private schools grew at a higher rate than in public schools. However, private school teachers still account for only about 12 percent of the teacher work force; and


  • The teacher force became more diverse. While minority teachers remain underrepresented in the teaching force, both the number and proportion of minority teachers increased. Between 1987–88 and 2011–12, the number of minority teachers grew by 104 percent, compared to 38 percent growth in the number of White teachers. The percentage of teachers who belonged to all minority groups increased from 12.4 percent in 1987-88 to 17.3 percent in  2011-12.

This report utilizes data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a large-scale sample survey of elementary and secondary teachers and schools in the United States.

What we are to takeaway from this report is that about which has been whispered  for years, but there was no independent data backed evidence collected to bring the facts to the mainstream of education, educators, policymakers, administrators, and citizens. As the teacher workforce has grown tremendously, so has the numbers of ‘minority’ pedagogues entering service. However, that growth has not been randomly or equally/evenly distributed across school settings. Sure, there are more black teachers than ever, but there is still a great cultural mismatch between students and staff. New recruitment efforts to increase the workforce simply steered novice teachers  into high-need schools, lower performing, high poverty, and fewer resources.

While the numbers of private school teachers rose exponentially, the numbers of students enrolled in these schools decreased. But this is where the most experienced teachers have gone, or they’ve moved to low poverty schools. In other words, in areas of greatest needs, new teachers are thrown in, and ‘master’ teachers leave to find greener pastures. Even though teachers are more diverse, there is a huge gap -83% white, 17%’minority’. Diversity among students overshadow teachers 2 to 1.

Is there really an achievement gap or is it more about a teacher, cultural and/or policy, practices and program access  gap?



2 thoughts on “25 Years of Changes: The “Greening” of the Teaching Force

  1. When you got to the part about the greater increase in private school teachers even though the student population of such schools decreased, I had to wonder: is there generally a significant differential between the salaries offered by public vs. private schools? Not to be cynical, but such things often boil down to money.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your question touches an aspect which may, indeed, be a variable to consider. There was a recent article about child welfare caseworkers. There is a severe shortage of workers in many states, and also this is an area where children fall between the cracks too often. This workforce received pay raises. It is now reported that the caseworkers are performing at higher levels, engaging families on a more timely basis, and the question is again….was it the higher pay?
    Great question. Certainly money incentivizes and motivates, but is it that they are affirmed, validated and feel appreciated for the challenging role they play? Food for thought!


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