How the Public School Teaching Workforce is Changing: Seven Trends

4-minute read

The teacher workforce is changing. What are the trends and what does it mean for public school districts?


As part of DMGroup’s work helping school districts transform their human capital strategy to better support goals of improving student outcomes and enhancing equity, our research team has been doing a deep dive into the data surrounding today’s teaching workforce.

The public school teacher workforce has grown nearly three times faster than the student population over the past 30 years, and in that time, much has changed about the composition of our workforce. Researchers Richard M. Ingersoll, Elizabeth Merrill, Daniel Stuckey, and Gregory Collins of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), a network of top U.S. education researchers, recently published a report1 in which they identify seven trends characteristic of the teaching force today. Here, we summarize the seven trends identified in this report.

Seven trends: The transformation of the teaching workforce

  1. Larger: There are more teachers.
    • The number of public-school teachers has risen by 65% since 1987-88, compared to a 24% jump in the student population.

  2. Grayer: The teaching force has been getting older, on average.
    • The modal, or most common, age used to be 41, and rose substantially to 55 by 2007-08. 
    • Now, however, as more veteran teachers are retiring, the modal age now ranges from the mid-30s to the mid-40s.

  3. Greener: Teachers are less experienced, on average.
    • In the 1980s, the most common level of teaching experience was 15 years in the classroom; in 2015-2016, it was five years.
    • Around four out of 10 new teachers are at least 29 years old when they start teaching, many of them mid-career switchers coming from other professions.

  4. More female: The teaching force is more tilted toward women.
    • The proportion of women in the teaching force has risen from nearly 67% at the start of the 1980s to 76.6% in 2015-2016. 
    • The number of male teachers has increased by 31% during the same span, but the number of women teachers has grown even faster—at 79%!

  5. More diverse by race and ethnicity: The teaching force still does not mirror the diversity of the student population.
    • 39% of the overall U.S. population belongs to a minority group, and 51% of its public-school K-12 students, yet just 20% of its teachers do. 
    • Since 1987-1988, the number of minority teachers has gone up 162%, compared to 51% growth among white/non-Hispanic teachers.

  6. Consistent in academic ability: The teaching force continues to struggle as a profession to attract top students.
    • For decades, the standardized test scores of college graduates who become teachers have on average lagged those of all college graduates, including peers in the same fields and majors who went on to other professions. 
    • However, standardized test scores and teachers’ academic performance in college are imperfect proxies, at best, for teaching ability.

  7. Unstable: New teachers leave the profession at high rates.
    • About one in three new teachers exit teaching within three years.
    • Minority teachers have much higher turnover rates than their peers.

What do these teacher workforce trends mean for school districts, both now and in the future?

Today, there are more public-school teachers than ever, yet all 50 states and over half of public-school districts report teacher shortages in at least some grades, subjects, or regions.2 Hiring teachers is hard and getting harder every year as unemployment drops, alternative job options proliferate, and teaching becomes ever more challenging. Hiring for hard-to-fill roles such as math, science, and STEM teachers, special educators, behaviorists and paraprofessionals, and foreign language teachers poses a special challenge; districts located in remote areas or with high proportions of low-income or minority students have difficulty attracting enough educators across all subjects. 

But, as challenging as it can be, hiring a sufficient number of teachers is not the goal: the goal is to hire great teachers—when it comes to student learning and achievement, no school-based factor matters more. Strategically recruiting and hiring high-quality teachers is a defining feature of high-performing districts. At a time when the profile of the teaching force is changing and teacher shortages are widespread in many fields and geographies, it is vital that districts take a strategic approach to refining their teacher recruitment efforts, reducing turnover, and identifying and developing their high-potential future leaders.


Want to learn ways to strengthen your school district's recruiting and hiring strategy? Check out these resources:


Richard M. Ingersoll, Elizabeth Merrill, Daniel Stuckey, and Gregory Collins, “Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force, updated October 2018,” Research Report (#RR 2018–2), Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania, update to report previously published April 2014.