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The teacher workforce in the United States continues to be predominately white (86%) and female (79%). Although this trend has changed little over the last 30 years, there are more subtle nuances worth noting. The research provides moderate evidence that a larger percentage of the most intellectually able women decide to enter careers other than teaching now that more career opportunities are open to them. Nevertheless, there is also moderate evidence that one of the reasons for the interest in teaching among women is the opportunity it affords to take time out to raise a family, which means there is likely to continue to be relatively strong interest in teaching as a profession among women in spite of increased job opportunities elsewhere. With regard to the low percentage of minorities in the teaching profession, there is limited evidence that one of the reasons is the barrier teacher certification examinations pose to minority teacher candidates.

Much has been made in recent years of the issue of the relative intellectual ability of teachers in comparison with other college graduates. The research provides strong evidence that those college graduates with the very highest demonstrated intellectual proficiency are less likely to go into teaching than other college graduates. There is also limited evidence that poor hiring practices may be, in part, to blame for this.

The reserve pool of teachers also is the subject of much discussion. The research reviewed for this report indicates that between 25% and 37% of those who leave teaching eventually return at some point. This would seem to indicate that the attrition rate of new teachers from teaching is mitigated by the fact that a large percentage of dropouts are only temporarily lost to the profession.

Several important policy implications follow from the research. Policymakers should intensify their efforts to recruit capable minorities into teaching and to discover what accounts for their underrepresentation in the profession, although the likelihood of increasing minority representation significantly in the profession is small. Likewise, although it seems unlikely that teaching ever will attract a large percentage of the most academically talented individuals, policymakers should continue to seek to attract as able a teacher corps as possible. Finally, policymakers and educators should exploit the reserve pool of licensed teachers as fully as possible.

© 2005 Education Commission of the States