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January 25, 2013 2:52 PM Too Many Teachers?

By Daniel Luzer

American colleges may be producing too many people with specialties in elementary education, according to a new analysis by Education Week:

Data, while imprecise, suggest that some states are producing far more new teachers at the elementary level than will be able to find jobs in their respective states—even as districts struggle to find enough recruits in other certification fields.
But scholars who study the issue acknowledge that, even if a net oversupply of elementary teachers exists in some states, remedies are difficult. They are complicated, such scholars say, by a lack of comparable, cross-state data and by the complex and variable nature of the education labor market.

Illinois, for instance, seems to produce 9,982 elementary school teachers for 1,073 jobs. New York produced 6,498 potential elementary teachers for 2,800 jobs.

Of course, the fact that some states are educating more people for teaching jobs than they have jobs available doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem (just because you went to college in Illinois doesn’t mean you have to work there); some states probably need more teachers than they’ve got coming out of their colleges. It might work out in the long run as people simply graduate from college in one state and get a job in another.

Some argue this mismatch isn’t something to worry about:

“Would we raise this question about English majors? It’s sort of notorious that English majors get jobs waiting tables, … but people still do it because they enjoy it and find it a useful thing to do,” said Jim H. Wyckoff, a professor of education and policy at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “So I’m a little concerned about treating education differently from other disciplines.”

Well yes, but English majors can ultimately get any number of professional office jobs; English is an academic subject, not career training. Are people hiring elementary education majors to work in advertising or public relations?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer