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November 07, 2008

Too Many Teachers?

Given the national cry for an "army of new teachers",  it's surprising that over 1400 teachers in NYC are paid to NOT teach.  Many reformers suggest that this oversupply results from a surplus of teachers that are not very good.  And, of course, they can't be fired, because the universe would instantly implode.  Fair enough.  But how can we explain the recent news that over 100 new NYC Teaching Fellows can't find a job?  Teaching Fellows are new teachers who were recruited through a prestigious non-profit program to attract talented mid-career professionals into teaching to address "New York's chronic teacher shortage".  To protest this mysterious absence of teaching jobs in the middle of a teacher shortage, the yet-to-be-employed Fellows are picketing both the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers.  (That should pretty much cover their bases.) 

One of the few uncontroversial ideas of basic economics is that when government is willing to pay an artificially high price for something (i.e. a price higher than those naughty free markets would pay), there will be an excess supply of that good or service.  With respect to jobs, the price could become "artificially high" because:
1. Wages have been raised.
2. Other benefits associated with the job have become more attractive.
3. Job opportunities in other fields have become less attractive. 

Indeed, all of these things have happened in recent years:
1. Teacher wages have gone up significantly.
2. School safety has improved significantly.
3. Programs like Teach For America and the Teaching Fellows have created systems to shepherd talented applicants through an ordinarily maddening process of teacher certification. This has lowered the effective entry cost into the profession while increasing job satisfaction by providing more support and an enriching social community.
4. Jobs in other professions, particularly finance jobs, have become much less available and much less lucrative.

Could these changes help to explain the surplus? 


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You're being kind here, of course. What explains the surplus and the fact that 1400 teachers are paid to not teach, is an almost-criminal contract with the teacher's union. Eliminate the the teachers contract (charter, voucher) and you get a near-instant tremendous boost in quality (again, Milwaukee, etc).

But you are much more subtle than I am ... and therefore you are much more compelling.

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