We Need MANY More Teachers than Doctors or Lawyers

It was a little surprising to see the AFT take a stand against the edTPA teacher licensing test given President Randi Weingarten’s support for similar “bar exams” for teachers, and it got me thinking about “professionalizing” teaching in general.

That teaching needs to be “professionalized” is a mostly-platitudinous claim, but you often hear from both sides in the education reform debates.

You often hear people reason about professionalization by analogy: that we need to change the way teachers are certified to make the profession more similar to law or medicine.

This is probably a bad way of thinking about teaching.

It’s easy to forget, but the United States actually needs a lot of teachers. In 2012, public and private K-12 schools employed roughly 3.7 million teachers.

For comparison, in 2012 the United States employed approximately 835,000 doctors and 1,268,000 lawyers.


In other words, we need three times as many teachers as we have lawyers and more than four times as many teachers as doctors.

Another way to think of it is this: 3.7 million teachers represents nearly 2.8% of the civilian labor force and 8% of all college graduates in the labor force in 2010.

And teachers, of course, make substantially lower salaries than doctors or lawyers, which will complicate any efforts to reduce the profession’s attractiveness or to throw up additional barriers to entry.

So it’s really not obvious that it’s possible to make teaching much like medicine or law even if we wanted to.

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One Comment

  1. Posted July 29, 2014 at 10:36 AM | Permalink

    Last spring I had to decide between pursuing a teaching credential versus attending law school. For the former, the idea of having to complete nearly the same amount of coursework as a masters degree for a job that pays considerably less was still palatable, but Common Core and Vergara made the decision easy for me.

    At least as an attorney I can go after corrupt charter school chains that discriminate against special needs students.

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