Why Would Any Millennial Choose to Teach?

ByBryce Covert

This piece originally appeared on the Roosevelt Institute's New Deal 2.0. 

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This country is in desperate need of more teachers. The U.S. ranks a pathetic 24th in reading, 30th in science, and 32nd in math when our students are compared to those in other countries.

But we seem to be hell-bent on keeping college graduates from going into the profession. From the debt they take on before school, to the job prospects they face when they graduate, to the way we treat teachers if they actually do sign up, any sane person would steer clear.

Total student debt now stands at $870 billion, more than total credit card debt. That’s a big number, and it’s important to keep in mind that it has some concrete real life consequences for the people carrying it. A study in 2007 found that “an extra $10,000 in student debt reduces the likelihood that an individual will take a job in nonprofits, government, or education by about 5 to 6 percentage points.” That’s not too hard to grasp: If you have thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of dollars in outstanding debt to pay off after graduating, a job that pays more than a measly $40,000 a year will look that much more temping. And, in fact, the data bears that out. The study found that the same $10,000 in additional student debt will reduce the likelihood that graduates take a job that pays less than $41,000 by six percentage points. Elementary and secondary school teachers make under $48,000 at the median — starting pay is usually a good deal lower.

The job prospects for grads trying to enter education are just as bleak. The economy has shed 584,000 public sector jobs since the recovery began in 2009, and 236,500, or about 40 percent, were in local education — in other words, public school teachers. Even worse, the unemployment rate for education grads is extremely high. Mike Konczal recently pointed out, “Education and social work graduates have a huge, statistically significant, 13.5% unemployment rate.” Compare that to an 8.3 percent rate for the general population. Even if you felt OK paying through the nose for college tuition just to scrape by on low pay, you’d be at risk for even finding a job in the first place.

But those who do have a job aren’t so lucky these days either. After a huge public debate, controversial value-added scores for teachers were recently released, dubbing teachers “good” and “bad.” And they’re already damaging teachers’ morale. A recent survey showed that it’s at its lowest point in more than 20 years. One in three teachers say they’re likely to find a different job in the next five years, up from one in four just three years ago. Their concerns? Job security, increased class sizes, and budget cuts. Little wonder: More than three quarters said their schools had undergone budget cuts, including layoffs.

I went into teaching directly out of college, and even then I felt like I was making a foolish choice. Now with student debt burdens skyrocketing, budgets shrinking, and unemployment ballooning, I can’t imagine I’d make the same choice.

Photo Credit: Editor B