Assessing the teacher pipeline in Metro Milwaukee

By Joe Yeado

Teachers are an indispensable part of the education system. They lead classrooms across our region and serve as the front-line educators for our children. The ability to run a school is predicated on having a steady supply of teachers.

Does Greater Milwaukee have a steady supply of teachers or does the region face a shortage?

A new report from the Public Policy Forum — Help Wanted: An Analysis of the Public School Teacher Pipeline in Greater Milwaukee — addresses this question. Using data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, federal Title II reports, and institutional data from teacher preparation programs, we explore the transitioning educator profession. Our analysis answers a number of questions, including:

  • How many teachers leave and enter the profession in a given year?
  • Why are teachers leaving the profession?
  • Are there enough students in teacher preparation programs to replace departing teachers?
  • How can schools and districts increase teacher retention?

The education profession in Wisconsin has been the subject of much discussion and debate in recent years, particularly during consideration and implementation of Wisconsin Act 10. Consequently, our analysis includes data over multiple years to capture changes in school leader characteristics since the 2009-10 school year.

Some key findings include:

  • The number of teachers leaving the workforce has increased 22.5% in recent years.
  • More than a quarter of the teaching workforce in Metro Milwaukee is over age 50, and as this group ages, departures are likely to become more numerous.
  • According to local school district human resources professionals, aside from retirement, most teachers leave for money or family obligations.
  • About 62% of replacement teachers in Milwaukee are in their first year of teaching.
  • Enrollments in Wisconsin teacher preparation programs are down 27.9%, from 12,323 students in 2008-09 to 8,887 students in 2013-14.
  • Teacher prep program completers are down 6.6% in recent years — from 4,007 to 3,741 — and will likely continue to decline for the next several years.

The research findings are both instructive and incomplete. The analyses provide an in-depth understanding of school leaders throughout our region. And yet, without the ability to include leaders from private schools, the figures, patterns, and trends identified in this report do not encompass the entire educational environment of Greater Milwaukee.

As with many projects, this report raises more questions than it provides answers. Some questions for future research include:

  • What is the pipeline for school leaders and are we facing a shortage in that area, as well?
  • Does teacher turnover affect student academic achievement?
  • With so many new teachers leaving the profession, is there a linkage to the quality of teacher preparation programs and whether they are providing the experiences and skills necessary to succeed in the job?

We hope to address these and other questions in future research.

This report is the final installment in our Metro Milwaukee Educator series. The first report in the series, Taking Attendance, found that the number of teachers in the region had decreased nearly 5% since 2009-10. In response to retirements and vacancies, districts have hired teachers who are less experienced, but not necessarily younger. The teaching workforce is 98% white, despite the fact that 46% of Metro Milwaukee’s K-12 students are students of color.

The second report, Guiding Principals, provided a similar look at school and district leaders in the region. Since 2009-10, 39% of school leaders over the age of 55 have left the workforce, meaning that today’s superintendents, principals, and assistant principals are younger and less experienced. Leaders of color comprise nearly 28% of the workforce, which is more diverse than teachers, but less than students.

With this third report, we conclude a body of research that provides an unprecedented view of the educator workforce in Greater Milwaukee. We hope the findings and conclusions of our analysis will provide insight for policymakers and the public and spark a much-needed conversation about the future of the teaching workforce within the state and the region.