Who are Metro Milwaukee’s teachers?

By Joe Yeado

In these final days of summer, teachers from across the region are heading back to school ahead of students. As they attend faculty meetings, decorate classrooms, and brush off textbooks, teachers are laying the foundation for the upcoming year. These individuals have an essential role in educating our students. And yet, what do we know about the characteristics of teachers in our metro area?

A new report from the Public Policy Forum — Taking Attendance: An Analysis of Greater Milwaukee’s Teacher Workforce — addresses this question. This work builds on a pair of reports published in December 2014 that defined and tracked changes to the K-12 educational landscape in the City of Milwaukee. With this information in the public conversation, understanding the teaching workforce serving students in our region became a logical next step.

This report expands the scope of the K-12 reports to the four-county Milwaukee metropolitan area. Using the most up-to-date data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, we answer a number of questions, including:

  • How many teachers are there in Greater Milwaukee and how does that number compare among school districts?
  • What are the ages and demographics of the teaching workforce across the region?
  • How do teacher qualifications and levels differ among different districts, and have there been significant changes over time?

The teaching 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 teacher characteristics that have occurred since Act 10’s adoption in 2011.

Some key findings include:

  • The number of teachers in the metro area has declined by 700 since 2009-10, with most of the decrease coming from MPS, which lost 730 teachers.
  • The teaching workforce is predominately white, with minority teachers comprising just 10.9% of educators despite students of color making up 43.9% of enrollments.
  • Twenty percent of teachers over the age of 55 have left the profession in recent years.
  • The average experience level fell to 12.7 years, though the average age remains unchanged at 43 years, indicating the workforce is less experienced, but not necessarily younger.
  • Just 1% of teachers are assigned to English as a Second Language courses, despite English Language Learners comprising 5.3% of enrollments.
  • Teacher mobility between districts exists, but with only 6.8% of teachers moving over the recent five-year period we examined, mobility is not a widespread issue.

The research findings are both instructive and incomplete. The analyses provide an in-depth understanding of the teachers leading classrooms throughout our region. And yet, without the ability to include teachers 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:

  • Are there labor efficiencies to be gained through consolidation of some smaller districts?
  • In what ways could an emphasis on teachers with low levels of experience impact student achievement?
  • What are the implications of teachers entering the profession at a later age than in the past?

We aim to address these and other questions in further research.

This is the first of three reports in our Metro Milwaukee Educator series focusing on the educator workforce in the Milwaukee area. The second report in the series will focus on the characteristics of school and district leaders in the metro area, building on research that points to the importance of school leaders in raising academic achievement. Our final report will quantify the teacher workforce pipeline to understand if current and projected staffing levels align with the number of teachers who may retire in the near future.

Taken together, this body of research on the educator workforce in Greater Milwaukee will help to inform school district leaders, policy stakeholders, and the public, about the people who lead our schools and educate our children.