The Illinois Teacher Labor Market Is Incredibly Fragmented

We have a new slide deck out looking at the educator pipeline in Illinois. We analyzed 10 years of data on every single educator in the state of Illinois to look at issues of supply and demand; diversity; and recruitment, retention, and mobility. I can’t neatly summarize it here, so I encourage you to check out the full thing.

But one thing that surprised me about the analysis was the extent of the fragmentation in the teacher labor market in Illinois. There’s research finding that teachers tend to have stronger geographic ties to their community than other professions, so I didn’t quite expect the spread that we eventually saw. The fragmented teacher labor market has implications for how we think about improving teacher preparation, not to mention how school districts go about hiring new teachers. 

In our released packet of materials, we look at the top five producers of new teachers in the five largest school districts in Illinois. In terms of market share, here was the cumulative percentage that each of the districts drew from their largest pools of new workers:

Chicago: 28 percent

Elgin: 43 percent

Plainfield: 39 percent

Indiana Prairie: 42 percent

Rockford: 54 percent

None of these seem very concentrated to me, and even these numbers are stretching the picture. Chicago’s #4 provider, for example, is simply listed in the database as “Indiana.” This does not refer to Indiana University; the way Illinois collects this data, any college or university located in Indiana is listed under the umbrella of “Indiana.” Similarly, Elgin’s #2 provider is simply listed as “Outside USA,” a catch-all term that captures exactly what it implies.

There’s one more layer of fragmentation. These data count all graduates from one institution, but most colleges and universities offer more than one teacher preparation program. For example, Illinois State as a whole is the largest supplier of new teachers in Illinois, but that’s deceiving, because it offers 41 different teacher preparation programs. Even after lumping in all of these distinct programs together, Illinois State collectively produces just 10 percent of all new teachers in the state. If we had been able to look at each of those 41 different programs, we would have seen that each program was capturing a tiny, tiny share of the market.

But even after lumping in lots of institutions into these broad, overall categories, Illinois school districts are still drawing from enormous numbers of providers. Over the 10-year period, Chicago hired at least one new teacher or principal from 114 different institutions. We ran similar analyses for other districts and found that they were all pulling in new hires from close to 100 or more different places.

We saw the same thing in reverse from the provider perspective. You might expect graduates of Northern Illinois University to cluster in northern Illinois schools, and it turns out there is some regionality to it. But not as much as you might expect. Institutions had graduates spread out across hundreds of school districts, and there was enormous overlap across institutions. Illinois State, for example, had graduates spread out across 941 districts! That’s nearly every single school district in Illinois. Another way to say this is that, while the graduates of Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois have slightly different mobility patterns, the two are by no means distinct.

This fragmentation runs against everything we say about how to improve teacher preparation. We say that school districts and teacher preparation programs should work together in close partnerships, and we think teachers should be trained in the standards and protocols of the schools in which they’ll eventually work. Districts express a preference for hiring teachers with local ties, and teachers from their community tend to have higher retention rates.

What the Illinois data suggests is that those sorts of collaborations may not even be possible given our current structure. Nationwide, there are 2,137 institutions operating 27,914 separate preparation programs. With 180,000 completers a year, that means the average program is producing just 6.5 teachers per year. We have twice as many teacher preparation programs (28,000) than school districts (about 14,000). With this level of diffusion, it’s difficult to imagine any sort of any sort of coherence or structure, and the push for improving teacher preparation must grapple with how any preferred reform efforts would be implemented across such a fragmented market.