Profile of Wisconsin Teachers (2000-2020)
This policy brief, produced by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of the Region 10 Comprehensive Center, is one in a series which examines selected topics related to Wisconsin’s educator workforce.
The goal of this brief is to present a descriptive profile of Wisconsin’s teacher labor force over the past 20 years in terms of key attributes such as overall numbers of teachers, what they teach, and where they teach, and selected demographic characteristics (including gender, race/ethnicity, age, and years of experience).
Specific questions this brief addresses are as follows:
- How has the number of teaching staff in Wisconsin public schools changed over the past two decades, and how does this compare to trends in student enrollment?
- How has the distribution of Wisconsin teachers across area of teaching assignment, geographic locale type (including the state’s largest districts), and region of the state changed over the past two decades?
- How have selected characteristics of Wisconsin’s teaching force (gender, race/ethnicity, age, years of experience, and highest degree held) changed over time?
Key findings include the following:
- Wisconsin public schools collectively employed a total of 60,574 staff in 2020-21 whose primary assignment was teaching, representing an increase of 1357 teachers (2.3%) from 21 years earlier (1999-00).
- The number of teachers in Wisconsin has fluctuated somewhat from year to year, from a high of 61,814 in 2002-03 to a low of 58,333 in 2011-12 (the first year following the passage of Wisconsin’s controversial Act 10).
- The number of students enrolled in Wisconsin public schools in grades PK-12 over this same 20year timeframe decreased by 47,413 (-5.4%), most of which has occurred over the past seven years (between 2014-15 and 2020-21).
- Based on counts of teachers and students, an unofficial statewide student-teacher ratio can be constructed, which ranges from 14.9 to 13.7 over the past two decades (with decreasing student-teacher ratios observed since 2015-16 in particular).
- We grouped teachers into 16 categories to describe the subjects/grade ranges in which teachers work. By far, the most numerous category, as of 2020-21, was Elementary teachers (a category which includes approximately one-third of all teachers), followed (in descending order) by Special Education and English Language Arts. While Elementary teachers remain the most numerous, counts of this type of teacher have mostly decreased over the past 21 years.
- Looking at counts of Wisconsin public school teachers who have worked over the past nine years in schools with each of the four primary locale codes (City, Suburban, Town, Rural) used by the National Center for Education Statistics, we observe a small decrease in the number of teachers working in City schools, a relatively large increase for Suburban schools, and moderate increases for Town and Rural schools.
- Focusing on the state’s five largest districts, which in 2020-21 collectively contained nearly 15% of all public schools in Wisconsin and nearly 20% of statewide student enrollment, we observe that three of the five largest districts (Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha, Green Bay, and Racine) had increases in teachers over this 21-year timeframe – but the collective increase among these districts was overshadowed by a decrease of over 1500 teachers in Milwaukee, which is by far the state’s largest district. Accordingly, the statewide “market share” of the five largest districts together in terms of teachers employed declined from 20.2% in 1999-00 to 18.0% in 2020-21.
- Examining the distribution of Wisconsin teachers by region of the state (which we operationalize using Wisconsin’s 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agencies, or CESAs), we observe that the more heavily-populated southeastern (CESA 1) and south-central (CESA 2) regions of the state combined contain nearly half of the state’s teachers, and that seven of the 12 CESAs had fewer teachers in 2020-21 compared to 1999-00. In general, the more rural areas of the state (CESAs 3, 5, 8, 9, and 12) saw the biggest declines in teachers, both in absolute terms as well as percentage-wise.
- In terms of demographics, Wisconsin’s teaching corps is predominantly female (75.0% in 202021), and has remained overwhelmingly (more than 95%) white in recent years, despite increasing levels of diversity among public school students statewide. Black and Hispanic/Latinx teachers are particularly under-represented in relation to each group’s share of public school enrollment statewide, comprising just 2.0% and 2.2% of the state’s teachers in 2020-21 respectively, compared to 8.9% and 12.8% of the state’s public school enrollment, respectively.
- The average age of Wisconsin public school teachers has remained stable over the past two decades (in the 42.2-43.3 range), with the one noteworthy trend being a relatively sharp oneyear decline from 43.3 in 2010-11 to 42.6 in 2011-12 following the passage of Act 10 and the subsequent retirement of relatively large numbers of teachers statewide.
- Average years of both total teaching experience and local (same district) teaching experience show a bit more fluctuation over time, with one-year declines on both measures evident from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
- The distribution of total teaching experience by categories (first year, 2-5 years, etc.) in 2020-21 shows that a relatively small share (4.4%) of all teachers statewide are in their first year of teaching, while the largest share (nearly one-third) has 20 or more years of experience.
- Two interesting trends are evident over the past 20 years in terms of teachers’ highest level of education: first, a steady increase in teachers with master’s degrees from 1999-00 through 2010-11; and second, a relatively sharp decrease in the percentage of teachers with master’s degrees after 2015-16, with bachelor’s-holders becoming the modal level of educational attainment once again. We speculate that this trend may be attributable at least in part to increasing numbers of Wisconsin districts, particularly after Act 10, which have either condensed or replaced entirely the traditional “step and lane” salary schedules that had been the norm for many years.