Anticipating Change in the Massachusetts Teacher Workforce

Originally published in Communities and Banking

December 3, 2010
Antoniya Owens (2009 Rappaport Public Policy Summer Fellow)

Nationwide, baby boom teachers are beginning to retire in large numbers while student enrollment continues to rise. The trend is causing concern about impending shortages in many states. This article summarizes findings from a recent report evaluating future demand and supply dynamics in the Massachusetts teacher workforce. The report covers the academic years 2010-2011 through 2019-2020 and analyzes trends in the Commonwealth as a whole and in its 10 largest school districts.1 The approach may be of interest in other states.


The report employs a teacher supply and demand model similar to that used by previous researchers.2 The model is applied separately to district data for the 10 largest districts and to state data for total Commonwealth estimates. It first projects annual total demand for teachers based on forecasts of student enrollment and assumptions about student-teacher ratios. Enrollment projections for the state come from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. For the districts, future enrollment is estimated using projections for their cohorts of five-year-olds, the children’s average propensities to attend public school kindergarten, and the students’ average grade progression rates from grades 1 through 12. To set up a range of projections for total teacher demand, student enrollment estimates are divided by three values of each district’s student-teacher ratio—its average, lowest, and highest level from the past six years.

Total demand is then matched to the expected supply of teachers retained from the previous school year, estimated using state and district age-specific attrition rates. The gap between projected total demand and returning supply is the demand for new teachers—that is, the number of teachers the state or district will need to hire that year to staff all classrooms. In the calculations, each year’s deficit is filled by adding the number of new hires necessary to exactly equate total teacher demand with teacher supply. These new hires are assumed to replicate the actual age distribution of teachers hired between 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. All teachers retained from the previous year are then made a year older, and the retention calculations are rerun on the resulting group of new hires and retained teachers. This algorithm is repeated for each school year through 2019-2020, continuously filling the gap between total demand and returning supply with new teachers and updating the age of the retained teachers.

Finally, to ascertain the impact of retirements on hiring needs, teachers age 58 and older—teachers’ national median retirement age— who leave the workforce are assumed to be retirees. The importance of retirements is then evaluated using the share of the workforce that retires each year, the fraction of total attrition that retirees constitute, and the portion of new hiring needs they necessitate. Note that if teachers are delaying retirement because of factors like increasing life expectancy or the current recession, using their historical median retirement age would likely overstate the impact of retirements on teacher hiring needs.

Teacher Hiring Needs

Over the next decade, the state will need to hire about 45,500 new teachers to fully meet teacher demand. Annual hiring needs are estimated to exceed 4,600 in 2010-2011 and decline below 4,300 by 2019-2020. (See Projected Teacher Hiring Needs and Retirements.) State projections assume the student-teacher ratio will remain at 13.4, its average level over the past six years. But the entire range of hiring-need projections is fairly narrow, with total new hires over the next decade ranging from 45,000 to just over 46,000.

Projected Teacher Hiring Needs and Retirements, 2010-2011 through 2019-2020

Number of New Teacher Hires Needed to Meet Total Demand

MA Boston Springfield Worcester Brockton Lowell Lynn New Beford Lawrence Newton Fall River
2010-2011 4,676 445 396 94 90 90 111 123 50 143 162
2011-2012 4,624 461 425 103 103 104 113 135 52 147 168
2012-2013 4,685 471 425 114 94 112 119 130 52 146 175
2013-2014 4,684 472 431 121 110 120 125 130 61 144 172
2014-2015 4,621 480 444 136 107 116 126 135 65 141 175
2015-2016 4,611 492 446 136 110 118 134 139 66 140 177
2016-2017 4,559 465 450 132 112 127 129 137 68 132 177
2017-2018 4,397 457 459 140 111 126 134 138 66 129 179
2018-2019 4,388 455 465 129 116 122 132 144 63 124 180
2019-2020 4,297 446 469 137 114 128 135 143 64 123 182
Total 2010-2019 45,543 4,642 4,411 1,242 1,067 1,164 1,259 1,353 606 1,37047 1,746

Number Teachers Retiring Each Year

MA Boston Springfield Worcester Brockton Lowell Lynn New Bedford Lawrence Newton Fall River
2010-2011 2,039 122 69 42 15 26 24 19 17 29 29
2011-2012 2,080 122 67 45 14 30 28 19 16 26 24
2012-2013 2,049 120 66 52 13 28 24 26 15 22 26
2013-2014 2,025 118 67 48 18 32 28 23 15 20 24
2014-2015 1,982 116 65 54 15 30 24 24 14 19 23
2015-2016 1,893 107 62 55 15 27 28 23 13 17 23
2016-2017 1,821 106 61 50 16 32 28 23 13 16 23
2017-2018 1,745 105 61 56 13 28 27 24 13 14 23
2018-2019 1,677 98 61 50 14 26 28 23 12 14 22
2019-2020 1,619 96 61 51 13 25 26 24 11 13 23
Total 2010-2019 18,930 1,110 641 504 145 284 265 229 139 189 240

Source: Author's calculations using data from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Though these numbers are sizeable, they are not high enough to cause concerns about teacher shortages at the state level. Because Massachusetts student enrollment is projected to decline, the resulting annual demand for new teachers accounts for a smaller share of the previous year’s teaching workforce—6.6 percent, on average—than the 7 percent that new hires constituted between 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. And in each of the past three years, more than 5,000 people completed teacher training programs leading to initial teaching licenses. If the supply of new teachers remains at those levels, it will be sufficient to meet and even exceed the state’s overall hiring needs.

Individual district results show that some districts are more likely to experience teacher shortages than others. Because of enrollment declines and high teacher retention rates, hiring needs in Lawrence and Worcester will likely be relatively low. Annual demand for new teachers in those districts will be between 6 percent and 8 percent of the previous year’s workforce. Meanwhile, districts such as Springfield and Fall River will face significantly higher demand and may struggle to find enough qualified teachers. Those cities are projected to replace about one-fifth of their teachers annually. New Bedford, Newton, and Boston are slightly behind, with annual hiring needs ranging from 12 percent to 14 percent of the previous year’s teachers.

The dynamics in the districts with the greatest hiring needs typically result from growing student enrollments, high teacher turnover, or both. For instance, the substantial hiring needs in Fall River are due to both the projected growth in its student enrollment and its 19 percent teacher attrition rate. Similar trends hold for New Bedford, where student population is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2020—fastest among the 10 largest districts. In Springfield, by contrast, the demand for new teachers is almost entirely due to high attrition. Although its enrollment is projected to grow by only 2 percent over the next decade, 19 percent of Springfield’s teachers left the district between 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.

The varying influence of these factors often results in vastly different hiring needs for districts with otherwise similar characteristics. For example, Springfield and Worcester have similar student enrollments— about 23,000 and 25,000 in 2008-2009, respectively. However, Springfield’s teacher attrition rate is more than twice as high, and its student population will likely grow while Worcester’s is expected to shrink by 5 percent. As a result, annual hiring needs are projected to equal 20 percent of the previous years’ teacher workforce in Springfield, but only about 8 percent in Worcester. In fact, Springfield will need roughly the same numbers of new teachers as Boston, whose student enrollment is more than twice as large.

The Role of Retirements

About 19,000 teachers will likely retire in Massachusetts over the next decade. Annual retirements between 2010-2011 and 2013-2014 are projected to be just over 2,000, declining to about 1,600 by the end of the decade. In relative terms, the numbers represent between 2.4 percent and 2.9 percent of each year’s teacher workforce—shares similar to the 3 percent who retired between 2007-2008 and 2008-2009. Statewide, retirements will account for a significant portion of total teacher attrition—between 36 percent and 40 percent each year—and will create between 38 percent and 45 percent of the demand for new teachers.

Retirement trends and their impact differ substantially across districts, primarily because of differences in teachers’ age distribution and their timing of retirement. Over the next decade, the annual number of teacher retirees will likely decline in Boston, Springfield, Lawrence, Newton, and Fall River, and remain constant or increase in Worcester, Lowell, Lynn, Brockton, and New Bedford. The district most affected by retirements is Worcester, where 40 percent of teachers are age 50 or older, and more than 3 percent are projected to retire annually. The shares of retirees are slightly lower in Boston, Springfield, Lowell,
Lynn, New Bedford, and Fall River.

However, differences in both age-specific teacher attrition rates and projected student enrollments mean that the importance of retirements in creating teacher hiring needs differs even for districts with similar retirement levels. For example, turnover among young teachers in Fall River and Springfield is particularly high, and enrollment in both districts is projected to grow. As a result, retirees will likely account for a relatively small share of annual exits and will create only about 12 percent to 15 percent of new teacher openings. Instead, most hiring needs in these districts will be necessitated by the growing enrollment and the high attrition of younger teachers. In contrast, although only slightly higher shares of teachers in Worcester are projected to retire each year, the impact of these retirements will be much more noticeable. Because of shrinking student enrollment and higher retention of young teachers, Worcester retirees will account for about 40 percent of annual teacher attrition and will create two out of every five new teaching positions.


1 A. Owens, "The Massachusetts Teacher Workforce: Status and Challenges" (working paper, Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 2010).

2 D. Aaronson and K. Meckel, "How Will Baby Bommer Retirements Affect Teacher Labor Markets?" Economic Perspectives 4 (2009): 2-15; and W. Hussar, Predicting the Need for Newly Hired Teachers in the United States to 2008-2009 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1998).