08/02/2011 05:05 pm ET | Updated Oct 02, 2011

Education Reform Leaves Teachers Torn Across Demographics, New Study Reports

A new study conducted by the National Center for Education Information has uncovered both startling similarities and arresting differences between teachers based upon age, background and political inclination.

The report found that the average age of teachers is shifting, with the number of educators in their twenties rising to 21 percent this year from 11 percent in 2005. By contrast, the age of teachers over 50 has fallen, dropping to 31 percent this year from 42 percent in 2005. The study attributes this pattern to a wave of teacher retirements, with new recruits filling up the ranks.

The number of teachers with five or fewer years of experience has risen to 26 percent this year, from 18 percent six years ago, and those with 25 years or more has dropped to 17 percent from 27 percent over the same period.

In the fifth survey of its kind to be conducted by the NCEI, researchers interviewed a group of 1,076 randomly selected K-12 public school teachers between November 2010 and June 2011.

On a further demographic note, teaching remains a mostly female pursuit, but that number is also rising. Of those surveyed in 2011, 84 percent were female, up from 82 percent in 2005, 74 percent in 1996, 71 percent in 1990 and 69 percent in 1986. The proportion of caucasian teachers also sits at 84 percent, though that demographic tends to be underrepresented in urban settings.

Perhaps most of note is the shift in teacher preparatory programs and the effect of changing ages and backgrounds among educators on their feelings about controversial education reform policies. The findings indicate the growing popularity of alternative teaching certification programs, designed to bring older, mid career professionals with a degree outside the education field into the classroom.

According to a statement from NCEI:

Four out of 10 public school teachers hired since 2005 entered teaching through alternative teacher preparation programs -- up from 22 percent of new teachers hired between 2000-2004, 8 percent in the 1990s and 4 percent in the 1980s. The proportion of teachers who've entered the profession through traditional college, campus-based teacher education programs has dropped from nearly all (95 percent) 15 years ago to 67 percent in 2011.

The study has found that the alternatively prepared teachers are more open to proposed education reforms. In terms of incentivizing measures, 70 percent of alternatively prepared teachers support pay based on student performance, compared to 58 percent of their traditional peers, and 65 percent support higher pay for high-demand subjects, versus 37 percent of traditional teachers 37.

Alternatively prepared teachers have also demonstrated a greater willingness to dismantle traditional teaching infrastructure: 52 percent support abolishing teacher tenure, compared with 31 percent of their traditionally prepared peers, and 27 percent support an end to teachers' unions compared with 19 percent of traditionally prepared teachers.

Still, nine out of 10 teachers from various backgrounds supported firing incompetent teachers, regardless of the individual's seniority.