New teaching licenses issued by the KSDE for endorsements in secondary biology, chemistry, physics and earth science remain at levels approximately one-fourth of what is needed to replace retiring Kansas science teachers, a trend that began with No Child Left Behind 15 years ago.
Not all individuals who acquire teacher training enter the Kansas classroom. Some are site-bound with no vacancy in their local community. Others teach out-of-state or take another job. And the postponement of retirements during the 2008-09 recession has resulted in accelerated retirement rates now.
Biology needs more than 200 new teachers-per-year. This last year, 36 graduated from college programs, seven transferred from out-of-state and 27 (mostly in small rural schools) added biology by testing out.
Kansas needs 120 chemistry teachers per year. Only 15 graduated from teacher programs while 29 current teachers added the field by testing-out.
Kansas never produced enough physics teachers (again 120, similar to chemistry). Only 13 new physics teachers were college-trained while 14 added physics by test-out.
Earth science is usually a high school elective, but Kansas still needs at least 60 new teachers each year. There were eight new teachers with that endorsement last year while 24 added it by test-out.
It is unfortunate KSBE approved adding endorsements by test-out since these teachers can pass with a Cliff’s Notes-type quick-study. They lack the laboratory and field work critical for a teacher to really understand the science and for a teacher to conduct lab and fieldwork with their students. Taken together, there were only 72 new science endorsements issued from college programs while 94 teachers tested out. This trend will not last for long because there are a limited number of rural teachers who can add a science endorsement; that supply soon will become exhausted.
In response to a shortage that has spread to nearly all teaching fields, the KSBE provided a range of “alternative routes” to enter science teaching in Kansas, including transferring in from a science industry or having a STEM major and experience without any teacher training. So far we can count on one hand the science teachers who have entered by these alternate routes.
Not all fields have seen a dramatic decline. But young science teachers want to excite students with laboratory and field work. The enforcement of teach-to-the-test under NCLB dramatically has curtailed those practices, accounting for the strong decline in science teachers nationwide.
On Aug. 8, a “Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teacher Vacancies and Supply” gave their report to the State Board. Unfortunately, they did not examine the numbers of new endorsements nor detect the dramatic drop off in student-teacher candidates due to the removal of teacher tenure. One program with 15 students in the four-year pipeline saw that number drop to seven overnight, immediately following the elimination of tenure.
One stopgap measure would be hire back up to 500 retired teachers and administrators, a practice made difficult and risky by extensive KPERS red tape. A bill scheduled to be introduced in the Senate would simplify this process, allowing schools to reimburse KPERS.
The Blue Ribbon report also dramatically underestimates the teacher shortage because it relies on self-reported data with no on-site inspection of who is actually teaching in the classroom.
Our true Kansas teacher shortage is likely similar to the shortage in Oklahoma. Emergency teaching certificates awarded through December in Oklahoma were 1,082. More than 7 percent of Oklahoma students now are taught by emergency teachers.
I asked my students why they were switching out of teaching. While the long-term decline was a response to the NCLB teach-to-the-test movement, the precipitous decline was “attitude.” For many, loss of tenure was the last straw. The lack of respect for teachers — evident in many legislative actions — will have to change. And while it used to be that when a student got into trouble at school, they also were in trouble at home, some parents now come to school to defend the misbehavior.
Kansas teachers lost tenure because some asserted it was too hard to get rid of an incompetent teacher. But it merely takes a competent administrator to remove an incompetent teacher. The administrator then has to find a competent replacement. But thanks to the loss of tenure, there is no teacher surplus waiting in the wings.
John Richard Schrock is a professor in the department of biological sciences at Emporia State University.