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Aug. 10, 2006
Contact: Brandis Griffith, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU School of Education lends help in uphill battle against teacher shortage

LAWRENCE — Kansas school districts are just weeks from the start of a new school year, and many schools still face teacher shortages.

Though the University of Kansas has several programs in place to address the problem, three factors are working against Kansas school districts in their efforts to keep good teachers in the classroom: supply and retention, geography and looming retirements, said Andy Tompkins, associate professor of curriculum and teaching at the KU School of Education.

Three programs offered at the School of Education provide avenues to relieve the burden, through offering incentives to teachers already in training and possible new recruits.

— Transition to Teaching: Working professionals with math or science degrees are allowed to return to school to receive a master’s in education in two years, under the agreement that they will teach in the Kansas City, Kan., school district after graduation.
— Professional Development Schools: Education students have the option of doing their student teaching and internship in low-income schools. Many students are then hired in those schools.
— Graduate Licensing Program: Recent math, science and foreign language undergraduates are allowed to enroll in the School of Education as graduate students to earn their master’s degree and teaching certification.

Without the Transition to Teaching and Graduate Licensing options, the only route for teaching certification at KU is through the five-year undergraduate program.

Sally Roberts, associate dean of teacher education and undergraduate programs, said the Transition to Teaching and Graduate License options are only offered for math, science and foreign language because those areas, in addition to special education, are where there is the greatest need for teachers.

“We have a huge interest in the PDS program. (We have) students who are truly getting their feet wet in a typically difficult area to get teachers to go to,” Roberts said.

This year, 33 KU students graduated under the professional development option, 13 chose the Graduate Licensing Program and one completed the Transition to Teaching program. Four more Transition to Teaching students are expected to graduate in December.

Roberts said the programs are successful, but secondary schools and certain districts still need more help.

“We’re not talking big numbers here,” Roberts said. “I’ve got 12 students now in the GLP and if you look at the numbers of what’s needed, that’s a drop in the bucket.”

Roberts says she hopes the school will begin recruiting students earlier in their college careers to get more of them interested in pursuing teaching.

The first part of the problem, Tompkins said, is not only that too few people are choosing the profession, those who do choose it leave the job early in their careers.

“In Kansas, what we’ve found is we’re losing about a third in their first three years, and nearly 40 percent in their first five years of practice,” said Tompkins, who served nine years as commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education.

Fifty percent of all Kansas districts have 550 students or fewer, because Kansas is a rural state. New teachers often choose districts in larger cities.

Because Kansas has few metropolitan areas, teachers are being lured out of state or out of the field.

Kansas teachers marching in droves toward retirement, along with the rest of their baby-booming generation, compound the problem.

“The last time I looked, we had about 35 percent of our faculty who could retire in the next five years. If you look at school or district leadership it goes up to nearly 50 percent,” Tompkins said.

Tompkins said though research shows the use of mentoring and induction programs will help retain teachers, the practices of recruitment and hiring in rural districts remain a challenge for school administrators.

“It becomes difficult for us to recruit, particularly in math and science (because) the pay that teachers get is so much less than they could make as a scientist or going on to engineering,” said Roberts. “So we truly have to sell someone not only on the career but the passion for (becoming a) teacher.”

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The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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