This year, the first of the “baby boom generation” took early retirement at age 62. But the Kansas science teacher shortage began in 1999. While upcoming retirements will take a further toll, our teacher shortage nose-dived nine years ago for completely different reasons.
Many veteran teachers added up their years under KPERS and took early retirement. Others simply left teaching early. At the same time, college student enrollment in secondary science teacher programs declined to one-fourth pre-1999 levels.
What has happened since 1999 to cause this? That was the time new QPA-content standards were implemented. New teacher-training requirements mandating testing in methods and content now cost teaching candidates over $500 to “buy-into” teaching. Fingerprinting and criminal background checks are now required. And the State Board implemented an unnecessary assessment (KPA) during a rookie teacher’s first years of teaching.
With the number of teacher licenses already declining, the No Child Left Behind Act further accelerated the flight from the classroom by imposing federal teach-to-the-test regimes. Many Kansas students and teachers no longer look forward to creative and exciting classes but trudge off everyday to test-preparation factories.
Stripped of their professional responsibilities, more veteran teachers are quitting every year.
Most college students who want to share their excitement for science with Kansas schoolchildren no longer enter teaching.
No Child Left Behind simply has a bad attitude toward teachers; it blames them completely whenever a child fails to succeed. NCLB is the biggest cause of the teacher shortage.
The good news is that if bad policies are causing the shortage, policies can be changed.
How do we re-professionalize teaching?
We need to eliminate unnecessary testing. We can end the useless teacher assessment (KPA) now, and re-examine every good-intentioned barrier established by the new teacher-training requirements.
Kansas can join other states that also pay for the cost of the teachers’ TB tests and fingerprinting. This is a small cost, but sends a small message of trust in our next generation of teachers.
To reverse the teacher decline in Kansas and nationwide will take an even more drastic step to restore teacher professionalism: eliminate NCLB and return the classroom and the curriculum to the teacher. That will involve rejecting the $150 million in federal funding Kansas has received annually. Other states have threatened to pull out of NCLB, only to get cold feet.
That $150 million has cost Kansas a substantial portion of its quality teachers.
Dumping NCLB may cost us $150 million, but we will gain a new generation of professional teachers.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.