"Everyone, my family and friends, tell me to switch out of teaching but I’m going to stay in." This admission from one of my students can bring tears to an advisor’s eyes. We talk some more. Despite the overwhelming advice from parents and classmates, she understands that the next generation of kids will need good teachers.
After my current student teachers graduate this year, I will have just three left in the 4-year pipeline. I ask a colleague at another Kansas university how many student teachers they have in preparation in chemistry? None. Physics? Zero. Biology? Two. This downturn is underway at colleges and universities across Kansas.
In the 1990s, K.S.D.E. data on secondary teaching licenses in the sciences showed that all programs across the state together produced nearly 240 new biology teachers, over 125 new chemistry teachers, 115 new physics teachers and 62 new earth science teachers annually. By 2013, production of new science teachers in Kansas dropped to less than one-tenth those levels. What happened?
Science teachers are particularly repulsed by mandated curricula and teaching-to-the-test. The nosedive in science teacher production began with QPA and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) that forced science teachers to drill students for the state assessments. In many cases, field trips and laboratory exercises were reduced or eliminated.
The NCLB focus on testing continues today, and remains in the current proposed renewal of NCLB in Washington, DC. I went from having 50-60 biology teacher advisees in the 4-year pipeline and 4-6 student teachers per semester, to having just 15 students with 1-2 student teachers per semester last year.
Then, the Kansas Legislature ended due process for Kansas teachers. Over last summer, many parents had talks with their college student. In some cases, families where the grandparents and parents had all been teachers counseled their offspring to find another field. And eight more students dropped out of my teacher-track last fall. During this spring political season, every few weeks there has been another action that has reduced the dignity and respect for teaching, from raiding KPERS to petty quarrels over the Teacher of the Year award system. With each legislative action, several more student teachers bailed.
Across Kansas, public school teachers are increasingly reluctant to recommend to their students a career in teaching. More are reading the newspaper headlines and turning away from careers in education. It is not a marketing problem about salary. It is an attitude problem emanating from many state capitols, although Kansas is probably a leader.
According to Education Week, California "...lost some 22,000 teacher-prep enrollments, or 53 percent, between 2008-09 and 2012-13." This "...decline in teacher-preparation enrollments has accelerated in recent years, particularly since 2010." While initial blame fell on the weak economy after 2008, this recent rapid decline can only be attributed to the growing perception that teaching is becoming a poorly-paid, teach-to-the-test, assembly line job where teachers are blamed for all student failure.
Usually there is a surplus of elementary, social studies and physical education teachers. But at recent career fairs, administrators are walking away empty-handed. Last week, our State School Board learned how administrators from other states were signing contracts with the few student teachers who were attending a southeast Kansas career fair.
They also heard that if the Legislature fails to renew the provision where teachers can return and teach after retirement, it will cost Kansas 2000-2500 teachers, exacerbating the teacher shortage (particularly in special education).
Even more devastating to our supply of future student teachers is the proposal by the Coalition of Innovative Districts to bypass teacher training and allow out-of-field and even non-degreed teachers into Kansas classrooms as full teachers. Why enter a job that is no longer a profession?