Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Rural and Urban Areas in Kansas Struggle amid Shrinking Teacher Pipeline

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Rural and Urban Areas in Kansas Struggle amid Shrinking Teacher Pipeline

Article excerpt

Rural and urban schools are struggling to fill teaching jobs as applicants opt for suburban locations and fewer college students major in education, a new report indicates. Areas experiencing particular difficulties include southwest Kansas, Wichita and Kansas City.

The 28-page report, issued by a task force of academics and educators, says data sources offer "a complex picture" of the hiring situation for Kansas schools.

"To the question, 'Is there a concern with teacher supply in Kansas?' the most accurate answer is 'it depends,'" the authors wrote.

Hundreds of teaching jobs were vacant at the start of the past school year, and by the spring semester, 277 of them remained unfilled.

These persistent vacancies were clustered in a quarter of Kansas districts. This means that although more than 99 percent of Kansas' teaching jobs were filled, the unfilled posts disproportionately affected students in certain parts of the state.

The Kansas State Board of Education received the analysis Tuesday. Education commissioner Randy Watson had assembled a panel in March to examine recruiting difficulties. In recent years, many districts have reported a decrease in job applicants, including for elementary teaching positions that once were easier to fill.

Key findings of the report include:

- Forty percent of the 277 vacancies were in southwest Kansas, the region that is struggling most to fill jobs.

- Vacancies also were clustered in the state's two largest, high- poverty urban districts, Wichita Unified School District 259 and Kansas City USD 500.

- Northeast and northwest Kansas are drawing teachers from other areas of the state. The areas losing the most teachers in this fashion last year were southwest and north central Kansas.

- Surburban districts were "significantly more likely to fill vacancies with fully qualified personnel" than their urban and rural counterparts.

- The number of college students majoring in education has fallen in recent years. In 2009, federal data indicate about 7,000 students were pursuing education studies at Kansas post-secondary institutions. That rose to about 7,750 in 2011 but then slid back to about 5,380 in 2014, the most current data available. The number of students graduating with education degrees followed a similar trend. "At a time when Kansas needs a robust pipeline of preservice teachers," the report says, "the opposite appears to be the case."

- The perception that the teaching profession is "aging" is incorrect. It is getting younger. More than one-fifth of Kansas teachers have fewer than five years of experience. Forty percent have fewer than 10 years.

- Teachers aren't required to specify why they are leaving their jobs, though districts do ask and the state tallies the information. …

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