Archive for Sunday, February 15, 2004

Call for urban teachers needs quick answer

February 15, 2004


Some facts shout at you.

I found a few noisy ones recently in a Kansas University grant proposal.

The proposal, which resulted in a $2 million award to the KU School of Education, aims to reduce the shortage of math and science teachers in the schools of low-income Wyandotte County, home to Kansas City, Kan.

The teacher shortage is growing. Five years ago, there were 40 vacant teaching positions in math and science in KCK; three years ago, 65; two years ago, 90.

I have three sets of facts to share about that shortage.

The first set concerns the KU contribution to the teaching pool of Greater Kansas City.

Fact: The teacher education program at KU had 148 students last year. Two percent came from Wyandotte County. Thirty percent came from its affluent neighbor, Johnson County.

Fact: Last fall, some 6 percent of the students majoring in education at KU did their student teaching in Wyandotte County, 55 percent in Johnson County.

Fact: Students usually get to select the district where they do their student teaching -- and most choose turf they know.

My second set of facts helps explain why so many KU School of Education students come from Johnson County, and so few come from Wyandotte.

Fact: The median family income in Wyandotte is $33,000. In Johnson it's $73,000.

Fact: Wyandotte is No. 2 in Kansas when it comes to the ratio of children living in poverty and No. 2 in drug use among teens.

Fact: Wyandotte is next-to-last in its high school graduation rate.

My third set of facts explains the urgency of getting more and better math and science teachers into Kansas City, Kan., schools, where about 40 percent of the students are non-white.

Fact: According to the National Science Foundation, while more blacks and Hispanics are enrolling in and finishing college, they're still less likely than whites and Asians to graduate from high school, enroll in college and graduate.

Fact: In the next 10 years, as many as 2 million K-12 teaching positions will open nationwide. Projections are that one in eight will go unfilled. Guess where? That's right.

Fact: In 1970, the proportion of the entire U.S. population that was white and non-Hispanic was 83 percent. By the year 2050, the proportion will be 53 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The white majority, in other words, will be approaching minority status.

Here's my take on all this:

The population of blacks and Hispanics is growing faster than the population of whites, yet non-white students are less likely to pursue higher education. Those who do are less likely to pursue degrees in science and math, given poor preparation.

If a growing share of the nation's population has little appetite for these subjects, we'll gradually invent fewer inventions and patent fewer technologies.

That's a threat to the economy and to everybody's well-being.

This summer, the KU School of Education wants to prepare 40 people with math or science degrees to begin teaching in Kansas City, Kan., next fall. It hopes to do the same the next three summers.

That's a fact.

So do we have any volunteers?

- Roger Martin is a research writer and editor for the Kansas University Center for Research and editor of Explore, KU's research magazine Web site, which can be found at Martin's e-mail address is

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