Next year, Kansas schools will have openings for more than 400 math and science teachers.
But there won't be enough qualified Kansas graduates to fill those slots.
So those jobs could go to graduates of universities overseas who are in the United States on short-term visas. Or inadequately qualified teachers could be hired.
But a new program at Kansas University hopes to chip away at that shortage and, therefore, improve the quality of education in the state. This morning, the university will announce that the new program will receive a $2.4 million federal grant.
The program, known as UKan Teach, gives students majoring in math or one of four areas of science the opportunity to earn a secondary school teacher certification without going through the School of Education.
"Kansas historically has exported teachers," said Janis Lariviere, the KU staff member who first looked into whether KU could do something to fight the growing teacher shortage. "It was only the past 10 years that there has been a problem."
In the past, the only way at KU to become a teacher was to earn a graduate degree.
"This program is designed to be completed in a typical four-year time frame," Lariviere said.
But it's also possible for math or certain science majors - those in chemistry, physics, biology and geology - to complete the program in as few as two years if they enter the program as a junior or senior.
Lariviere patterned UKan Teach after a program at the University of Texas-Austin, called UTeach. Lariviere came to KU from UT about a year and a half ago with her husband, KU Provost Richard Lariviere.
The UTeach program, which was created about 10 years ago, has had enormous success in creating and retaining teachers. Lariviere said the UTeach program produces about 70 teachers each year, 80 percent of whom are still teaching five years later.
The overall retention rate for teachers is less than 50 percent after five years, said Joe Heppert, chairman of KU's chemistry department and a co-director of the UKan Teach program.
The National Math and Science Initiative is awarding 10 grants of $2.4 million today to schools that will try to replicate UT's program. Like all the others, KU's grant includes $1 million that will be awarded only if KU can secure matching funds from private corporations.
Lariviere said the goal is to combine the NMSI grant and private funds into an endowment that will support some unique facets of the UKan Teach program.
¢ The first two classes are offered tuition free; however, the program must reimburse the university for that cost.
¢ Experienced secondary teachers must be hired as teachers and advisers to students in the program.
¢ Students are offered a paid internship with a nonprofit organization, and the program pays the salary.
All this has added up to what Heppert described as a high level of interest among KU students.
"Everyone involved has been a little overwhelmed by the number of interested students," he said. "But the program is designed so lots of students can try out the entry level class and then leave if they don't like it."
"It's like a minor or a concentration," Lariviere said.
The goal is to eventually turn out about 50 new teachers annually.
One student's experience
Larry Hollingsworth is one of the first students to start the program. A nontraditional student, he wanted to leave the corporate world for the classroom.
For him, the UKan Teach program seemed the best option.
"I have had plenty of experiencing teaching in the past, but I've picked up a lot of new information through this program," he said. "This program has really added to my teaching skills."
Hollingsworth said that for someone who hasn't been in a classroom before, the program would be even more valuable. Hollingsworth is working this semester at Pinckney School in Lawrence, where he teaches three lessons in math or science.
Hollingsworth said that in two years he'll graduate from KU as a teacher - with a valuable degree in biology.
For now, the program is only offered to students who want to major in math or a science field, but Heppert said it's been proven the program can expand into fields such as foreign languages.
"But for now, we'll stick with math and science," he said.
Heppert said about 90 percent of program participants in the Texas program took teaching jobs.
"In the UTeach program, at Texas, students were twice as likely to finish their math and science degrees as their peers," Heppert said.
In addition to the grant from NMSI, the UKan Teach program recently was endorsed by the Kansas Board of Regents. Regents will ask the Legislature to appropriate extra funds to Kansas higher education for this program, which costs about $1 million annually to operate.