LJWorld.com weblogs First Bell

Kansas science and math teachers easily recruited away


Last week, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis posed a riddle to the State Board of Education.

A couple of years ago, he said, Fort Hays State University graduated two new physics teachers. He asked the board to guess which school district hired them.

The answer: None. They went to work for Sprint Corp.

Dennis said that was an indicator of how low average teacher salaries are in Kansas, compared to what people can earn in other professions.

According to the website TeacherPortal.com, which used data from the National Education Association, the average teacher salary in Kansas in 2011 was $46,598, ranking 41st in the country, just ahead of Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida.

The average starting salary was $32,964, ranking 33rd in the country.

It's often suggested that's because Kansas is a low-wage state generally, and that relatively low wages here are offset by a similarly low cost of living.

So another way of measuring teacher pay which takes that into account is what many people call the "teacher penalty" - the amount of salary a person gives up by going into teaching, as opposed to other comparable professions which generally require a bachelor's degree or better: accounting, architecture, the clergy, journalism, registered nursing and insurance underwriting, to name a few.

Editorial Projects in Education, the non-profit group that publishes Education Week, measures that differential every few years, most recently in 2012. Its conclusion was that a Kansas teacher earns only 88.8 cents on the dollar compared to comparable professions, ranking the Sunflower State 16th from the bottom.

You can download the entire 2013 Quality Counts report from the group's website.

The worst salary market for teachers by far is the District of Columbia, where college-educated adults obviously earn a lot more money working for, or lobbying, the federal government. There, teachers earn just 65.3 cents on the dollar.

Wyoming ranked highest in the latest survey, with teachers there earning 31.4 percent more than comparable professions. Rhode Island, Michigan, Vermont and Ohio rounded out the top five.

There are only 13 states where teachers have achieved "parity," meaning they earn at least as much as their counterparts in other professions.

According to Dennis, that explains why it's so easy to recruit Kansas teachers away from the teaching profession, especially if they're certified in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and math.

"It's not uncommon for math, science, chemistry and physics teachers to be recruited by the private sector," Dennis said. "They have good communication skills, they work well and collaborate well with others. They may not know everything about a phone system, but the companies can train them on that."


Jeff Kilgore 4 years, 11 months ago

We rank 33rd in the country for teacher pay, 49th in teacher funded retirement, but Kansas teachers, (with help from good parents), rank in the top 15, and often in the top 10 year in, year out. Kansas is getting a great bargain, as far as education is concerned. It's public officials? Brownback is rate 46th out of 50.

question4u 4 years, 11 months ago

It's OK. Many in the Legislature -- House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast, for instance -- believe that Kansas doesn't need science. So why would it need science teachers?

Since Brownback and the Legislature are creating a new Kansas math, there isn't much need for math teachers either. Math teachers actually think that if you subtract from something you end up with less.

Kansas math is innovative, basing all operations on pi and the square root of -2: in other words, the irrational and the imaginary. Just ask Marc Rhoades. He'll 'splain it to you.

elliottaw 4 years, 11 months ago

Tell me you don't actually believe that teachers only work 8 hours a day, because if you truly do you have to be a politician or 7 years old.

tomatogrower 4 years, 11 months ago

I have worked in schools and in the private sector. I've worked in a grocery store and in a factory. I can say from personal experience that there is always someone who will just do enough to get by. They always were paid from the same pay scale as me, but they did less. I doubt if teaching is any different. Some professionals have a way of getting promoted to make more money, or working longer hours to make more money, but teachers, store clerks and factory workers do not have much room for promotion. So if you are ever in a grocery store and get friendly, personable assistance, be grateful. That person isn't getting paid anymore than the surly one. I don't know why you imply that private sector people are any different than teachers, and put down teachers like a bunch of leaches.

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 11 months ago

Solomon, it doesn't work that way....

A classroom day is not comparable to an office work day.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 11 months ago

The point here is that the rewards are not commensurate - not even close. They are not even close in general and in general they are far better elsewhere than in Kansas. That would be the point being made.

parrothead8 4 years, 11 months ago

I venture to say you have no clue how many hours per day or how many days per year teachers ACTUALLY work.

buffalo63 4 years, 11 months ago

How about having all year schools and pay the teachers a $22/hr. rate. Parents would be upset about that. You might get "better" teachers, but when would they be able to become recertified since that requires further college classes, usually done in the summer. When I taught, I spent more than an 8 hour day either grading papers or planning how to suppliment the lack of teaching materials available to me and my students.

gccs14r 4 years, 11 months ago

Right. They just take time off from work.

KSManimal 4 years, 11 months ago

If teaching is such a gravy-train, Solomon, ....why aren't you on it?

For that matter, why do half those who enter the profession leave within five years?

exlion 4 years, 11 months ago

so much for the "wisdom of solomon" A recent award winning teacher is in the classroom from 6:15-4:30, M-F actually working and then grades papers at night. This person is leaving the profession after a few short years due to the administration and stress from the work load. This person came to the profession(teaching) after a distinguished career in the private sector. SAD how little we appreciate teacher's efforts.

Michael Throop 4 years, 11 months ago

The arguments here are specious, aside from the concern about teacher pay, generally. Those graduates didn't want to live in a small town in Kansas, they wanted to live in Johnson County. They had desired talents. They took the opportunity. As to the issue of pay: The Portland Oregonian recently reported college graduates stayed in the area, or migrated there for LOWER-paying jobs, depressing the overall market: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2013/03/portland_areas_college-educate.html Seems "lifestyle" and "making a difference" (what a useless throwaway phrase THAT is) is what drives the salaries down. Plus they want to unplug their brains and go hiking. People are driven by different issues. If pay is the driver, don't be a teacher, at least not right away. You can look at large urban school districts with a preponderance of seniority driven faculty and decide whether those folks aren't motivated to do better and do a barely adequate job of teaching, simply for the benefits.

adastraperapathy 4 years, 11 months ago

Like wrecking the economy with toxic hedge funds?

Many of those people even enjoy the benefit of the carried interest tax loophole (and others) that Republicans fight so hard to defend.

lucky_guy 4 years, 11 months ago

Monkfellow-- the only thing specious about this is do Kansans value teachers? If not then you are correct saying teachers should stop complaining because Kansas just doesn't care. If we do value teachers then we all have to stop complaining and pay them more. Simple as that.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

Why may I not pay math and science teachers more?? Seems to me that would help retain them. It has never made sense to me that the NEA requires all or nothing!!

kansanbygrace 4 years, 11 months ago

Because math and science skills are no more important, nor are the skills to teach them, more rare than those of the other critical areas of education. It has nothing to do with the NEA requiring something, it is simply a measure of equal pay for equal responsibility.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

Then why is the shortage of math and science teachers of more note then the non-shortage of teachers in other subjects?

Could it be that teachers with math and science skills are in demand outside the teaching profession helping to create the shortage??

kansanbygrace 4 years, 11 months ago

There is a shortage of good English teachers, journalism education is obviously not well taught, there is no physical education or health or nutrition, history is not well taught at all.
I think the difference in what we hear is that businesses need more people with math and science competence than they can find. Business has less of a priority for literate language construction, or knowledge of our history, government, or humanity. Commerce has the discretionary budget to get the PR

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

So we hate business?> Perhaps we should educate business as to the need for those fields. Education is paid by taxpayers./ They decide what it is worth. It does not help to hear that we have quadrupled money to education (in real terms) and we sill perform poorly on standardized tests.

The always argument is for more money. More money has not seemingly helped. Perhaps if teachers were treated as the professionals they claim to be things might improve. That suggests more money but with the ability to have differential pay and easier termination.

buffalo63 4 years, 11 months ago

Don't-tread-on-me, I don't think you see many teachers complaining about pay as much as people who complain about "paid summer vacation" and overpaid teachers. Teaching is a skill that not everyone can do effectively and should be paid accordingly. Same as a person in the private sector has skills and are paid accordingly. It is knowing a district has money to increase salaries, but refuses to because they have the "power" is the problem.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

How do we determine what is a fair wage? In engineering it is determined by what it costs to attract qualified employees. Should that not be the basis for setting teacher salaries?

TalkSense 4 years, 11 months ago

What no one on this discussion has touched on is the effect of the anti-science and anti-research culture of our state. Individual members of local school boards, the state Board of Education and the State Legislature routinely assault the scientific process and the principle of objective research on such subjects as evolution, global warming, stem cells, and fluoridated water. Given that culture, it's no surprise that talented STEM-discipline school teachers leave the profession and leave the state. Yes, they can make better money almost anywhere else doing almost anything else. Equally to the point, they won't have to apologize for being a science teacher from Medieval Kansas.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

Help me - how does this relate to paying science and math teachers. They are paid on the same methodology as other teachers.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

How about an example of how innovative thinking and scientific exploration are discouraged??

Larry Sturm 4 years, 11 months ago

Many teachers put in a lot of extra hours at after school activities that they don't get extra pay for, so tell me how they make $22 per hour or more.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

Wow. I thought you were a professional. Professionals do not get overtime but they do work until the job is done - if ever.

kansanbygrace 4 years, 11 months ago

Moderate, I do share your quandary about getting good mathematics and science education from a system that treats them as commodities rather than comprehensive skills in open mindsets.
We were taught better scientific methodology and mathematical comprehension in earlier decades than I see from current curricula.
Maybe it has to do with the hurry-hurry, or the packaging of curriculum products, or, just maybe, we really don't offer adequate compensation for teaching any comprehensive field, math and science being currently in the spotlight, so they get the attention today.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

When I retired I attempted to teach math and science. AS a starting teacher my income was 20% of what I had been earning and my hours were long and complicated by the training required that was on my own time. Within a very short time my silly notion of "give back" was lost in a job offer many times my teaching salary.

In my world you get what you pay for. If math and science teacher are in short supply you pay more and I would bet you will get more.

Have we"dumbed" down STEM?? I do not know as I do not know what we currently teach to whom.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

How about an example of how innovative thinking and scientific exploration are discouraged??

No takers?>? Maybe because it is not???

kansanbygrace 4 years, 11 months ago

I'll give this last one a shot. I think it has a lot to do with the current emphasis on Return on Investment, and risk. There are many opportunities for mid-level investors to open another chain restaurant, or another bar, or another store that breaks bulk in selling names on sweaters.
There is an abundance of material goods, and we are not needy of more advanced designs.
Micro breweries are popular investments. Perhaps we ask the people who control where money is spent if they are willing to invest in exploration of concepts and fields that offer only, at present, the unknown. Maybe innovative thinking and scientific exploration are not discouraged, but also today not encouraged.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

Nice analysis. We have addressed our math and science shortfall in the aggregate through special "visa" programs that bring in well educated players from the rest of the world. They work for less and depress the salaries for our home grown players.

The path to a math or science degree is according to some a difficult journey requiring mastery of many difficult subjects. That seems to discourage many otherwise qualified players from pursuing the degree. If you are going to teach, why get a math or science credential when it will make no difference in your salary (although it may increase your chance of getting a job in a desirable location ).

Seth Peterson 4 years, 11 months ago

Don't feed the trolls. Ignorance and misinformation! Moving on.

patkindle 4 years, 11 months ago

I am sure most grads know what they are getting into before they sign on as teachers they know the pay and the work loads, so what is your point? I bet they realize they have no room to complain after the fact
they are grown ups by the time they graduate, and know what the world is about

Jeff Kilgore 4 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 11 months ago

Ten years ago this question about USD 497 teaching salaries was put to the public by way of the journal world which I thought was telling .... about Lawrence.

Of course during this 2003 year there was a lot of activity by a group School Funders concerning our neighborhood schools and low wages for teachers.

Teacher Salary Support = note the extremely high number of participants.

Would you favor a sales tax increase to provide more money for Lawrence teacher salaries?

Of 5,198 votes increasing teacher salaries 4,204 votes in favor of increased teacher salaries. http://www2.ljworld.com/polls/2003/mar/teacher_salaries/

Too bad the state government kept saying no..... which has not changed. Lawrence may well have moved up to the number one school district in the nation had we been successful.

George Lippencott 4 years, 11 months ago

More money equals wonderful outcomes except when more money is provided no such outcome occurs and we still need more.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.