Advertisement 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, 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."


Beer Guy 11 months ago

With Koch's footstool cutting income taxes our schools are only going to get worst. And salaries are based on free market. If Kansas actually had a wealth of high paying jobs I'm sure the void would create higher teaching salaries.


Richard Heckler 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.

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.


patkindle 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


fmrl 11 months ago

Why should teachers be equated with architects or engineers just because they have a four year degree? Why are there eleven applicants for every job opening for teachers? Where is the data that suggests teachers are leaving for the private sector? What about the very generous retirement provisions that private sector employees don't get? Teachers are vastly overpaid and have been whining for decades for getting full time pay for part time work.


kansanbygrace 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 11 months ago

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

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


kansanbygrace 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.


Larry Sturm 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 11 months ago

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


TalkSense 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.


buffalo63 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 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!!


lucky_guy 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.


Dont_Tread_On_Me 11 months ago

The constant complaining about being underpaid drives me nuts. If you went to the profession for the money, knowing what it pays, then why are you complaining? If you went into the profession because of a passion for teaching, knowing what it pays, then why are you complaining? Do people not thing about this as they get their degree in pursuit of teaching? I also do not like that teachers seem to think they have the most important job in the world... It is very important but I can think of many others more so.


monkfellow 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: 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.


exlion 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.


Eybea Opiner 11 months ago

The annual contract for teachers is around 187 days. That, times 8 hours per day computes to 1496 work hours for a teacher. Divide that into the $32964 starting salary and you find a $22.03 per hour rate. If you multiply that times the 2080 hours in a full-time work year you find that teachers' starting pay is the equivalent of $45,832 in the private sector.

I venture to say that a lot of new grads won't make that in their first job.


question4u 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.


Jeff Kilgore 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.


Commenting has been disabled for this item.