Michael Q. McShane

If you take the media’s account of the state of the teaching profession in Kansas seriously, you’d think that there was a line of cars filled with teachers on I-70 headed east right now.  “Kansas’s Teacher Exodus,” blared the Atlantic.  NPR’s take? “Shrinking Kansas Budgets Push Many Teachers Across State Lines.”

Is such an out-migration happening? Let’s dig into the numbers.

One frequently hyperlinked story comes from Sam Zeff of KCUR.  (A transcript can be found here.)  Unfortunately, it only offers two real data points. First:

“With just six weeks to go before classes begin, there are about 700 open jobs in Kansas, double, Wilson says, the number they usually have this close to school.”

The problem with this statistic? It has no context. On Monday, The New York Times dedicated its front page  to a story on states all across the country struggling to recruit and retain teachers. As author Motoko Rich points out:

“In California, the number of people entering teacher preparation programs dropped by more than 55 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Nationally, the drop was 30 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to federal data. Alternative programs like Teach for America, which will place about 4,000 teachers in schools across the country this fall, have also experienced recruitment problems.

This is a macro-trend in education right now, not just an issue for Kansas. To wit, the Times story focuses on California, where voters dramatically raised taxes via Prop 30 at roughly the same time Kansas was cutting them. They’re struggling just as much, if not more.

The second bit of hard evidence from the KCUR story is even more underwhelming:

“Data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education suggest there is indeed a migration of teachers from Kansas to Missouri. In 2011 before huge tax cuts were enacted, only 85 applications for Missouri teaching licenses were filed with a Kansas address. In the next three years, as school budgets were slashed, applications doubled.”

That would be around 170 teachers total, and only 85 more than normal.  For a little perspective, Kansas has 41,243 teachers, so those 85 teachers represent 0.2% of Kansas’s teaching force. I’m not sure “migration” is the right word for that.

Probably the second most cited resource is this AP report that found 3,720 Kansas teachers leaving either Kansas or the profession entirely last school year, compared to an unnamed date in the recent past when only 2,150 left.  

Again, context: Using the numbers above, 3,720 teachers make up roughly 9 percent of Kansas’s teaching force. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 8 percent of teachers leave the profession nationally every year, and an additional 8 percent move to different schools.  That means Kansas’s numbers are right in line with, or possibly even better than, national averages.

Kansas has not been immune to national trends affecting the number of people becoming or remaining teachers, but I see little justification for Kansas-specific alarm. I know it doesn’t fit the preferred narrative, but the truth often doesn’t.

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About the Author

Michael McShane
Senior Fellow of Education Policy

Mike McShane is Senior Fellow of Education Policy for the Show-Me Institute. He is a former high school teacher and earned his PhD in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas. Before coming to the Show-Me Institute, Mike worked at the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow.