A news report from the Paducah Sun says something that’s no surprise to us: “Recruiting teachers can be a challenge in some fields” (subscription). The article quotes McCracken County Assistant Superintendent Heath Cartwright saying:
“We’ve been fortunate and have been able to find quality applicants for vacancies within our district. However, we do see there is a very limited number of teacher candidates in the areas of math and science.”
That is in no small measure due to the fact that unlike the situation in most areas of our economy, teaching in Kentucky generally pays the same regardless of how many people have the skills needed to teach in the different academic areas. Thanks to a basically one-size-fits-all salary structure, shortages in specific academic teaching areas like those mentioned by Cartwright are typical across Kentucky.
Clearly, Kentucky needs to rethink the way it pays teachers.
The very worst teacher shortage area is high school physics, something also mentioned in the Sun’s article. And, the people quoted in the article are right to worry about replacing their soon-to-be-retired physics teacher. Several years ago when then Senator Ken Winters was a co-chair, a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education was briefed that the entire annual output of physics teachers from all the education schools in Kentucky combined was just one person a year – just one.
Qualified teachers for other areas of science and math are also in short supply, as are teachers with the extra certification required to teach students with learning disabilities.
It should be noted that the single salary schedule is fiercely defended by the teachers’ union, but this philosophy isn’t typical across all unions. One well-known example: commercial air line pilots are not all paid the same. Pilots flying larger aircraft – which generally have more complexity, fly over longer and more demanding routes, and involve more responsibility for more passengers – generally enjoy higher pay scales than pilots who fly smaller transports. And, those higher-paying pilot positions are not automatically guaranteed based on seniority, either. Pilots who cannot demonstrate the skills required don’t get a free ride to those higher-paying cockpits.
By the way, there is more recent news about the problem of teacher shortages. The Daily Independent in Ashland, KY just ran an article about “Morehead State receives $1.2 million grant for STEM scholarships.” This money is intended to entice more science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors to go into teaching.
The Independent also says:
“The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported the STEM group that is projected to grow fastest from 2014 to 2024 is the mathematical science occupations group at 28.2 percent, compared with the average projected growth for all occupations of 6.5 percent.”
So, temptations for teacher candidates – even for currently practicing teachers – who have strong science and math backgrounds to move into business and industry aren’t going away. In fact, those temptations are going to grow – a lot.
Clearly, it is time for Kentucky to rethink its single salary pay scheme for teachers. It only makes sense that teachers in shortage areas should receive more pay. Otherwise, those shortages will continue and might even get worse as the economy recovers and jobs again open for those with the math and science skills that industry treasures and is willing to compensate accordingly.