This is a tale of two reporters faced with covering the same story.
The first, Valerie Honeycutt Spears of the Lexington Herald-Leader, submitted hers under the headline “Where are the teachers? Thousands of unfilled teaching jobs threaten education in Kentucky.”
It cited alarming statistics and hit all the usual talking points:
Pensions, politics, pay and the pursuit of test scores all get mentioned frequently as leading reasons for the teacher exodus in Kentucky.
The fear for this fall and for the future is that public school students will have to make do with substitutes or with job candidates hired only because there were not more qualified applicants.
The open educator positions from the 2014-15 year to the 2016-17 year in Kentucky showed a “drastic increase” of 6,247 to 8,855 over a 2-year period, said Jessica Fletcher, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department for Education.
With school starting by mid-August in most districts, there were more than 4,900 open positions listed on the Kentucky Educator Placement Service since the beginning of 2019 with more than 1,000 posted in the last 30 days.
Rather than follow the crowd of similar articles and op-eds that ensued, the second reporter, Mandy McLaren of the Louisville Courier Journal, decided to test the shortage hypothesis and filed her story under the headline, “Kentucky teacher shortage: Are ‘thousands’ of jobs actually vacant?”
The answer — as is usually the case with questions in the headline — is no.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis has in recent weeks drawn attention to a statewide teacher shortage, warning that thousands of instructional vacancies could be putting student learning at risk.
But reports of an immediate crisis are overblown, a Courier Journal review has found.
That’s because figures being used to describe the shortage — for example, that school districts have posted more than 2,000 teaching vacancies since April — fail to acknowledge that hundreds of those vacancies have, in fact, been filled.
McLaren noted the discrepancies between vacancies posted on the Kentucky Educator Placement Service website, and the number of actual vacancies at various school districts.
Jefferson County: 595 job openings posted, 129 actual vacancies.
Fayette County: 367 posted, 28 actual.
Anderson County and Johnson County: 26 posted each, 2 actual each.
The Kentucky Department of Education acknowledged the discrepancies but had not yet asked any news outlets to correct or clarify their stories.
Not that it would matter. I guarantee the first story was read and redistributed by many more people than the second story, and any correction will pass unnoticed.
The teacher shortage story is evergreen. A tip of the hat to McLaren for examining the roots.