Opinion | No teacher shortage yet in Michigan, but the talent pipeline is leaking

Eric Lupher is president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has announced plans to make improving education in Michigan a top priority of her administration. This can’t be accomplished without a supply of dedicated, well-trained teachers - the most important in-school factor to student learning. Our new report, Michigan’s Leaky Teacher Pipeline: Examining Trends in Teacher Demand and Supply, is an opportunity to inform policymakers and other stakeholders about this vital component of any improvement plan.

There is good news. Michigan does not appear to have an immediate teacher shortage. The teaching workforce is aligned with student enrollment, the primary demand factor, and should allow the state to maintain its current student/teacher ratio. We know some individual school districts have had trouble attracting teachers, but that suggests a maldistribution of talent rather than a shortage.

However, just dipping our toes into the data revealed a number of issues that may not bode well for districts hoping to ensure sufficient teachers to lead their classrooms in the future.

Michigan’s teaching workforce has shrunk by 16 percent over the last decade. That decline corresponds with the 12 percent reduction in the number of students enrolled in Michigan public schools. School districts are consolidating students into fewer classrooms and buildings. Obviously, fewer teachers are needed at the front of those classrooms.

More alarming is the high rate of newly certified teachers aborting their nascent careers, as well as high rates of turnover, as teachers move between districts. Young teachers are leaving the profession at a rate of 17 percent in the first five years. Additionally, Michigan has higher teacher turnover than the national average, with the highest rates found among urban districts and charter schools (regardless of geographic location).

My first piece of advice is for state policymakers in charge of education funding and administrators burdened with the continuous need to fill holes in their teaching corps: Concentrate on retention. Hiring new teachers is expensive and disruptive to student learning. Districts must do more to keep the ones they have.

Retention might be addressed on several fronts.

The average teacher salary in Michigan was roughly $62,000 in 2016-17. While Michigan compensates teachers well relative to other states, we also must examine what people with college degrees (master’s degrees for many teachers) earn in other professions. The student loans many graduates are burdened with may lead many to reexamine their career choices.

Administrators also should focus on teacher residency programs. Like a medical residency, they partner newcomers with master teachers for individualized training and mentoring. The programs should go on for longer than the half year of paired classroom experience many rookie teachers currently experience.

These reforms require funding – made available by the state and allocated by administrators. While salary levels are set by districts, funding is determined at the state level, necessitating a coordinated focus.

Those administrators also should aim to ensure that school leaders are working to provide positive organizational structures in every building.

We also looked at the paths leading people into the teaching profession, the “pipeline.” Trends here do not bode well for the future.

Michigan’s pipeline is leaking. Fewer high school graduates are enrolling in and completing teacher prep programs offered by our state universities. As a result, the number of new teaching certificates issued by the state has declined by 62 percent in the last 15 years.

The state has opened alternative paths to the profession, but those taking them are not sufficient to overcome declines in the traditional pipeline.

Pending shortages become a greater threat when we look at the subject areas that new graduates are being certified to teach. While the greatest needs are in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), special education, early childhood, English as a Second Language, and career technical subject areas, an increasing number of college graduates are being certified for elementary teaching.

My second piece of advice is for state policymakers to develop programs to lure potential teachers into the pipeline and prepare them to teach these high-need subject areas. Student loan forgiveness and/or assistance would be a great start.

One path could have the state emulate the Michigan State Loan Repayment Program that aims to get more primary care doctors into underserved areas by offering tax-free funds to repay student loans over several years. These programs should be targeted to districts and subject areas where the evidence of needs are the greatest.

A third approach could focus on a “grow your own” strategy. College scholarships could be offered to high school graduates from high-need areas if they become teachers prepared to tackle high-need subject areas in their own cities, towns or neighborhoods.  

Again, save for some individual districts and subject areas, a shortage of teachers has not become a statewide problem. But our pipeline is leaking. Policymakers would be wise to pay attention before those leaks drain it dry.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Comments

Matt
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 8:13am

Worker shortages are a fact of life all over the economy from construction to automotive and too many others to mention. Teacher certification rules are a big impediment to bringing in many potential candidates with far stronger subject knowledge that most teachers have. Feels like crocodile tears designed to deliver only certain outcomes.

Bones
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 9:59am

You've conveniently forgotten what most of us learned in college: Those that have the most knowledge in their field are seldom the ones best equipped to propagate that knowledge. I've got PhD in engineering, but I guarantee you that I could not effectively teach a high school physics class. I understand the material, but lack the background in psychology and teaching theory that are necessary to transmit knowledge to kids. This may come as a shock to you, but most regulations and licensing requirements exist for a reason

James Katakowski
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 12:33pm

Matt's comment was a typical thought of those who look from the outside. They seem to see the ease of master teachers at work while never experiencing an actual classroom. Bones, comment/ reply to Matt hit teaching perfectly, it is one thing to have a bunch of knowledge while it is another to impart it in a classroom. Regulation seems reasonable to me.

Holly
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 12:22pm

Matt,
Just curious: why do so many conservative commentators always use the term “crocodile tears” no matter what the context? Just so you know, it seems overused....

Matt
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 1:15pm

James, Bones and Holly
No one says every math genius would be a great teacher as Bones well illustrates! But likewise no one can deny that there are a lot of engineers, chemists, financial and medical professionals with the requisite human skills , desire and subject knowledge that would be good teachers or otherwise put to use. Unfortunately the thin skin so prevalent in the educational complex today effectively blocks these professionals out leaving the only possible solutions .... boo hoo ... more money.

Mitchell Robinson
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 2:45pm

"But likewise no one can deny that there are a lot of engineers, chemists, financial and medical professionals with the requisite human skills , desire and subject knowledge that would be good teachers or otherwise put to use."

I can...for two major reasons:

1. The combination of high levels of subject matter knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge is not very common, so it's doubtful that there "are a lot" of these unicorn individuals. Master teachers, who have both skill sets, are pretty rare, and while we could surely use more of them, they don't grow on trees. And it takes a lot more than a quickie alternative certification training program to develop both kinds of skills.

2. What in the world would motivate lots of "engineers, chemists, financial and medical professionals", who make big salaries and enjoy strong levels of public support and respect for what they do, to give up those financial and social benefits and advantages for a career that pays poorly, with benefits being chipped away at on a daily basis, and do a job that persons like Matt think are done by poorly prepared and easily replaceable workers? It's not excessive regulations that are keeping these folks out of the classroom. What is keeping them out of teaching are the same things that are forcing young teachers out--a lack of support from their administrators, and a lack of respect from the public.

Jim
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 3:09pm

Matt, your statement is laughable. Why would an engineer, chemist, or financial or medical professional want to teach in a public school? Are you serious? Do you really think the educational complex is blocking these professionals from teaching? Your comment doesn't make any sense.

Dwight
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 6:13pm

Matt,
That presumes that the professionals in question would be willing to sacrifice their professional careers to face the lower pay, constant revision of standards, negative professional stigma, ever-changing job requirements, over-exaggerated expectations of the impact they have on their product. Sometimes be a teacher is like being an engineer who is being criticized because a door latch doesn't work. An oft sighted analogy, which is as often mocked would be if held dentists responsible for the number of cavities that a patient had. Teacher's do have a greater opportunity to impact student performance. but there are a number of countries that are doing so far more effectively than we are in so here in the US. And is abundantly clear if you look at how they accomplish that success, it bears no resemblance to what we are doing here.

-They educate their teachers differently.
-They treat and compensate their teachers differently.
-They assess student and teacher performance differently.
-They manage their schools and educational systems differently.

I'm not going to speculate about why these differences exist, but they clearly do exist. I'm also not going to point at teachers, administrators, or politicians, and suggest they're the source of the problem. But we seem to be much more successful at this point with coming up with solutions, than actually solving the problem.

TJH
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 10:46pm

Matt, there are fast track programs at many universities that allow subject matter experts to obtain certification to teach. They are not blocked out as you suggest. There are, however, very few engineers, chemists,and financial or medical professionals who seek out the fast tracks to certification. In almost all cases they would need to take a very large salary reduction to become a teacher. I spent 40+ years in public education and don't regret a minute of that time, but I can assure that educators who stayed in the profession for a full career, especially those who worked during the past 10-15 years, do not have thin skin. Battle scars and bruises - yes, but thin skin - no way. Is more funding needed? According to carefully researched studies, we have under funded our schools for many years. I would suggest you read the full report of the School Finance Reseach Collaborative or the more recently published report by MSU.

Randy
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 8:42pm

I have an MBA and an MPA. I was an accountant and went back to school to teach. Teaching is hard work, almost impossible at times. I was shocked at how difficult it was to transition from business to teaching business. And even more shocking was the lack of respect. For those that judge teachers, give it a try. I would doubt most would survive.

Anna
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 11:10am

Hurrah that many of Michigan's college students have finally figured out that there will probably not be a highly compensated, 10-months-a-year public school teaching job out there for them when they complete an education degree. For decades, Michigan's colleges and universities graduated 50% more teachers than our schools would have openings for. With our current lower-and-falling number of K-12 students, a drop of 62% in the number of education majors in our colleges is just about right.

And as for 17% of teachers leaving the profession within their first five years, how does that compare to turnover among Michigan's nurses, librarians, social workers, accountants, or computer programmers? How many of those 17% who leave the profession seek to return once their own children reach school age? How many move with their transferred spouse? How many move out of state in order to get a promotion or better pay elsewhere? How many of that 17% leave teaching for educational administration? I don't think the pipeline for teachers is leaking any more severely than the pipeline for many other professions. But neither this article nor the report gives us any data with which to compare teaching to other essential professions requiring a bachelor degree to enter.

Holly
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 12:28pm

Thanks for this analysis. I’m a retired teacher and I agree that Michigan needs to be taking action now to prevent teacher shortages in the near future and you have many good suggestions. One important action that must be taken is that teachers in high poverty schools must receive higher pay. These students especially need high quality teachers to help them to be successful learners, but the challenges for teachers in those schools are definitely more complex and difficult. Higher pay would encourage more high quality teachers to stay in those schools.

Charlotte Morton
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 4:31pm

In addition to higher pay, smaller class sizes works well. As a retired inner city teacher, we had a grant for several years that kept lower grades class sizes down to 17 children. I saw a huge difference in how more individual student contact contributed to success with these children. You have better opportunity to know what the children need and more time to help them individually when your class size is low.

Nancy Dague
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 4:09pm

For the most part, aren’t you addressing the need for new teachers? Please show the average beginning salary rather than the average salary after teaching several years of teaching and obtaining further education often paid by the teacher. I feel this is not an accurate presentation of beginning teacher salary.

Jim
Sun, 03/03/2019 - 5:49pm

Nancy is so correct. Averages can easily be skewed. What’s the median salary for beginning teachers and for all teachers? That would be a more relevant statistic.

Sue
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 4:25pm

Maybe you need to look at how the evaluation system ( which should be a tool to improve teacher performance and strategies) is being utilized by districts and administrators to demoralize and discourage great teachers who they are targeting to get them to quit because they are at the top of the pay scale.

Sue
Mon, 02/18/2019 - 4:32pm

Teachers are being bombarded in many areas. They are often times asked to do a impossible job with little support. It seems that they get criticized by all, parents, administration and the general public. Just look at Donald Trump who most recently called teachers "losers"!
In the past teachers were looked on with respect. It's difficult to do a job in the current environment. The focus on high stakes testing is another factor. In many cases students could care less about taking these tests and then a teachers evaluation depends on it. Job satisfaction is more than money, but as a retired teacher I would not encourage anyone to go into the profession until the politicians are out of it.
And if anyone thinks it's easy volunteer or substitute teach.

Don Tilley
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 8:48am

What parallel are you living in??

Susan
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 5:35pm

Teachers used to encourage their OWN kids to go into the profession. The attacks on teachers over the past 15 years or so has changed that. Pay cuts, pension/retirement cuts, health insurance rollbacks, merit pay based on test results, evaluations based primarily on student outcomes, larger class sizes have all contributed to this. Nowadays, most teachers ACTIVELY DISCOURAGE their own kids from pursuing this career path.

Jamie
Tue, 02/19/2019 - 9:59pm

I've been teaching for 25 years in Michigan. 10 years ago I would have had no problem recommending this profession to one of my students or my own children. There is no way I would recommend it to somebody starting out now. During this last decade, the following has happened (some of these apply only to new hires):
1. The pension system has pretty much been eliminated.
2. Retiree health care is gone.
3. MPSERS contributions have increased significantly.
4. Health care costs have increased significantly.
5. Wages have been stagnant.
6. The State of Michigan has been changing the rules every couple years regarding evaluations and testing. The motto seems to be "The beatings will continue until morale improves."
7. Tenure has been pretty much eliminated.
8. Many more restrictions on collective bargaining.
How do any of these items encourage people to go into teaching? They don't. Instead of trying to find ways to entice people to enter a job that just isn't that good anymore, maybe we should be looking for ways to make the job one that people would want to go into.

Jeff McNally
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 9:08am

Teachers are leaving the profession. Fewer of our college kids are going into education as a career. The 62% drop in new teacher certifications tells a lot. E.M.U. has seen a huge drop in the enrollment of new students into the college of education. Salaries are not commensurate with other professions and education levels, student loans are huge - and most teachers take a second job in the first 5 years in order to make ends meet. So at a time when a new educator needs to focus on becoming a master teacher, they don't have the time to put into becoming the best they can be. The master teacher program is a joke; basically the master teacher helps mentor a new teacher without any compensation - in other words the master teacher works a lot more hours in their already busy teaching day with no compensation.

Joe Thomas
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 10:45am

When hiring school districts try to get teachers hired for the least amount possible. They have written into collective bargaining agreements setting limits on steps they can pay a new teacher regardless of experience. The paradigm on how we recruit and retain teachers has to change before it is too late. We also have to change the manner in which we evaluate teachers. As far as mentor programs, so far I have not seen a school take the mentor program seriously and basically assign a mentor teacher to meet the expectation. There is a lot of work to be done on both sides. We need to be honest with ourselves and begin to value our teachers beyond data points and test scores. We need to acknowledge and compensate the relationship piece of teaching that helps kids stay in school and attend regularly when they connect with a teacher or staff member. There are so many components to this matrix, it is hard to address them all in one article.

Joe Thomas
Sun, 02/24/2019 - 10:45am

When hiring school districts try to get teachers hired for the least amount possible. They have written into collective bargaining agreements setting limits on steps they can pay a new teacher regardless of experience. The paradigm on how we recruit and retain teachers has to change before it is too late. We also have to change the manner in which we evaluate teachers. As far as mentor programs, so far I have not seen a school take the mentor program seriously and basically assign a mentor teacher to meet the expectation. There is a lot of work to be done on both sides. We need to be honest with ourselves and begin to value our teachers beyond data points and test scores. We need to acknowledge and compensate the relationship piece of teaching that helps kids stay in school and attend regularly when they connect with a teacher or staff member. There are so many components to this matrix, it is hard to address them all in one article.