Detroit superintendent: Parents should demand end of long-term subs


More Detroit classrooms will be led by certified teachers this year, as Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, center, continues a push to reduce reliance on less-qualified long-term substitutes. (Bridge file photo)

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Students and parents can check to see if a teacher has a teaching certificate or if they hold a substitute’s permit. The state's online search tool also shows what areas they are approved to teach by using the state's online search tool. It can be found here.

Students returning to school on Tuesday in Detroit Public Schools Community District will see more certified teachers and fewer less-qualified long-term substitutes, according to a social media post by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

On Sunday, Vitti took to Twitter to announcer that, when he came to Detroit three years ago, “zero schools were fully staffed. On Tuesday (the first day of school in Detroit), 60 percent will. We have reduced teacher vacancies from 275 (in his first year as superintendent) to 75. This despite adding 100s of more teacher positions for art, music, PE and master teachers.”

Vitti blasted the growing use of long-term substitute teachers to fill Michigan classrooms, saying “a long-term sub is a vacancy.”

In August, Bridge published a series of articles that exposed the explosion in long-term substitutes leading Michigan classrooms. During the most recently completed school year, about 2,500 Michigan classrooms were led by long-term substitutes, who generally do not have a teaching certificate and are not required to have completed a college degree.

Vitti told Bridge in August that he is working to reduce long-term substitutes, who can lead a classroom for up to a year. Long-term substitutes do not need any education background and are required only to have 60 college credits in any subject.

The growth of long-term substitutes is at least partly the result of a decrease in the number of students in teaching programs in Michigan colleges. With fewer and fewer applicants for teaching positions, some districts and charter schools have turned to long-term substitutes.

That trend could hobble reform efforts attempting to improve Michigan’s struggling schools. Studies have found that students learn more in classrooms led by highly qualified teachers.

“We need to stop accepting teacher vacancies as normal in Detroit,” Vitti tweeted Sunday. “It’s unacceptable. A long-term sub is a vacancy. Parents expect more.”

Vitti went on to encourage parents to put pressure on schools to place certified teachers in all classrooms. 

“Ask your principal what adults are long-term subs,” Vitti tweeted. “Shameful that schools in the city had nearly all classrooms managed by subs last year.”

Vitti appeared to be referring to Bridge’s analysis of state data that showed Detroit charter schools overall had enough long-term substitute teaching permits to staff 37 percent of their classrooms during the 2018-19 school year. Several charters appeared to be completely staffed by long-term subs.

That compares to 2.6 percent of the roughly 3,500 teachers in Detroit’s public school district, a figure that Vitti’s tweet suggests will be even lower this school year.

Schools are not required to inform parents when their children are being taught by a long-term substitute rather than a certified teacher.

To reduce reliance on long-term subs, Detroit lured more certified teachers by bumping up pay (top salaries jumped from $65,000 to $71,000) and offering $3,000 signing bonuses.

Boosting pay is not a strategy to reduce long-term subs that will work everywhere – some cash-strapped Michigan districts struggle to pay their current teachers and keep up on building maintenance.

And Detroit public schools’ gain may be Detroit charter schools’ loss. Vitti told Bridge in August that some of the districts’ new teachers jumped ship from Detroit charters that offer lower pay, which likely will increase the need for more long-term subs in those buildings.

Given the scarcity of certified teachers statewide, this is an issue of supply and demand, with many teachers going to the highest bidder,” Paula Simmons, president of human resources for the management company, Elite School Management, that hires teachers for some Detroit charters, told Bridge in August. “The push by DPS to fill all outstanding teaching positions puts further pressure on (charter schools) with smaller budgets.”

Vitti’s social media announcement that there will be fewer long-term subs in the Detroit district came on the heels of news last week that district students were showing solid improvement in standardized tests. Most schools in the district showed improvement in M-STEP scores from tests given in the spring, in Vitti’s second year of a district-wide reform effort.

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Kevin Grand
Mon, 09/02/2019 - 12:28pm

I'm still missing the overall narrative that The Bridge is attempting to promote here.

On one hand, it tells readers that a college education is important.

Then, it turns around and tells readers that those same college graduates are now somehow unqualified to teach the very same subject material that they were required to master in order to graduate.

Which is it?

Kathy Higgins-L...
Mon, 09/02/2019 - 2:32pm

Just learning material does not mean that you have the skills and training to teach material to children and adolescents.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 09/02/2019 - 4:59pm

If college educated individuals cannot communicate the basic concepts of what they needed to graduate college, and not even at a college level to others (i..e. children and adolescents)...there is a serious problem.

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 1:04pm

Every time I think I've heard the dumbest libertarian take on here, you or Matt ups the ante. Teaching kids, especially young kids, effectively is not a simple task. Ask any 1st Grade teacher if some schlub off the street can do their job, and they'll laugh in your face for insulting them.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 09/04/2019 - 7:19am

As usual, your ignorance is astounding, Bones.

Exactly how do you think schools functioned (even...gasp... the one-room schoolhouses of old) before the "professional" educators took hold?

Yes, teachers taught the class, but most of the actual instruction was done with the older students teaching the younger students.

If that model cannot be replicated in modern times, then (again) there is a serious problem in what people are expected to retain knowledge-wise in order to graduate from college.

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 11:41am

Perfect! We'll return to the education model of the 1860s! Why, it's a wonder we didn't think of that already. After all, American education was really at its peak when unqualified teachers taught the same lesson to 8 year olds as they did 14 year olds. Brilliant.

Your grasp of the American education system, both modern and historic, is as lacking as your knowledge of economics or political theory. Give it a rest

Kevin Grand
Sun, 09/08/2019 - 8:07am

And as usual, you miss the context of my comment, Bones.

For example, the period you derisively cited was during the Industrial Revolution.

Where were all of those people who came up with all of those innovations during that period in our history educated originally?

Can you tell me where Henry Ford's received his early education? How about Andrew Carnegie? George Westinghouse?

And that's just my short list.

Get back to me after you've taken the proper amount of time to brush up on your history and we'll continue this discussion.

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 9:19am

First, one doesn't need a degree to be a long-term sub. 60 hours in any college subject is enough. That's not considered a college graduate. Second, an effective teacher learns in college the skills and techniques needed to succeed in the classroom. Trust me, I and many others I work with, all with a minimum of bachelor's degrees, have no place teaching in an elementary or secondary classroom. While some may be more understanding of the pedagogy of teaching than others, until one has studied teaching as an academic subject, we're doing our children a disservice pretending that a college degree (or 60 hours of one) is enough to lead them on their educational path.

Barb Z-B
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 10:08am

You're comparing apples to oranges, Kevin. Just because someone has "mastered" the content of their college degree doesn't mean they have the requisite skills to teach that content OR the personality to do so. Teachers need skills to tailor the content to the appropriate level for students. Teachers need to know how to engage students in learning, not everyone is capable of doing so. Teachers need to manage a classroom of children all of whom will have varying degrees of interest in the topic being studied. It isn't just a matter of book-learning for the teacher.

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 4:31pm

I would guess most parents have no idea that their kids are being taught by long term subs and the schools probably have no interest in giving out that information.

Andrea Anderson
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 6:13pm

So when are we going to tackle the issues that make teaching an unappealing career choice for students heading to college?

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:47pm

That is the question that really needs an answer.

Al Churchill
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 10:13pm

It is not only that fewer students are entering the field of education in college. it is that 50% of those that do enter the profession quit within five years. Given the undeserved beating that teachers have experienced over the past few decades, it's hard to imagine a sane person entering the field today.

Jen Rousch
Sun, 09/08/2019 - 7:28am

Andrea Anderson you see the Big Picture! We have a teacher shortage crisis! Part of the reason we have so many long-term subs in place at schools! I am a teacher and we can’t even get 1 day subs let alone hire certified teachers. Michigan is #48 in reading and almost as low in math!!!! We need to be educating students at the highest level possible.

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 7:40pm

More alternative routes to certification need to be implemented. With the trend of online learning, Teach for America and other paths- somehow there can be a way to allow a route for working adults and others to obtain certification or work their way through while subbing. Wayne State wanted me to basically earn another BA degree to teach Social Studies, after getting a BA in Pol Sci and an MA in Public Admin. If teachers are required to constantly recertify and take skills classes post grad, then why can't someone with all the resources at their disposal do so as well in the same industry? They welcome businesspeople with 'experience' with open arms and no certification.

Ben W. Washburn
Tue, 09/03/2019 - 8:22pm

Please do not take my comments as a criticism of Dr. Vitti. I think that he is doing about the best that he can, by professional standards and expectations, for Detroit students.

My point is simply much different. There is nothing that professionally trained "educators" can do that is better than what parents who are hell-bent on getting their children a better education than they themselves have had, can make happen. Please read this sentence a couple of times, to make sure that it really sinks-in.

POINT #1: Professionally trained educators can do a lot, but it falls way, way short of what strong parental expectations and sacrifice can achieve.

POINT #2: Unfortunately, the underlying structure of our educational system is predicated upon the assumption that there is a political solution to whatever ills it. Professionally trained educators simply do the best that they can to comply with that unrealistic expectation.

POINT #3: Each and every day, current-day parents are told by the mass media to totally rely upon professionally trained educators to properly educate their children. This repetitive and encouraging message is repeated at least ten times every day. It makes parents feel like consumers. If you're not satisfied, then just jerk your child out of whatever school they are in and take them somewhere else that seems more promising.
But, the best educational results always come from groups of students who expend their whole educational experiences together. The most important factors in educational achievement are having the SAME group of teachers and classmates TOGETHER for the long run. They learn together. And they grow together. They don't all have to be "professionally the best" so long as they stick with the program for the long haul! Some can be total "assholes". Seriously, kids need to learn early-on that some people in the world are total wastes.
The more "perfect" the milieu, the less that it has to really

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 6:20am

Ben brings out some very well thought out points. The issue all are afraid to talk about is Parent (s) or lack of. The vast majority students in this case, Detroit Schools, come from Single Mothers living in generational comfortable poverty where education is not a priority at home. Schools have become "centers" that provide meals, basically care centers for a demographic that overwhelms the district. I am of the belief, the greatest teachers, books, computers, resources will have minimal effect on learning.....we have seen the academic test scores in Detroit barely move a notch in 40 years regardless of Superintendents, Class Sizes, new buildings, free breakfast, free lunch, access to meals during the summer, etc. Detroit remains rated last in academic achievement of big cities in the nation year after year.

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 11:45am

Love to see Matt come soooo close to saying the quiet part loud here. So we agree that poverty is one of the best indicators of scholastic achievement; how does any part of the libertarian economic model propose to address the cyclical poverty at the root of all of this?

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 10:24pm

Thank You Dr. Vitti. Long-Term subs ARE NOT required to be certified so what are your students being taught? Also, does your teacher or sub have a criminal history? Who is teaching your kids???? Parents better take an interest in who spends more time with their children than they do...