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Facing teacher shortage, Michigan may ease path for out-of-state educators

kids in a classroom
Teachers certified in other states must take a test to test in Michigan before they can lead classrooms here. That would change under legislation now being considered.

Experienced educators from other states could soon teach in Michigan without having to pass the state certification exam.

Under proposed reciprocity legislation, people with three years classroom experience elsewhere would no longer have to take the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification in order to start teaching in the state. And once they start, they would have a year to fulfill other state licensure requirements, including becoming certified in CPR, and, for some, completing additional coursework in reading diagnostics.

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The goal is to reduce barriers and get experienced teachers in the classroom faster, said state Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who is sponsoring the bill.

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That’s important as the state tries to mitigate a longstanding teacher shortage in many districts that worsened during the pandemic. Class sizes are growing, principals are assigning educators to classes they don’t feel qualified to teach, and staff morale is down. Students, meanwhile, need good teachers more than ever as they try to make up for lost learning time during the pandemic. 

Most other states already waive testing requirements for new hires who have experience in other states, said Phillip Rogers, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. And some states are relaxing their testing rules even for less experienced teachers, he said.

State Superintendent Michael Rice supports McBroom’s bill, saying it could be very helpful and would cost the state nothing. 

“It’s all upside, no downside,” he said.

The Michigan Education Association hasn’t taken an official position on the bill but supports its concept as long as its provisions are temporary.

“We do want to maintain the longtime, rigorous standards for being a teacher in Michigan, because our kids deserve the best and the brightest,” said Thomas Morgan, spokesman for the labor union. The certification test ensures teaching candidates meet those standards, Morgan said. 

“But we do understand there is a crisis in our schools – a shortage of educators – and whatever we can do to get good teachers into our state and into our classrooms while we help them get on the path to meeting Michigan’s rigorous standards, we’re willing to do that,” he said. 

About a third of teachers hired last year in Michigan were initially certified in other states. Rice believes the state could have hired more if experienced candidates from other states didn’t have to first meet the testing, CPR and reading course requirements set by the Legislature. 

Those hurdles aren’t insurmountable, but they may be inconvenient enough to dissuade prospective hires at a time when they’re most needed, Rice said.

Principals say the legislation would be helpful. 

“This would allow us to recruit and bring in new teachers without requiring them to take an assessment to prove abilities” they have already demonstrated by passing another state’s test, said Paul Liabenow, executive director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association.

The change could make a big difference in Traverse City, home to  a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station whose personnel sometimes arrive with spouses who are teachers looking for work. 

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Scheduling and taking the certification test can be enough of a barrier to persuade some of them to seek other kinds of jobs when they’re both qualified and needed in schools, said Traverse City Public Schools Superintendent John VanWagoner. 

“I definitely want people that are strong, know their content, and are able to teach our kids at a high level, but I don’t know that that specific standardized test is the only measure,” VanWagoner said. “If we as an education entity believe they know their content and we feel good enough to put them in front of our kids, we should have the local autonomy to be able to do so.”

The Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness is expected to take up the bill later this month.

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at tmauriello@chalkbeat.org.

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