Majority of Michigan public schools started school year short on teachers

A teacher shortage is forcing districts to turn to uncertified long-term substitutes at a time when Michigan is struggling to turn around its K-12 schools, which rank in the bottom third in the nation in test scores. (Bridge file photo)

Six out of 10 Michigan school districts started this school year without enough full-time teachers to fill their classrooms, according to a survey of Michigan school superintendents.

The survey, conducted the second week of September by the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, found 518 classrooms in 178 school districts that did not have a full-time, certified teacher.

“It’s disturbing,” said Chris Wigent, executive director of MASA. “This confirms the teacher shortage that leads to using long-term substitutes.”

Long-term substitutes can lead a classroom for as long as a full school year, but are not required to be certified teachers or have a college degree in any subject. In Michigan, someone can qualify to become a long-term sub with as few as 60 college credits.

A Bridge investigation found that the number of Michigan classrooms led by long-term substitutes grew 10-fold in five years, with the total in the 2018-19 school year reaching 2,500 such teachers.

Students who need good teachers the most – low-income and academically struggling students – are the most likely to be stuck with long-term substitutes who aren’t required to have a four-year degree or any teacher training.

Superintendents in over 50 percent of the school districts in the state responded to the survey. In 12 percent of those districts, there were four or more classrooms without permanent, certified teachers.

The biggest shortage in certified teachers by far was special education, where superintendents reported 216 openings (41 percent of all reported openings).

“I’m tired of reading articles saying we don’t have a teacher shortage,” Wigent said. “This data, whether people want to agree with it or not, shows our districts are seeing a shortage of quality educators.”

Fewer college students are going in to teaching. Enrollment in teacher prep programs at Michigan universities dropped 66 percent over seven years between 2009 and 2016. While overall, there are enough students graduating from Michigan’s university-based teaching programs to replace teachers who retire and quit, they are not evenly distributed geographically or by teaching specialty, according to a report by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Shortages are most severe in urban and rural schools. In Benton Harbor Public Schools, 42 percent of teachers were long-term substitutes last year, for example. Charter schools, where teacher salaries often are lower than in traditional public schools, are more likely to be staffed with long-term substitutes, according to Bridge’s analysis. Charter school students were four times more likely to have a long-term substitute as a teacher than students in traditional schools. 

The decline in college grads choosing a career in teaching is a national phenomenon. Teachers generally earn less money than others with comparable levels of education.

 That shortage is forcing districts to turn to less-qualified long-term substitutes at a time when Michigan is struggling to turn around its K-12 schools, which rank in the bottom third in the nation in test scores.

“You won’t find a superintendent who thinks that [long-term substitutes] are a good idea,” Wigent said. “We all agree it’s not the best way to go for children, but we’re forced to go that direction.”

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J. Katakowski
Thu, 09/26/2019 - 10:04pm

This was a plan of the GOP from years ago. Now it comes to fruition. What did anyone expect except a loss of teachers in a once great profession. Gov. Engler started this mess sadly. What is the future for education?

Fri, 09/27/2019 - 9:15am

How about eliminating all the bloated non teaching middle management that all school districts have and use the money to double teacher salaries? You can't talk about school funding without talking about wasteful spending by districts. Check the State Dept of Ed website. ( ) . There are less students by 500,000 and more total school districts. Each district has a superintendent and non teaching staff that get retirements and healthcare. Legacy costs are huge. Stop funding middle management and start paying teachers IN THE CLASSROOM. Please, don't let any facts stop anyone from bashing the GOP or anyone else.

john liposky
Sat, 09/28/2019 - 12:35am


James Roberts
Fri, 09/27/2019 - 9:45am

My wife, a former public school teacher and i always said that someday everyone would look around and say; Gee, I wonder why we can't get good students to go into teaching anymore? Could it be low salaries including stretching experience based pay increases over 20 years or more now, no more strong benefits to look forward to, a decided lack of respect in the community anymore, a move toward making teachers bear the brunt of societal wish-lists, think mainstreaming, no child left behind, no discipline allowed, no homework, etc. thankfully we can support the alternative and you can be sure my grandchildren will be going to a good private school.

john liposky
Sat, 09/28/2019 - 12:34am

Teachers that I have talked to say that they quit because the system that employed them was not interested in teaching student but only in test scores which shows poor agenda gets poor results.. Education boards suck because of progressive/liberal agenda that is more interested in indoctrination. EMU, the teacher college, were the worst performing charter schools in Detroit, so that explains results.

J. Katakowski
Sun, 09/29/2019 - 1:49pm

Progressive/liberal agenda and indoctrination....they you say ? about EMU and charter schools in Detroit so that explains results? What are you saying or even bumbling about? My understanding was EMU was directed by Gov. Snyder and his placed and chosen board of republicans to take on Detroit. The staff of education at EMU said hell no unless they had control of the program to help Detroit students. You sound a little off base please explain yourself. Thanks, await your response.

Kelly Weaver
Sun, 09/29/2019 - 6:11pm

There is a shortage of SOME teachers. Some subjects it is still hard to find an open position. I'm a laid-off Social Studies teacher still looking for a job since I was laid off in 2018.