Michigan residents say they oppose uncertified teachers leading classrooms


In a poll, a majority of those surveyed say that a relevant educational or professional background should be a prerequisite for substitutes who lead classrooms for long periods. And they want to be told if their child’s regular teacher lacks a state teaching certification. (Shutterstock image)

In an era where education policy can be divisive, Michigan residents overwhelmingly agree on one thing: They want trained, certified teachers leading school classrooms.

A large majority say they are skeptical that long-term substitute teachers who currently are in charge of thousands of Michigan classrooms can provide a quality education for students, according to a new report based on polling and feedback from more than 1,800 residents across the state. 

A majority of those surveyed say that a relevant educational or professional background should be a prerequisite for substitutes who lead classrooms for long periods. And they want to be told if their child’s regular teacher lacks a state teaching certification. Neither of these things is currently required under state law.

Most residents surveyed say they also support a variety of ideas to increase the number of certified teachers in Michigan classrooms, including expanding the state’s Interim Teaching Certificate program for mid-career professionals who want to teach, and providing greater financial incentives to existing teachers.

Those were among Michiganders’ messages for state leaders in “No Substitute: The public’s agenda to reduce Michigan’s reliance on uncertified, long-term substitute teachers,” which summarizes public sentiment on the issue, released Thursday by the Center for Michigan and Bridge Magazine. 

A Bridge investigation published last summer and fall uncovering the state’s metastasized reliance on long-term, uncertified substitutes amid a shortage of certified teachers across much of Michigan. Though no part of the state is entirely immune, the increased reliance on substitutes intensifies in low-income rural and urban districts.

After identifying the issue, Bridge and the Center launched a statewide poll and hosted a conference in Lansing in late 2019 to see where the public stood. In the end, over 1,800 residents lent their voices to “No Substitute”. The report will be delivered to every state-level elected leader in Lansing to ensure residents’ voices are amplified to Michigan’s policymakers.

Desire for stricter standards and a heads up

Michigan residents told Bridge they want the state to demand more qualifications from long-term substitute candidates. 

Currently, the state requires 60 college credits in any subject to be eligible for a long-term substitute position. That is the equivalent of two years of college. By contrast, a certified teacher must complete a four-year bachelor's degree in a teachable subject, a teacher preparation program, and successfully complete student teaching experience.

Those who participated in the poll, including parents or guardians of K-12 students as well as members of the general public, said current qualifications for long-term substitutes are insufficient.

Nearly nine in 10 residents surveyed said they want the state to require formal teacher training before long-term subs step into a classroom. Nearly eight in 10 Michiganders said a bachelor’s degree and/or work experience relevant to the subject they are teaching should be required.

“Making those requirements — that's a good first step. We need to go back to having those requirements for anybody who's entering a classroom and working with children,” Dr. Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, said in an interview with Bridge.

But, she cautions, if Michigan “made these changes, but they weren't able to provide the other sorts of changes that make teaching a profession that people want to enter and stay in...I don't know that those changes themselves would make a difference.” 

Without increasing the number of properly qualified teachers, the teacher shortage that is driving school districts’ reliance on uncertified teachers to fill vacancies will continue, she said.

Just over 45 percent of state residents said they are “very confident” that a full-time, certified teacher provides a good education, compared to 17 percent who expressed the same level of confidence that an uncertified, long-term substitute teacher can do so.

The poll revealed that 87 percent of residents would be “somewhat” or “very” concerned about a long-term sub leading their child’s classroom for a full year. A nearly identical portion say the state should require schools to tell parents and guardians if their child will be taught by a long-term sub for more than a week.

Some promising solutions 

Expanding the state’s Interim Teaching Certificate program was the most popular idea among state residents to reduce reliance on long-term, uncertified substitutes. The program is designed for mid-career professionals who already have a bachelor’s degree to get a teacher certification in one year. Ninety-seven percent of residents surveyed said they would support expanding the program.

“Young people … can go to four years of college and do another year-and-a-half of practice teaching, so we have to change that model for people [who want to teach but]  aren’t young people,” one Michigan resident said at a Bridge Magazine and Center for Michigan fall conference, Subbing Out Teachers: A Solutions Summit. “There’s a huge bulk of the population that is not young people.”

According to the Michigan Department of Education, nine secondary education programs issued 1,019 interim teaching certifications between 2012 and 2019.

Other ideas polled included: encourage undergraduates to enroll in education programs; providing financial incentives for teachers to work in understaffed schools, and reforming state law so retirees can substitute teach without receiving diminished retirement benefits. More than 92 percent of respondents supported each of these ideas.

Moje told Bridge a combination of these solutions is likely the most effective route. 

Retirees who re-enter the classroom are a wonderful resource, she said, but many retired for a reason so they make a better stopgap measure than a real solution.

As for promoting the teaching profession to undergraduates, “simply encouraging enrollment is not going to go very far,” she said. “I'm really happy to see people wanting to encourage undergraduate enrollment, but I think that has to be probably married to the idea of financial incentives” that make teaching a more attractive and financially feasible profession.

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Thu, 01/16/2020 - 8:12am

I'm sure most parents have no idea of the background of the teachers educating their children, schools would probably be opposed to revealing how many and who the teachers are that are lacking certification. A pandora's box would be opened up with angry parents at school board meetings etc., it will be interesting to see if legislation forcing schools to reveal the information is passed.

Sun, 01/19/2020 - 1:40pm

I totally agree that most parents have no idea who is teaching their kids. Parents probably aren’t aware that the state certifies non-qualified people as teachers as well, certifying them to teach all subjects at the elementary level, with no background period.

Thu, 01/16/2020 - 7:20pm

But what ever you do, don't allow these kids any choice but their assigned public school!

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 8:26am

Not having certifications does not bother me. What should matter is can they teach- period. If the school administrators can not discern which teachers can versus those that can’t then certifications or not it won’t improve the out come.

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 8:31am

Why does the state STOP giving money to privet schools that Is Illegal,, AND why has not the democrat taken this illegal mater to court???

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 2:03pm

Trying to figure out a question that always strikes me, is a privet school a school building somehow constructed out of Privets? Do they use the wood from these bushes or leaves somehow in construction? Or a place where Privets are somehow taught to grow is certain shapes or something? I've grown Privets before and they can be quite a job keeping in line, maybe mine should have been sent to school?

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:55pm

All you seem to want is the money and don't have any interest in student learning.
If you truly cared about student learning you would be asking about student success and decide then whether it was an effective way to spend taxpayers dollars.

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 8:42am

The only opposed are the Teacher Union know a lot of uncertified teacher that are better educatiers than certified teachers the have actual life experience. In a lot of district there the only people to sub and or teach

Sat, 01/18/2020 - 11:21am

Seems to me that an uncertified teacher must have taught you your writing skills! As a certified teacher, I would send your post back to you to be edited for grammatical errors.

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 9:59am

If they are better educators the ginger certified to teach legally, period.

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 8:55am

If we don't start 1) paying teachers in accordance to their level of education, 2) supplying teachers with the basic necessities for their classrooms so they aren't even more out of pocket, and 3) hiring enough teachers and aides to adequately staff the schools, things are not going to improve. Who in their right mind would want to be a teacher under the conditions that exist now?

Sat, 01/18/2020 - 3:52pm

Is there one bit of evidence that having more teachers with master's degrees results in better learning outcomes? I'd bet the relationship is inverse over the last 30 years.

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 10:02am

You don’t have to have a masters degree to teach, but you should have some training in classroom management and should only be certified to teach in the are of your degree. A math degree should not qualify a person to also teach history and science.

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 9:56am

The evidence that exists is mixed. One study, now somewhat dated, can be found here. https://www.heritage.org/education/report/the-effects-advanced-teacher-t...

At the elementary school level, there is, on average, no improvement in student learning when teachers have a master's degrees and at least 3 years teaching experience vs. students of teachers with at least the same level of classroom experience who have no post-graduate credits. At the middle and high school level, the students of teachers with subject-specific master's degrees have slightly but consistently higher average scores on academic achievement tests than their peers who study with teachers who have not completed master's degrees or those without any post-graduate credits. Upper-grade teachers with education-specific master's degrees do not produce improved student learning vs. teachers without master's degrees or post-grad credits.

From a data-based decision making standpoint, school districts should immediately (as soon as they can renegotiate their union contract if they have one!) stop increasing pay for teachers who complete additional education-specific post-graduate credits or degrees. The districts should use at least some of that extra money to further increase the pay of teachers who now have or who earn additional graduate credits and degrees in their taught subject(s).

Sun, 01/19/2020 - 12:22pm

I would think that we should base pay on results delivered in the classroom with their students than what a person has achieved outside their classroom.
I am surprised that experienced professionals haven't got their own way of assessing a teachers success. In my career I learned to look for telltales of success, one was improvement in results another was ability to engage and enlist involvement of other with achieving results, these were dependent on the setting.
I would think that the success [necessary] skills in teaching would be affected more by the setting, that the skills needed for success would change by grade, the elementary school teachers would be more about direct interactions, while middle school would be more about the subject matter knowledge, and high school would be more about problem solving and thinking skills, but teachers never seem to talk about that they only mention degrees and longevity.
As for supplies maybe that is more of a local issue and teachers should begin developing a relationship in their community talking about what they do and how they do it [describing what they use and how, there maybe more outside the system that would like to help].
The hiring may not be the only way to help in the classroom, I recall a remark about it takes a 'community to raise a child', but maybe it could be that a those in the community could help students learn. I hear about volunteer activities where the read with struggling readers but why not see what other knowledge and skills could be available, subject matter 'experts' willing to develop real life examples of the subjects, those with life experience to work one on one to share an enlighten students, those to work on developing means/methods how to provide after classroom learning opportunities.
I offer this approach because, others have found reaching out and being open to those outside their profession have proven to help in building successes and extending ownership the results. That first step has a high threshold of trepidation but can tap into a whole new resource.

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 2:51pm

Assessing teacher effectiveness leads to testing and other equally if not even more unpleasant questions and activities, such as evaluating cost effectiveness, comparisons to other schools, considering an individual child's gifts, abilities, homelife and efforts and possibly even choosing or allowing non-public alternatives. So when your grandchild tells you how our nation is built upon a foundation of injustice and oppression, explains biology where xx and xy are irrelevant and shows their math quiz? which earned a solid smiley face, calm down and be happy and rest assured their teacher was certified and likely even had a master’s degree. And oh yah, don't forget to vote in favor or all mileage requests!

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 11:25pm

No, it doesn't have to lead to testing. Much better to create an index of the practical things that describe success. But those who are the knowledgeable people need to speak out about what is important. If we can identify the criteria that are important, then we can create an index that all can use to effectively evaluate performance and identify what needs to be improved may even lead to how to make the improvements, and none of it has to do with testing.
What we need to hear are the three most important attributes of a teacher, what are the three most important attributes of a successful student, what are the three most important resources need for classroom success, what are two most important aspect of a successful school.
With that list of attributes/practices we can build an index that everyone can use to recognize the performance and what needs to improve it and how to improve it with the goal student learning success.
The real problem is getting to participate in the conversation to develop that attributes list. If we could get a couple some different perspectives offering their thoughst on what are the attributes of teachers, students, parents, community. And this

Paul Jordan
Fri, 01/17/2020 - 9:10am

For decades, Republican-controlled state government has raised the educational requirements for teachers and teachers' aides, increased scrutiny on their performance, and shifted more and more costs onto traditional public schools. They have denied districts of adequate funding so that they could offer tax cuts, then blamed the decline in student performance on schools.

They have, by law, created what amounts to a hostile work environment in which those teachers that remain must endure their disdain and neglect.

The solution is simple: Raise teachers' pay (and esteem) to a level that will attract teachers to Michigan instead of repelling them!

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:53pm

Once again Paul Michigan teachers are at the top 10% for teacher pay. This hasn't seemed to do much for us. A legit case can be made for increasing starting teacher pay but that's not your point. Far from being the dregs of society most folks I know have nothing but good to say about their kid's teachers.

A Hope
Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:18am

It used to be that subbing was a good pathway to a permanent teaching job, so even if the pay was low, the tradeoff was that good subs very often were hired into full-time jobs with good benefits. Now that many districts use a third-party contractor for subs, that incentive is gone. So for lousy pay, no job security, a very stressful workday (“whoopee! We have a sub!”) plus an erosion of benefits and professional status for all teachers, why on earth would anyone sub anyway? It’s not hard to figure out.

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 10:58am

Paul Jordan: Spot on. Pay them like professionals and treat them like professionals. Non-bachelor degree folks are fine for teaching assistants. Teachers now have wear other hats besides instructors because they also have to take CME courses classes in becoming mini-social workers, psychologists and health care monitors since so many of these services have been cut in schools. We can't continue this path of slicing pieces of bone off educational funding. The idiots in our legislature are the products of a system which gives teachers no respect. Yes, we have bright legistators also, but I am appalled by the ignorant statements make by so many so-called "professional" politicians. Since they can't speak in coherent thoughts, I'm sure many of them have poor reading comprehension skills.

Chuck Jordan
Fri, 01/17/2020 - 11:16am

A young person would have to be a fool to go into teaching today, and it's not just the pay. This is again an issue of unequal education provided for low income and segregated rural and urban districts and their students.

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 12:00pm

Even certified is questionable, all just an administrative cash cow. No more real professional teachers, doctors or trades, if ever there were. Maybe occasionally but never the norm.

Bob Balwinski
Fri, 01/17/2020 - 3:40pm

I am a retired teacher with a MI Permanent Secondary Certificate. I have a BS in Mathematics and an MA in Educational Administration along with an extra 42 credit hours beyond that......most in Mathematics.....so I'm still "highly qualified" under federal law.
I am NOT coming back. Sorry!!

John S Porter
Mon, 01/20/2020 - 3:15pm

Well Bob, it sounds like you have a lot you could share with those of us who care about the students and good outcomes. Did you quit for lack of interest, or were you forced out? We have three attitude problems in education: Voters, Students, and Teachers. I don't know why you left, but it is possible we paid you too much and gave you too good of a retirement. You might still be working if you had too, but perhaps you now are too comfortable to be bothered. Perhaps State law and attitude of young people drove you away. Did you ever have to compete with a cell phone for student's attention? Did your positive attitude toward your subject burn out? Did it leave the classroom before you did? Who taught these voters and students the value of education anyway? In your experience Bob, who is more valuable in the classroom, a BA that can motivate students despite only a year or two experience, or a 30 year teacher with a masters that is just tired of it all? Last question. Did you use your math to do really useful things or did you teach it without applying it? I think part-time math teachers who have or have had jobs in industry and science would be tremendous teachers.

Enough of this sarcasm. What we really need is comprehensive, non-judgemental surveys to find out what students and teachers are thinking. What is going on in their heads, their classrooms, and their schools. We especially need to find out why new teachers bug out early in their careers and why people retire earlier than necessary. Then we would have a better chance of understanding this situation. Bob as a math teacher, would it help to have other people, like senior volunteers in the classroom to listen to students and maybe encourage them? Perhaps old people aren't as useless as everybody seems to assume. Also, what would aging teachers think about half time gigs?

Craig Reynolds
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 10:52pm

"What we really need" has been supplied over and over and over and over and over again and again and again and again. You missed the biggest attitude problem in education : the politicians, who prescribe the financing as well as the the current flavor of performance testing for pupils, the proctoring for which is laid on their teachers, who must now dump last season's most popular assessment tests to be replaced by newer tests whose scores, either misused or misunderstood, still mean nothing. The problems are well identified, the political will among the voters and elected officials has not yet been created to advance the solutions: https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/10-major-challenges-facing-publi...

jess atwell
Fri, 01/17/2020 - 4:44pm

The problem with education isn't whether a teacher is certified or not. Educators have a dismal record of acheivement to say the least. The issue that needs to be understood better is: Exactly what is being taught? Until we have a logical explanation for teachers failure to educate, no plan or action should be undertaken which will only muddy the water and cost taxpayers more. Substitute teachers are not the problem.

Jeff Bradley
Sun, 01/19/2020 - 7:56am

You are entirely incorrect. It is/was the Republican cutting of school funding and thus schools having to make cuts. My students were very successful in the beginning of my career. I had approx 28 kids per class X5 classes. 30 years later I had 35 kids per class X7 classes. They cut all my preparatory hours where I could grade, process and think, etc and added multiple kids to my classes. It was sheer volume of students that made it difficult to be thorough. Your quote of "educators have a dismal record of achievement to say the least" was forced on me and my ability to do my job and yet, still my students achieved.

Susan Donnelly
Sun, 01/19/2020 - 7:34am

I'm not sure that the teacher shortage comes from there not being enough teachers, more likely it's the conditions teachers must put up with that drives them away. I tried for 3 years, as a certified secondary science teacher with 10 years experience, to get a teaching job in Michigan but to no avail. Was it because they would have had to pay me more? I'm not certain but it seemed as though there was plenty of competition.

Sun, 01/19/2020 - 5:34pm

I believe you are correct. Public and charter schools in Michigan would rather use long-term subs and new college graduates who know nothing about the education system or managing a classroom to pay them less, and then are shocked when the students perform so poorly on standardized tests. It is also evident in some charter schools that the personnel hired only get hired via nepotism practices.

James Roberts
Sun, 01/19/2020 - 1:12pm

Once again the issue is not a shortage of teachers but a shortage of those willing to work in the environment we have wrought in education. The difficult and more financially challenged districts have nothing to offer other than a chance to gain some experience and maybe get out to a better district. Even though there are restrictions in taking experience levels for pay rates, most would take the pay cut and run if they could for piece of mind and a better future. Sure they knew it was going to be hard when they chose the career, heaven knows everybody hold them they were crazy to consider teaching, even their school counselors, but they were idealistic but ended up beaten down. Note there are no shortages in the more financially viable districts, even though it is more difficult to get teachers in the STEM fields. How you convince potential teachers to dedicate themselves to turn around the crap handed to them is beyond me.

James Rathbun
Mon, 01/20/2020 - 8:53am

Young people are getting smarter. They are seeing that the amount of training versus starting pay is nowhere near what they could earn in almost any other professional field but dumbing down certification requirements just leads to more problems.

Greg Stephan
Mon, 01/20/2020 - 11:55am

If there is a shortage how come; Troy, Rochester, bloomfield hills, birmingham , novi, kentwood and virtually any district with above average household income have 50 applicants for every opening. Sure the money is slightly better but many are existing teachers willing to take a pay cut and move to a higher cost area. Could it be the students are less stressful or are we not allowed to focus on reality. There's the challenge, how to get teachers happy to deal with the issues inherent in the low income districts. I don't think more money would help much given the challenges.

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 12:25pm

After reading roughly 25 comments on this thread, I've concluded that the general public definitely shouldn't be given the task of teaching students the English language. I would presume that most aren't qualified to teach literature as well nor would they be able to successfully demonstrate the writing process. Clearly, qualified teachers need extensive training well beyond what the average American has acheived. Take a look at Finland's national school system and you'll see a great example of how one country's willingness to give teachers lifelong training supports the belief that in turn teachers must be well paid and ultimately in charge of the profession. Teachers are the experts in Finland in the same way that doctors are the experts in America. Finland consistently produces high achieving students. America is sadly regressing rather progressing. Our agenda seems to be centered around privatization at the cost of public welfare as well as the delegitimizing of higher education.

Craig Reynolds
Wed, 01/22/2020 - 10:31pm

Well, if anyone like Matt wants to avoid embarrassing themselves and instead go through the bother of reading something that directly addresses the subject so that their opinions might sound marginally informed, here's a start: https://caldercenter.org/sites/default/files/WP%20136_0.pdf
Please don't come to class until you've completed your assignment.

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 9:13am

Linked article Introduction; “Among the many empirical papers that explore this relationship, most demonstrate that teachers with masters’ degrees are, on average, no more likely to raise student test scores than those without master’s degrees, all other factors held constant. ” …“Indeed, the only consistent positive effect of having a master’s degree that emerges from this study relates not to student test scores but rather to lower student absentee rates in middle school.”…“we conclude that salary supplements for teachers cannot be justified on the grounds that teachers with master’s degrees are on average more effective at raising test scores than other teachers. Of course, teachers contribute to student outcomes in other ways as well.”…“Moreover, our finding that the most common master’s degree earned after entry into the profession is in school administration, rather than in a specific subject area, reminds us that master’s degrees may serve purposes other than to make teachers more effective in the classroom.”
It is hard to read pass the Introduction when the authors seem to be saying what Matt is talking about, certifications/more degrees don’t change anything for the students. My experience with certified/non-certified individuals in other professions don’t measure an individual’s performance or the results they deliver. Results are more determined by individual effort and personal attributes.