Teach for America launches Michigan teacher retention and training program
- Teach for America Detroit is expanding a program to 5 other Michigan districts to better retain teachers
- Participating teachers can receive up to $35,000 above their salary to complete training and share their expertise with others
- The group seeks better-skilled teachers and better student outcomes in a state where both are struggling
Teach for America, the national program best known for recruiting fresh college grads to work in vulnerable schools for at least two years, is partnering with select school districts in Michigan to keep more teachers from leaving the profession.
The Detroit chapter of the organization said it aims to recruit, retain and develop about 700 teachers in Michigan over the next five years. The announcement comes as Michigan, like other states, struggles to retain qualified teachers, particularly in high-poverty schools, and as far fewer college students choose education as a profession.
TFA, which has operated the teacher fellowship program in Detroit’s public schools since 2019, said the initiative will include Kentwood Public Schools, Saginaw Public School District, Sault Ste. Marie Area Public Schools, Benzie County Central Schools and Traverse City Area Public Schools in addition to Detroit charter schools.
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The program, TeachMichigan, aims to improve teachers’ skills and, ultimately, improve student outcomes.
More districts will likely join in the future, TFA Detroit Executive Director Armen Hratchian told Bridge Michigan.
The program will focus on three groups:
- Early career educators with one to three years of teaching under their belt,
- Educators with four or more years of experience who want to pursue National Board Certification, and
- Educators with five or more years of experience who are considering becoming leaders in their school or district.
Teachers who participate in the two-year fellowships will receive up to $35,000 in signing and completion bonuses on top of their existing pay. Teachers can also apply for funding to support projects that relate to student outcomes, teacher engagement or teacher retention.
“We hear people say all the time, ‘We need a better system, the system's broken,’” Hratchian said. “We believe that that's true. We also believe (school districts are) full of really good people, really good kids, really good families, really good teachers. And what we believe deeply is that we have to trust those folks in those positions, the experts, to inform and build that better system.”
Along with supporting teachers, TeachMichigan’s goal is to study and evaluate what the group is learning about the state’s teacher workforce. The group aims to inform policymakers on how they can help make teaching more competitive as a profession over time, Hratchian said.
He underscored the importance of learning from school districts in different regions of Michigan, with different student demographics and challenges. TFA Detroit will work with Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative on data collection to assess the program.
The state has allocated $30 million in funds for the program using pandemic federal pandemic relief funds. The state allocated $10 million in December 2021 and another $20 million last summer. TFA Detroit is fundraising another $30 million.
The TFA-related initiative is one of several state-funded programs aimed to increase the number of teachers in the state, from grow-your-own programs where school districts pay paraprofessionals and others to get training to become teachers, to scholarships for college students who are learning to become teachers, and providing stipends for student teachers who previously were unpaid as they worked alongside professional teachers in the classrooms.
Hratchian said those efforts are important but the state is still at the “tip of the iceberg” on what it will take to make teaching more competitive over time.
He said he is “obsessed” with two groups of teachers. Teachers who are in their early to mid thirties who are starting to think about retirement savings and are considering leaving the education field. He is also focused on incoming college students and their reasons for or against deciding to pursue a career in teaching.
“We need the highest-quality people choosing this profession. The ROI (return on investment) for our economy matters immensely. And it's not competitive for those folks anymore.”
Teach for America was founded more than 30 years ago in an effort to get bright young college grads to teach in high-poverty schools.
Despite minimal training compared with traditional teachers, several studies of TFA teachers show they generally matched or even exceeded the performance of peer teachers at the same schools. But critics argue that high turnover rates among TFA participants often perpetuate the instability and inequities at high-poverty schools that the program was designed to reduce.
Superintendents participating in the TeachMichigan program told Bridge they are excited to provide teachers more support in hope it leads to better student results.
“If we improve instruction, we improve the outcomes for students,” Sault Ste. Marie Superintendent and Human Resources Director Amy Scott-Kronemeyer told Bridge. “That relationship is well-researched and evidence-based.
Kentwood Superintendent Kevin Polston told Bridge that about 20 percent of his district’s teaching force attended an informational session on the program. That, to him, shows that teachers want to improve.
For teachers with between 10 and 20 years of teaching experience, Polston said it’s important to find ways for these teachers to grow even if they aren’t interested in becoming an instructional coach, principal or leader in the union.
“They're hungry for ways to grow during those years. So whether it's through TeachMichigan or otherwise, we gotta find ways to (improve career opportunities for) our teachers.”
Polston said the district is trying to combat higher attrition levels by providing more support for new teachers. The district hired a director of new teaching development and the district is in the process of redesigning its teacher mentorship program.
Editor's note: This story was changed at 2:24 p.m. May 25 to clarify Teach for America's partner schools.
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