Arlyssa Heard speaks at EdHub townhall April 6.

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The University of Michigan’s EdHub for Community and Professional Learning hosted a town hall on April 6 to discuss the teacher shortage in Michigan. The panel featured a variety of perspectives including those from the School of Education administration, state government officials and leaders within the Detroit education community. Panelists discussed the current teacher shortage and possible solutions to bolster staffing numbers in Michigan public schools. 

One of the major reasons for the ongoing teacher shortage is the decreasing number of students pursuing education degrees across the country. The DOE reported that 16,000 fewer students majored in K-12 education in the 2016-2017 school year compared with 2008-2009. Additionally, the average teacher salary in Michigan was $61,978 in 2017, but the average starting salary for new educators was $36,620.

Since 2016, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs at the University of Michigan — as well as Michigan State University and Central Michigan University — has declined, with the pandemic further exacerbating the problem. Statewide enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dropped by 70% in the past eight years.

Arlyssa Heard, deputy director of 482 Forward — an organization working for educational justice in Detroit — was the first panelist to speak. Heard acknowledged the low initial salaries for people pursuing teaching professions but said to not be discouraged.

“I think we have to be honest with our folks, our young people now,” Heard said. “You’re gonna change lives and it’s gonna be a great career. However, there are some things you have to fight and stand up for (that are) not going to necessarily take place or manifest (themselves) in the next two, three or four years. It may take up to 10 years to change this thing around, but I think we’ve got some young people who understand that, and they’re willing to be a change agent.” 

The Wall Street Journal reported a nationwide shortage after over 800,000 teachers resigned in the United States between January and November 2020. A 2018 study by the University of Pennsylvania found 44% of new teachers were leaving the profession within their first five years. Additionally, new findings from the National Education Association estimate that 55% of their members are considering leaving the profession.

Elizabeth Moje, School of Education dean, spoke about how the University is preparing those pursuing their teaching certificate to meet the different demands of their future students. Moje said the School of Education teaches future educators to offer their students a personalized educational experience based on their individual needs.

“We need (our students) to understand the contextual demands of teaching and (to) be able to learn how to work with children, perhaps from backgrounds different from their own … on how to differentiate instruction to meet those children’s needs,” Moje said.

Despite the teacher shortage, Moje emphasized that the School of Education continues to prioritize the quality of the education they offer those seeking certification. She said ensuring educators are entering the classroom prepared remains as important as ever as the pandemic comes to an end.

“I would say if there’s one thing that we find challenging it’s time,” Moje said. “We simply do not give the time that we need to give to the preparation of teachers. We know that well-prepared teachers make a difference over and above everything else, and we need to dedicate ourselves to that.”

Michigan Senator Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, a former high school teacher, was another one of the panelists. Polehanki mentioned the legislature’s role in determining how much state money is appropriated to public schools every year as a part of the state budget process

After the Michigan governor releases their proposed budget in February, the legislature spends the following months discussing changes and proposing amendments. The legislature then sends its proposed budget to the governor by July 1 and the governor has until Oct. 1 to sign the final budget.This February, Governor Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her FY-2023 budget recommendations, which include $18.4 billion for K-12 public education — $2 billion of which would be dedicated to retaining current teachers and attracting new educators.

Polehanki said she thinks the state legislature needs to vote to appropriate enough money to public K-12 schools to raise teacher starting salaries.

“Unfortunately, our state legislature that is responsible for appropriating money for school funding thinks that schools have enough,” Polehanki said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but they think that (teachers have) enough money. They think that the teachers (teach) because it’s a passion … and they’re not in it for the pay. Well, that’s not true. You’ve gotta make a living. So we’ve definitely got to do something about the teacher starting salary and we’ve got to do something about the steps.” 

In response to the teacher shortage, the Michigan Alternate Route to Certification was created as a hybrid program that was created in 2010 to allow teachers to become certified in new academic subjects and non-teachers to get their certification through classroom experience. Whitmer also signed a law in December 2021 permitting schools to use non-teaching staff as substitute teachers.

At the event, Michael Rice, Michigan’s state superintendent of public instruction, was asked what he thought about teacher recruitment in Michigan today. Rice said underfunding has contributed to recruitment difficulties and the teacher shortage.

“An MSU study indicated that between 1995 and 2018, Michigan was dead last in the country in total revenue growth inflation adjusted, and was third to last in the country in per-pupil revenue growth (for public schools), also inflation-adjusted,” Rice said. “The state legislature underfunded public education, which … reduced support for the teaching profession. By extension, our children were harmed.” 

Rice said the Michigan Board of Education is working alongside Whitmer to increase public education funding in an effort to resolve the teacher shortage.

“The package includes ‘grow-your-own programs’ for support staff, students who aspire to be teachers, fellowships for current college students working toward a teaching career, stipends for student teachers and regional efforts to address the teacher shortage, and retention bonuses,” Rice said. 

Terrence Martin, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and Detroit Public Schools (DPS) teacher, told the panel that increasing teacher salaries and other strategies have helped the district retain and attract teachers.

“There are a number of things that we have done at the bargaining table to really look at solidifying and stabilizing our workforce,” Martin said. “We’ve raised our starting salary to the top in the state … We’ve shortened our steps (pay steps) over the years, and we’ve also increased the top salary for our teachers. We also have a grow-your-own program within our local area … and really want to work with our young people in this population. We help to get them certified.” 

As the panel concluded, Don Peurach, professor of educational policy, leadership and innovation, summarized many of the points discussed by panelists throughout the event to explain what it will take to address the teacher shortage and recruit more people into the profession. 

“It will require bridging from high school to college to career, considering viable, rigorous alternatives to entering the teaching profession, improving compensation and incentives in approving working conditions, in social respect,” Peurach said.

To fix the issue, Martin said, lawmakers must pursue long-term solutions to support teachers and provide children with a good education. 

“We have to come up with solutions, and we have to come up with them quickly,” Martin said. “We don’t need more Band-Aids, and I’ll just say teaching is the most important profession because it touches all other professions. It enables all other professions. So if we really believe in all children and their capacity to grow and learn and lead our future, then we need to invest in our teachers.” 

Daily News Editor Roni Kane contributing reporting.

Daily News Reporter Emma Moore can be reached at emmmoo@umich.edu.