Senate Ed Committee Talks Teacher Shortage

Bob Kefgen's picture

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee heard three different presentations on Michigan's teacher shortage. The Michigan Department of Education, Ionia ISD Superintendent Jason Mellema, and Mackinac Center Director of Education Policy Ben DeGrow each had a different take on the issue.

This week's discussion is the second time in three weeks that the panel has had serious discussion on the issue of teacher shortage. A hearing two weeks ago focused on HB 4421-22, a pair of bills aimed at addressing a subset of the teacher shortage issue: substitute teacher shortage.

Is There A Shortage?

The question about the scope and depth of Michigan's teacher shortage was very much at issue. Both MDE and Supt. Mellema presented compelling evidence that there are fewer people going into teaching. However, while acknowledging that some shortage exists, the presenter from the Mackinac Center countered that Michigan does not have a teacher shortage, but a recruitment problem in certain subjects and geographic areas.

The debate was inconclusive, though, since all of the presenters acknowledged that we don't actually have a robust data set on how many of what kind of teaching positions are going unfilled statewide, making it difficult to quantify the problem.

That said, some compelling statistics stood out:

  • While Michigan's student population has dropped 14% since its peak in 2003, the number of new teaching certificates issued by MDE on an annual basis has declined by 62%.
  • The number of people enrolling in and completing teacher preparation programs has dropped precipitously: enrollment is down 53% while completers have dropped 38%.
  • Michigan has 105,000 certified teachers under the age of 50 who are not teaching. This means certified teachers who are not employed as public school teachers outnumber certified teachers who are employed as public school teachers.

Principals interested in further reading on the topic should visit MDE's Educator Workforce Research website where they have published the two white papers that were presented to the committee. Additonally, Supt. Mellema's presentation is available here and the Mackinac Center's written testimony can be read here.

Why?

Tuesday's presentation was long on the "what" and somewhat shorter on the "why." The presenters suggested myriad potential causes for the problems faced by schools in hiring qualified educators, but acknowledged a dearth of conclusive evidence.

Supt. Mellema's presentation presented the best supported case, citing exit survey results to highlight the top 4 reasons teachers give for leaving the profession:

  • Compensation
  • Lack of adequate preparation
  • Lack of adequate mentoring/induction
  • Teaching conditions (type of school, insufficient professional development support, resources, etc.)

The question of why so many fewer students are going into education was discussed, but not conclusively answered. Unsurprisingly, the Mackinac Center—which argued that Michigan does not have a teacher shortage—views the drop in teacher preparation enrollment as a market correction given that Michigan's pupil count continues to drop. To support their argument, they cited the large number of certified teachers who are not teaching as evidence of oversupply.

What's Next?

All three presenters concluded their presentations by highlighting the need for additional research, though each added their own caveat.

  • MDE focused on the need for additional data to identify the scope and underlying cause of teacher shortages.
  • Supt. Mellema highlighted ongoing work by the Michigan Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation.
  • The Mackinac Center concluded that schools needed to adopt differential pay models to make hard-to-fill teaching positions more attractive and urged the state to expand alternative teacher certification options to ease the pipeline issue.

It is too early to have a clear sense of exactly where the committee intends to head on this issue. Expect that the Senate Education Committee will continue the debate in the coming weeks and months. Judging from the questions and comments from committee members at Tuesday's hearing, there is room for more education to be done if nothing else.

MASSP will continue to monitor this issue closely as the discussion moves forward.