A shortage of teachers

Sixty-five. This is the number of teaching areas currently on the critical shortage list in Michigan.

While many of the positions listed are in fields that are taught in a very limited number of schools, there is also a shortage of teachers in fields that every school district in the state must offer, such as foreign languages, math, health, biology and many special education areas.

Changes to the scores new teachers must attain on certification tests have combined with the overall school funding crisis to exacerbate this situation.

Raising the standards for teachers to earn certification is an admirable goal. There is plenty of evidence to support the idea that highly skilled teachers have large and lasting positive influences on their students.

As a school administrator I have seen the effect skilled teachers can have on children both on report cards and on state administered exams. Every district administrator wants to hire and maintain the best possible staff members for their districts.

Raising the bar for certification comes with some strings attached. Clearly the pool of candidates shrinks when fewer candidates are allowed to earn certification.

Students who have higher scores and better transcripts have better opportunities open to them. This a basic feature of our economic system. When smarter candidates take a look at the current landscape in Michigan in education, here is what they see.

Salaries and benefits for Michigan teachers have largely not kept up with inflation, been frozen, or have been reduced.

At the same time benefits for educators have become more costly to individuals and families. The status of teachers in our nation and has fallen as schools and teachers have been blamed for everything from the effects of poverty to the “school to prison pipeline.”

Moreover, the average college graduate today leaves college with tens of thousands of dollars of debt in student loans.

Education today then appears to be a career with limited wages and rising personal costs as well as low social status.

Even worse, in Michigan, the governor is on record stating he believes per pupil costs for students should be closer to $5,000 per pupil than the slightly more than $7,000 per pupil most districts receive today. Smart students will look at such an outlook and figure the smart thing to do is to avoid education as a career or plan on leaving Michigan.

I have already seen the effect of this reality. We had very few applicants for a science position and nearly had to begin the year with a substitute teacher in Spanish due a very limited number of applicants this past summer.

The ongoing retirement of baby boom generation teachers promises to make this problem worse.

Schools will need to be able to offer competitive salaries in order attract and maintain the excellent teachers students deserve.

It is long past time for Lansing to address the needs of Michigan’s pubic schools in a manner that assures well-qualified and excellent teachers in every classroom.