The short answer: It’s complicated. A new report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan finds that establishing the sufficiency of the teacher workforce is not a simple supply-and-demand exercise.
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What we found:
- With fewer K-12 students, some decline in Michigan’s teacher ranks is normal and inevitable. But it’s not that simple. Need is evident in urban regions and growing in some areas – English as a Second Language, special education, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
- Enrollment in teacher-prep programs in Michigan colleges and universities has been falling for some time, by 66 percent over a recent seven-year period. This is compounded because the number of program completers and the number individuals who obtain state certification in specific subject areas are down as well.
- Understanding and addressing the real and potential shortages is hampered by the lack of clear data about the teaching workforce. Michigan has not prioritized studying this labor market and the shortage issue, so analysis is somewhat stymied by a shortage of available, timely and relevant information.
To prosper as a state, Michigan needs competent, enthusiastic teachers to service a changing student body. Early warnings of teacher shortages in some districts and subject areas may portend a broader trend that will affect schools across the state, but statewide analysis of the issue is made more difficult by a lack of relevant data about Michigan’s existing, former and would-be teaching professionals.
Those are among the conclusions of a new Citizens Research Council of Michigan analysis of the state’s teacher pipeline.
“Our challenge with this report was to translate anecdote into data for the formulation of solid public policy,” said Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council. “Every fall we see headlines bemoaning teacher shortages for individual school districts. Is this peculiar to those districts or signs of things to come for all districts? If the latter, what data can be compiled identifying the roots of the problems that will lead to policies to head off future problems?”
Even though public school enrollment in Michigan has been declining for years, the typical classroom in the state is larger than in most other states. On average, Michigan’s teachers oversee more students per classroom than their peers nationally.
The challenge for administrators is to keep the school rooms staffed. Teacher turnover – those leaving the field permanently, or just for better opportunities in a different district – is higher in Michigan than the rest of the country. The share of the workforce that moved from one school to another increased from 9.5 percent in 2004-05 to 11.4 percent in 2016-17, more than 40 percent greater than the national figure (8.1 percent). Turnover is especially high in the state’s urban districts (24 percent) and among charter schools (37 percent).
Leakage through the pipeline is considerable. Far fewer students are enrolling in teacher-prep programs at Michigan colleges and universities, completing these programs, and getting teaching credentials as a result. Among the newly credentialed teachers who do get hired, about 17 percent leave within the first five years of entering the profession.
In some ways, this isn’t worrisome. The state’s overall public school enrollment has been falling for more than a decade, will continue to fall, and is predicted to be around 1.4 million students by 2027, down 8.2 percent from what it was two years ago. But a destabilized labor market for educators goes far beyond a simple reduction in force.
All this is happening as some teaching specialties need more professionals. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and special education programs lost the most bodies between 2012 and 2016, but there were losses in early childhood areas, too. More teachers are needed to serve the economically disadvantaged students. The only increase in the number of teachers at the end of that period was for those specializing in English as a Second Language education, as the number of students enrolling with such needs continues to climb.
Possible solutions are murky, complicated by a lack of reliable information. From the data that is available, it seems that policies should focus on managing the ratio of students to teachers, attracting people into the teaching profession, and the retention of teachers already in the classroom. Some students may be avoiding education as a career because of the high cost of college, which makes paying back education loans onerous in a field that doesn’t pay well.
Founded in 1916, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan works to improve government in Michigan. The organization provides factual, unbiased, independent information concerning significant issues of state and local government organization, policy, and finance. By delivery of this information to policymakers and citizens, the Citizens Research Council aims to ensure sound and rational public policy formation in Michigan. For more information, visit www.crcmich.org.