Why is Michigan having such a hard time filling teaching jobs?

Enrollment in teacher-prep programs in Michigan colleges and universities has been falling for some time. Is the state doing enough to reverse the trend?
NBC Learn - Education Now Detroit: Letting teachers lead

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Investment in youth, long hours, large class sizes, educating the next generation – all are just part of what is tasked to teachers in any given school day. And with so many children in Detroit experiencing instability, poverty, and trauma, teachers certainly feel the effects in their classrooms. Without adequate support, mentorship, and professional development, teachers cannot truly thrive in their profession. But are districts or the state of Michigan doing enough to support teachers in supporting their students?

A new report released in February 2019 by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan found that 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. Furthermore, the report found that the state isn’t doing enough to study the problem or provide solutions.

While Michigan is having challenges filling teaching jobs, the state is also encountering high rates of teacher turnover - when a teacher teaches in a school one year, and doesn’t return to the same school for the next. A Michigan Department of Education study found that average teacher turnover among the state’s public schools was 19.8 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14 – significantly higher than the national average of 15.7 percent. Further, there is little indication of any reduction in turnover in the near future; Michigan’s overall rate hardly fell in 2016-17 (19.3 percent). Meanwhile, teacher turnover in Michigan’s urban schools is even higher at 24.3 percent – and worse in charter schools (37.3 percent compared to 20.1 percent for traditional public schools).

A recent study by the Alliance for Excellent Education found that turnover occurs more frequently at schools with more low-income students, more low-achieving students and more students of color – and that these teachers are moving to schools with higher-income families and a smaller percentage of minority students. The impact these high turnover rates have on schools is noticeable. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, high rates of turnover “seriously compromise the nation’s capacity to ensure that all students have access to skilled teaching.” The National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research found that students in schools with higher turnover rates generally score lower in both ELA and math, suggesting that high teacher turnover rates have a disruptive effect on student achievement.

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Furthermore, a 2016 Brookings Institution study found that metro Detroit has the highest rate of concentrated poverty among the top 25 metro areas in the U.S. by population. Working with children who experience trauma can cause secondary traumatic stress to educators -- the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.

This panel discussion will address what Michigan is doing to combat teacher turnover and shortages, examine if teachers in Detroit and surrounding districts are trained to handle their students’ trauma, and ask how working with the most vulnerable students affects educators. The conversation will focus on reframing what is needed to truly support all teachers. All of these issues extend well beyond Michigan, affecting many educators across the United States and bringing up the question of teaching as a valued profession.

This conversation with kick off with a one-on-one interview with Jim Shelton, former Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Education and Senior Advisor to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, followed by a panel discussion, moderated by NBC News Chief Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis, and joined by panelists:

  • Carol Diglio - Ed.S, CHRS, Consultant, Consulting by Diglio; and former Novi Community School District Educator
  • Ramon Hernandez - Math Master Teacher at Academy of the Americas High School, Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD)
  • Terrence Martin - President, Detroit Federation of Teachers
  • Elizabeth Moje - Dean, George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Education, University of Michigan School of Education

This discussion will be featured in the “NBC News Learn Presents: Education Now” live event in metro Detroit, MI on October 24. The full event will be livestreamed here -- stay tuned for updates.