Looming 'Teacher Shortage' Appears Largely Mythical

Michigan has thousands more educators than it needs

Many newspaper stories, including a recent one in the Detroit Free Press, have repeated a tale about demoralized Michigan teachers who are blamed for everything. The demoralized state of Michigan's teaching workforce, it is said, could lead to a teacher shortage because young people don’t want to enter the field.

Yet the number of people already certified to teach in this state tells a different story, as does the fact that the number increases every year, thanks to a continued influx of new teachers.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, around 129,682 individuals have obtained the state teaching certificate that makes them eligible to work in public school classrooms. That’s some 17,000 more than are currently teaching in Michigan. Another 7,000 to 10,000 people get new certificates every year, adding to the ranks of potential teachers.

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There are 112,144 certified teachers working in the public K-12 schools in Michigan. The state doesn’t track how many certified teachers are employed in private schools.

While there seems to be an ample supply of certified teachers, employment opportunities in public schools have been in decline for 12 years, in part because school enrollment has fallen.

In the 2007-2008 school year, there were 1,645,742 students in Michigan public schools and the equivalent of 107,537 full-time teachers. That came to 15.3 students for every teacher.

In the 2014-15 school year, the number of students had fallen to 1,550,802, for whom there were 97,288 teachers, or 10,249 fewer than seven years ago. But student-teacher ratio had risen to 15.9. Even though there were around 5 percent fewer students, there were 10 percent fewer full-time teachers.

“There’s not evidence to claim Michigan has a widespread teacher shortage,” said Michael Van Beek, research director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “People who make this claim typically use it as an argument for paying teachers more across the board. But the data suggest that there are more than enough people who think the compensation package districts offer new teachers is a pretty good deal.”

Evidence from around the state suggests no shortage of applicants for full-time teaching positions. Michigan Capitol Confidential checked with five school districts that have posted a “teacher wanted” notice. The five openings drew 99 applicants, as follows:

Potterville Public Schools in Eaton County had two applicants for a middle school/high school art teacher and filled the slot within two and a half weeks. Charlotte Public Schools in Eaton County had nine applicants for a special-education teacher position within eight days of its posting. Novi Community School District in Oakland County filled a preschool teacher opening that had 20 applicants. Ann Arbor Public Schools saw 23 apply for a physics position in its high school international education program and filled the opening. Athens Area Schools in Calhoun County saw 45 apply for a now-filled secondary school social studies teacher position.

Some openings may be easier than others to fill. Athens Area Schools Superintendent Joe Huepenbecker said it’s hard to find qualified applicants for secondary math and science teaching positions.

But union-negotiated pay scales that base compensation levels strictly on a teacher’s seniority and academic credentials inhibit schools’ ability to use higher salaries to attract candidates for in-demand positions. One result is that across the state there are elementary school gym teachers getting higher pay than advanced placement high school science teachers.

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See also:

There is No Teacher Shortage

State Superintendent Claims Detroit Public Schools Has Dramatic Teacher Shortage


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