If the leaders of Michigan school districts have one wish this holiday season, many might ask for more qualified teacher candidates. To the extent this need is real, there are policy changes the state Legislature can adopt to grant their request.
Demand for teachers in Michigan public schools has risen, at least relative to the number of students in classrooms. State Superintendent Michael Rice has sounded the alarm, declaring a “teacher shortage crisis” and touting a goal for the state to certify more instructors for K-12 classrooms.
The number of aspiring teachers enrolled in, and completing, traditional preparation programs has been on the decline for years. Interest has grown in filling classrooms with caring, capable professionals from other sources. Michigan has made modest progress in recent years by removing some roadblocks to the teaching profession, such as the requirement for prospective educators to take the SAT. This is good news, for the evidence fails to demonstrate that imposing hurdles to teachers who seek state certification makes any observable difference in helping students learn and achieve.
Michigan has approved a number of alternative certification programs in recent years. Many of these focus on preparing nontraditional candidates, such as existing school employees who are not teachers, and other adults who want to switch careers. At least one alternative program is now recognized to train new special education teachers, a particular area of need.
Given some of the lingering requirements these alternative pathways impose on candidates, they may not do enough to adequately increase the supply of credentialed instructors.
State leaders should neither turn back nor despair, as there are other strategies Michigan can pursue without having to reinvent the wheel. As highlighted in a new report from the American Enterprise Institute, Arizona has modeled several key ways to remove red tape for aspiring classroom professionals. A collection of reforms passed in 2017 deserves strong consideration.
First, Arizona schools must recognize the active credentials of teachers coming from other states, as long as they can pass a safety and criminal background check. Michigan has some measure of licensing reciprocity, but it adds extra conditions to the arrangement. A modest bill has been introduced, but not yet heard, that would welcome more out-of-state teachers by eliminating a duplicative test-taking requirement.
Second, Arizona schools can apply to, in effect, license their own teachers. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree must pass a recognized test and meet safety requirements. Over time, they must also demonstrate the ability to help students grow academically, based on some sort of standardized measurement. But they don’t have to check any extra bureaucratic boxes to obtain or keep their job in the classroom. If local leaders in Michigan were given this added authority, they could also differentiate pay to give candidates incentives to prepare to serve in high-need classrooms and subject areas.
Third, and perhaps most consequential, the state of Arizona certifies subject matter experts as K-12 instructors. Individuals are allowed to teach a particular subject if they have a higher education degree with a relevant endorsement, have taught the subject in a college classroom or worked five years in a related field. According to the AEI report, Arizona has certified 3,000 subject matter experts in the last four years, including nearly 1,000 who are filling highly sought after positions in math and science.
To encourage more people to become classroom professionals, Michigan lawmakers have a blueprint to follow, one that shifts power away from the hands of Lansing bureaucrats. Local school leaders would then have the tools they need to hire, and even prepare their own, teachers.
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