Unions blast alternate teacher certification program

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A new teacher certification program approved in Michigan to address critical teacher shortage in the state is not supported by the state’s largest teachers unions.

The Michigan Department of Education confirmed on Monday it approved a preparation and certification program by Teachers of Tomorrow, which allows the company to begin offering potential educators a license through the Michigan Alternative Route to Interim Teacher Certification.

The program allows candidates who have a bachelor’s degree but have not completed a teacher preparation program to be hired as a teacher while completing the certification requirements. Candidates also must have passing scores on the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification.

The state legislature created the alternative route to licensing in 2009 but no teachers have been certified through the new route so far, officials with Teachers of Tomorrow said.

Officials at the Michigan Department of Education said the department works in close partnership with several alternate route programs that all are focused on addressing the need for well-trained and passionate teachers to serve the state’s K-12 population.

“We are proud to enter into a new partnership with Teachers Of Tomorrow to address that need. We support their efforts to attract more teachers to the profession,” said Martin Ackley, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education.

An official with the state’s largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, says the organization is against the move.

“MEA opposes this pseudo-certification route,” MEA spokesman David Crim said Monday.

“This appears to be another way to turn education over to for-profit corporations. Would you want your child’s third grade teacher to have received their ‘certification’ from an online program, or would you rather they go through a five- year program at one of our colleges of education, which would include a year of student teaching in a classroom under a certified, mentor teacher?” Crim said.

“Reducing the qualifications to become a certified teacher is yet another attempt to deprofessionalize the teaching profession and is certainly not in the best interests of Michigan students or parents,” he said.

David Hecker, a spokesman with the American Federation of Teachers in Michigan, said Michigan already has alterantive teacher certification programs and it doesn’t need any more.

“It’s totally unnecessary. If you want to address the teacher shortage, let’s have fair school funding, let’s pay teachers fair compensation, let’s have smaller class sizes, let’s restore teacher voices that the Republican-controlled Legislature has taken away, let’s return retirement security for teachers – that’s how you address teacher shortages,” Hecker said Monday.

Teacher shortages vary by district and are not tracked by the state, Ackley said. The number of teachers in Michigan dropped from 102,208 in 2012-13 to 98,481 in 2016-17, he said.

There has been a significant decrease in enrollments in educator preparation programs, according to Michigan education data. Enrollment dropped from 14,372 in 2012 to 11,099 in 2014 and at the same time, retirements continue to grow.

Vernon Reaser, CEO of Teachers of Tomorrow, said while some districts are not seeing a teacher shortage, many subject areas such as science, math, special education and English as a second language have extreme shortages. Many rural and urban schools struggle to find the talent they need.

“Michigan, like many states, is now seeing the impact of declining education school enrollment and we are excited to help school districts quickly address a growing teacher shortage,” Reaser said. “We are honored to be one of the first MARITC programs to be approved to help Michigan schools find the talent they need, and we do it at zero cost to the school and districts.”

A teacher shortage at Detroit Public Schools Community District persists as the start of school nears Sept. 5.

The district is holding two teacher recruitment fairs this month – one on Thursday and another on Aug. 31 – but school will begin regardless on the day after Labor Day for an estimated 47,950 students.

District officials said a district-wide teacher shortage has left 260 teacher vacancies. The district has about 2,700 teachers.

At the fairs, applications are being accepted for all teaching positions, but a critical need for teachers exists in math, science, English language arts, special education, music, Spanish, K-5 elementary, social studies and career technical education.

The district also is hiring retirees for special education, science, math and Spanish classes.

A $617 million state bailout for DPSCD gives local officials the option to allow noncertified teachers in the district.

Teachers of Tomorrow has waived the $295 initial program fee so that potential teachers can get started at no cost through Nov. 30. Those interested in applying to become a certified teacher in Michigan can call 866-441-7076 for more information.