$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.

McNeilly: Remove red tape to let experienced pros teach

Greg McNeilly

State education policy should have one simple goal — provide Michigan kids with the best possible education.

Seems like common sense, right?

But somewhere along the line, the state’s education policy, rules, and regulations became much more about adults than about the kids those adults are entrusted to educate.

This disconnect is particularly glaring when it comes to the state’s special interest-fueled teacher certification regulations.

Whether it’s an engineer with 30 years of experience at General Motors, an accounting executive with decades under her belt crunching numbers for a Fortune 500 company, or a chemist who spent his career developing treatments at one of Michigan’s biotech facilities, highly skilled professionals who want to dedicate their lives to Michigan kids have their hands tied by red tape and bureaucracy that seems more designed to keep practical experience out of classrooms than to ensure quality teachers remain in them.

Prospective teachers are faced with endless hurdles, hoops to jump through, classes to enroll in, and expenses to pay before they are able to fill even the longest-standing teacher vacancies in Michigan public schools.

That’s because bureaucrats, teachers union bosses, and schools of education have a vested financial interest in hamstringing local school districts and keeping a lid on the men and women, however qualified, who enter our classrooms.

The sad reality is that for many adults, education policy is about ensuring a paycheck for adults, not about ensuring the best education for students.

By making it unnecessarily difficult for high-quality professionals to enter the classroom, and equally difficult for neighborhood schools to fill teaching vacancies, union bosses protect their members from competition while protecting profit from dues.

Just look at Grand Rapids Public Schools, where earlier this month local union leaders with the Michigan Education Association successfully bullied the local superintendent into abandoning a proposal to fill 10-15 of the district’s 42 longstanding teaching vacancies in underperforming schools with qualified workers through a national program called Teach for America.

Union officials used certification red tape as a bludgeon to demean and ultimately derail the hopes of the prospective — but non-union — educators whose only desire was an opportunity to help local students learn.

As a result, hundreds of Michigan kids who need committed, talented teachers the most go without. Better to have uneducated children and 15 vacant teachers’ desks, than have students taught by talented, non-union teachers, or so the union’s profit-driven motive goes.

All the while, parents and child-advocates are left wondering: what about the kids?

With tens of thousands of Michigan jobs waiting to be filled, many in high skill, high-tech fields where lessons taught by experienced professionals would pay the most dividends, this red tape becomes especially costly, and it’s our school children who pay the price.

But there is hope. Earlier this month, some members of the state House announced they would make simplifying and streamlining the state’s teacher certification requirements one of their education priorities over the next two years.

That’s great news for prospective teachers and even better news for students and their loving parents.

Michigan has incredible professionals with decades of experience who would be assets in the classroom.

It’s time to change the educational establishment and make it student-centered. It’s time to put the focus of education policy back where it belongs, on Michigan kids, and empowering high-caliber teachers to engage with students, regardless of an arbitrary certification process, is the next step.

Greg McNeilly is president of the Michigan Freedom Fund.