Michigan is leading on right-to-teach

RiShawn Biddle and Jeremy Lott

The right-to-work movement was mostly dormant when Michigan picked it up and used the reform to help jump-start the state’s economy in 2012. Ending the closed union shop helped bring jobs back to this state in great numbers. Gov. Rick Snyder boasted last year of “nearly 400,000 new jobs” created during his tenure, making the state first in the Midwest for job growth and first in the nation for manufacturing job growth.

The government may be leading in the crucial issue of education as well. Michigan’s Legislature struck a blow for improving teacher quality in Detroit’s schools this month when it allowed the district to hire midcareer math and science professionals who haven’t been certified to teach in its schools as part of the controversial $617 million financial bailout package.

Thanks to the new law, engineers and others with advanced degrees and knowledge can by hired directly by administrators in Detroit Public Schools. They don’t have to go back to college for an education degree or go through the state’s cumbersome and ineffective teacher certification process.

This is great news, advancing what we are calling right-to-teach laws to help match those ready, willing and able to teach students, especially in the vital areas of math and science.

Many studies have shown that only two variables really matter in teaching the young: subject competency and how one interacts with children. Schools of education don’t really help with either of these things.

States have made things much worse by assigning them a gatekeeper function. This requires that teachers who already know the material get a teaching degree anyway. Those extra hoops scare off a good number of professionals who might be tempted into a career change.

Detroit shouldn’t be the only district with the ability to hire high-quality talent in math and science. Schools in the whole state — from Midland to Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor — should have that option.

Non-Detroit school districts have few options for bringing in talented professionals who don’t have education degrees. Under state law, they can obtain temporary permits for those potential teachers only after seeking out teachers with education degrees and professional educator certificates by advertising at university schools of education.

Even then, they are only allowed to issue year-long permits that have to be renewed annually for just eight subjects.

If a district can’t obtain a permit, under Michigan law, professionals who already earned baccalaureate and graduate degrees are then forced to go back to school and take credit hours in reading instruction in order to teach in public schools, even if they are teaching high school math or science.

Under the same burdensome laws, midcareer professionals cannot obtain a provisional certificate — the first step needed to obtain a full time certification — unless they have completed study at an education school.

The Legislature rightly decided that the current system was hurting students in Detroit by unfairly limiting the supply of good teachers and lifted that burden. There’s no reason students in the rest of the state shouldn’t benefit as well.

If qualified professionals want to have a go at equipping our children for the future, we should applaud them, not hold them back.

RiShawn Biddle is the editor of Dropout Nation. Jeremy Lott is the former editor of Labor Watch.