Opinion: Trust teachers with school reform ideas

Jarod McGuffey and Kathryn Gustafson

Michigan’s education system is the perfect storm with declining academic achievement, underfunded schools and a declining teacher pipeline. Although various stakeholders have come together to problem solve, there has remained a missing voice, until now: classroom teachers.

Twenty years ago, Bob Maxfield founded the Galileo Teacher Leadership Institute, helping over 1,000 teachers impact change from the classroom to the district level.

Palmer Park Preparatory Academy teacher Shauntay Frazier adjusts the desks in her classroom.

More recently, Maxfield founded Oakland University’s Galileo 3.0 fellowship designed to advance change at the state level. Through this fellowship, we found our voice co-creating Trusted Voices, a grass-roots nonpartisan advocacy group of educators focused on building collaborative partnerships among teachers, administrators and policymakers to offer teacher voices at the policy table.

Educators are an important part of the equation necessary to address Michigan’s education crisis. Teachers are among the most trusted professionals and should be key players and sustainable partners, especially in a Legislature with term limits.

We look forward to presenting at the "State of Education" to Michigan’s newly founded education caucus. Michigan legislators have recognized this education crisis and formed a bi-partisan caucus to begin problem solving among those in office who have backgrounds in education.

Trusted Voices has 42 teacher leaders representing 33 districts providing insight on why they believe Michigan is in crisis mode, which will be shared with the education caucus at its annual retreat.

In general, teachers feel a lack of support from policymakers and a lack of respect for the profession. They want adequate and equitable funding for our schools, minimization of high stakes testing, and restoration and/or improvement of salary schedules. Bottom line, we must elevate the teaching profession.

Michigan needs quality teachers.

We must reform our systems and attract new talent. Michigan has over 2,500 classrooms being run by long-term substitutes. Our teacher prep programs at the university level are shrinking.

New teachers are leaving the profession at a rate of 17% in the first five years, which is both expensive and disruptive to student learning. Michigan’s policies, funding and lack of resources have created a culture where our current teachers are encouraging their friends and family to consider an alternative profession offering respect and a reasonable paycheck.

One school district survey found only 8% of its teachers would recommend teaching as a profession. A recent statewide study from Launch Michigan surveyed over 17,000 teachers and found only 25% of teachers would recommend teaching as a profession.

We must flip this narrative.

We can start by concentrating efforts on retention. We must value and support our veteran teachers and create equitable compensation structures for our newer teachers.

Compensation packages and salaries are no longer competitive, especially for those with less than 10 years in the profession. Even after adjusting for the shorter work year in teaching, beginning teachers nationally earn about 20% less than individuals with college degrees in other fields, according to a study conducted by the School Finance Research Collaborative.

The Michigan education crisis is no one person’s fault. We must stop pointing fingers and begin holding hands with those who have conflicting ideas and perspectives.

Jarod McGuffey is an elementary teacher and instructional coach at Fraser Public Schools. Kathryn Gustafson is a high school social studies teacher and instructional leader at Farmington Public Schools.