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Michigan school leaders pitch new path to solve teacher shortage

Tracie Mauriello, Chalkbeat Detroit

After scouring the state’s pipeline to find more certified teachers, a group of Michigan education leaders are now looking to create a pipeline of its own.

Regional superintendents across the state are banding together to develop an alternate route to certification that emphasizes early on-the-job training and income opportunities for prospective teachers.

The initiative, called Talent Together, is just the latest in a series of efforts by educators and others across the state who are working to mitigate a shortage of teachers, especially in areas such as special education, math and science. The efforts include initiatives to provide stipends for student teachers, shorten teacher preparation programs, offer scholarships to education majors, create programs for high school students interested in the profession, and more.

Talent Together’s goal is to provide employment in schools to teacher candidates so they can be paid while fulfilling student-teaching requirements.

“The current model is when you go to a university, it’s theory, theory, theory, then practice” during a concentrated internship period, Eric Hoppstock, superintendent of the Berrien County Regional Educational Service Agency, said during a press conference Tuesday. “We’re really promoting practice, theory, practice, theory, practice, theory” under the supervision of an experienced teacher.”

That path allows people to earn a living while working toward certification, said Kevin Oxley, superintendent of Jackson County Intermediate School District.

“We don’t want people to quit their lives and have to go back to school,” Oxley said. “They can’t do that, so we are going to meet people where they are and remove barriers so they can become certified.”

The program would be similar to On the Rise Academy, an alternative route program offered by Detroit Public Schools Community District that pays candidates to work in support staff roles while working toward teacher certification. Nine other alternative route providers are approved in Michigan for teacher certification. 

Talent Together expects to start enrolling students next September, but still needs three things: funding, approval from the Michigan Department of Education, and responses to requests for proposals from universities that would provide the coursework.

Elizabeth Moje, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, said she has been approached by Talent Together organizers and is still trying to learn more about their plans.

Talent Together could not say how much the program would cost. Organizers plan to apply for a share of $175 million the Legislature budgeted for grow-your-own programs that provide free tuition for school staff members enrolled in teacher preparation programs.

The length of the program would depend on each candidate’s background, said Jack Elsey, founder of the nonprofit Michigan Educator Workforce Initiative, which is helping design the program. It might take a year for someone who already has a bachelor’s degree in another field, for example, or several years for someone who enters without any degree, he said.

The idea for Talent Together came out of a meeting of seven regional superintendents in October. Since then, the consortium has grown to 39 of the state’s 57 regional educational service agencies, and organizers said more are expected to join. The agencies, also known as intermediate school districts, provide consolidated support to local school districts, such as teacher training and coordinating early childhood, vocational and special education programs.

“Together, we are asking for the opportunity to be utilized differently,” said Kyle Mayer, superintendent of Ottawa Intermediate School District. “Imagine if Michigan, as a state, were to have an ISD hub that works in partnership with higher education and has resources to expedite the certification process for high-quality teachers.”

The group expects its program will produce hundreds of teachers over the next five years.

A representative from the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said it is still learning about Talent Together and hopes MEA’s members will be asked to help shape the program.

“It’s important that any efforts include frontline educators at the table,” said MEA spokesman Thomas Morgan.

“We are willing to work with anyone who is committed to ending the educator shortage,” he added.

 At least one local superintendent said she are grateful for the consortium’s work.

 “Ypsilanti Community Schools is facing the teacher shortage crisis,” Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross said.

“This is real for districts, urban and rural,” she said. “We’ve been creative. We’ve been doing our recruitment and retention strategies. Even though we can try to do this on our own, the solution is bigger than us at the local level.”

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at .