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Michigan schools form partnership to tackle chronic teacher shortage

Jennifer Chambers

Michigan educators announced a statewide partnership to address the K-12 teacher shortage that includes apprenticeships, paid student-teaching experiences and zero-debt pathways to develop future educators.

“Talent Together” is a consortium of 39 intermediate school districts spanning 63 counties from the Upper Peninsula to Southeast Michigan that aims to create new routes for aspiring teachers of all education levels, including those who do not yet have a bachelor’s degree, education leaders announced on Tuesday.

The new model will use apprenticeships to develop educators that are newly recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor, officials said.  Candidates who are seeking certification will be required to meet federal apprenticeship guidelines, which means at least one year of “practice” in classrooms and fully paid at a competitive wage. 

“The pandemic has changed education and it’s important that districts and educators continue to evolve in response. Talent Together is an innovative and collaborative program that will rely on education experts across the state to alleviate the current teacher shortage crisis,” said Daveda Colbert, superintendent of Wayne RESA, Wayne County’s intermediate school district.

Naomi Norman, superintendent of the Washtenaw County intermediate school district, said there is a huge unfilled need for teachers across the state in special education and early childhood programs.

“As we looked and counted across all of our different areas, we realized special education is very significant for us. We are in the range 50 to 100 new teachers each year on our waiting list right now,” Norman said. “In early childhood, we don’t have enough. We could fill more classrooms if we had more teachers. In that area, we are looking for 25 to 30 teachers each year to maintain that.”

Michigan’s teacher pipeline has been challenged in recent years, exacerbated by the impact of the COVID pandemic. Education officials on Tuesday said state data shows that from 2008-2016, enrollment in teacher preparation programs fell by more than 66%, and during that period Michigan also led the nation in attrition from those programs. 

Eric Hoppstock, superintendent of Berrien County’s intermediate school district, said state policymakers must invite more people to join the teaching profession and do it in a way that is financially barrier-free.

“The more we can make sure that starting a career in education is a financially viable career — from the moment training begins — the more likely we are to convince the workforce of the future to consider becoming a teacher,” said Jack Elsey, founder of the Michigan Educator Workforce Initiative, a non-profit supporting Talent Together.

Educators said on Tuesday they hope the program will produce hundreds more teachers in the next five years.

The program will seek funding through the Michigan Department of Education and its Grow Your Own grant program, which the Legislature recently funded with $175 million. The hope is to welcome the first cohort of teacher candidates in the fall of 2023.

Greg Nyen, superintendent of Marquette-Alger Regional Education Service Association in the Upper Peninsula, said the program is being built for sustainability, when initial grant dollars are exhausted, it can continue to provide opportunities for interested candidates to become teachers.

In Marquette Area Public Schools alone there are 30 to 40 unfilled teaching positions, Nyen said.

Nyen said the U.P. schools he represents struggle with a “revolving door” of substitute teachers.

“We have a shortage of subs,” Nyen said. “This partnership should go a long way toward addressing the supply and demand issue.”

“I’m excited by the focus on sustainability and the fact that the partnership is a truly statewide effort ensures voices that are often not at the table are included, like those of our educators here in the U.P,” Nyen added.

On Thursday, the consortium launched a request for proposal asking Michigan colleges and universities to offer proposals that would meet the partnership’s needs. 

The group has been working with education talent experts at the Michigan Educator Workforce Initiative to design the program. They expect to expand its reach to become a certifying body, similar to what Detroit Public Schools Community District’s “On the Rise Academy” has been able to do with MDE approval.