News Story

Ph.D. Not Good Enough, Professor: You Still Can't Teach in Detroit Schools

Certification mandates freeze out highly qualified instructors

Christopher Douglas is an associate professor and the chair of the Department of Economics at the University of Michigan-Flint, where he teaches a half dozen classes. He has undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and economics from Michigan Technological University as well as a doctorate in economics from Michigan State University.

Yet, Douglas has said he would have to complete additional coursework and also pass the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification to teach at a public high school in Michigan. And he isn’t alone.

Ross B. Emmett is a professor of political economy and political theory and constitutional democracy at James Madison College at MSU.

“According to the state of Michigan licensing requirements, I cannot teach economics in a Michigan high school,” Emmett said in an email. “This, despite the fact that I have a Ph.D. in economics and over thirty years of experience in liberal arts college classrooms with excellent evaluations.”

When the Legislature passed the $617 million bailout of Detroit Public Schools, it included in the law a provision that allowed DPS to hire non-certified teachers.

Media coverage of the provision has painted the district as being free to hire unqualified teachers off the street to fill up DPS classrooms.

The law states that any non-certified teachers would have to be hired by an “appropriate official of the community district” and only if the individuals’ combination of education and experience qualified them for the teaching post.

Consider WXYZ-TV's coverage on the possibility of non-certified teachers coming to DPS. An article stated: "What would you say if some lawmakers in Lansing said, 'We’re going to lower standards for who can be a teacher — but only in your child’s district?' That is exactly what some House Republicans said to Detroit parents."

DPS Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather told the Detroit Free Press she didn't like having the ability to hire non-credentialed experts to teach in her district.

"The legislation that is specific to Detroit to allow non-certified teachers into our classrooms I find to be extremely problematic," she said. "Think about being on an airplane and the pilot doesn’t show up, and the stewardess says, 'Has anyone ever wanted to fly? Today’s your day.' They're putting the future of 46,000 plus kids at risk. We need to be very careful about that, very conscientious about ... the law’s implications."

The American Federation of Teachers-Michigan claimed the law would allow “non-certified people to teach, without any requirements for education, experience or preparation. …”

Not mentioned in either report was the fact that the law already allows all school districts — not just Detroit — to hire individuals who are not certified to teach certain subjects. Still, many highly qualified people are barred from teaching at DPS because, although they are qualified to teach at a public K-12 school, they have not completed the state-required licensing.

"Unions like barriers to entry, which is what this certification represents," Douglas said.

Gary Wolfram is a professor of economics and public policy at Hillsdale College. He has written books on the economy, has served as the chairman of the board of trustees at Lake Superior State University, was a member of the State Board of Education from 1993 to 1999, received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley and has taught at several colleges, including the University of Michigan.

“I could not teach at a public school (K-12),” Wolfram said in an email. “I think the principal should be able to decide and that the school aid money should follow the child, so choosing good teachers would be rewarded.”

According to the Michigan Department of Education, here’s what someone has to do to be eligible to teach at a Michigan K-12 public school.

All Michigan teachers must complete either a traditional teacher preparation program or an alternative program.

Teachers must also complete required reading courses. That means six semester credit hours for elementary teachers and three semester credit hours for secondary teachers.

Teachers must complete a course in first aid and CPR that is approved by the American Red Cross or similar organization.

Teachers must pass the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification and the Professional Readiness Examination/Basic Skills.

Douglas, Emmett and Wolfram are all members of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s board of scholars.