Are Any Left? 100 Years Of ‘Michigan Teacher Shortage’ Headlines

Media keeps publishing the dubious claim, so public school establishment keeps repeating it

The Lansing State Journal reported that the Michigan Department of Education declared a teacher shortage, and blamed it on the low pay of educators.

“Many School Boards Will Face Teacher Shortage Because Of Small Pay,” the story’s headline read.

If the news sounds familiar, but you can’t quite place the details, it’s probably because this report was dated Feb. 6, 1920.

The headline and story seem familiar because the refrain hasn’t changed much in nearly 100 years. Decade after decade have seen similar headlines based on school administrators and union activists warning of teacher shortages.

The current edition of the narrative repeated by some teachers, school administrators and union officials portrays a teacher shortage based in part on what they call unpopular reforms made by the Republican-controlled Legislature since 2011.

The mainstream media stories describe teacher shortages as a fairly recent phenomenon and ignore the reality that many school districts report getting dozens — and sometimes hundreds — of candidates applying for a single open teaching position.

Yet this media drumbeat on teacher shortage has been consistent for nearly a century.

--The Ironwood Daily Globe, July 13, 1944: “The National Education Association has reported a teacher shortage of 70,000 the greatest in our history. …”

This report, published five weeks after D-Day, in the depths of World War II, may have been authentic, as 11.6 million Americans were then in uniform and millions more in war production.

--The Battle Creek Enquirer, Dec. 15, 1955: “Teacher Shortage Alarms Instructors,” reported on a conference in Kalamazoo. Instructors from Michigan colleges, 25 in all, “expressed alarm over classroom and teacher shortage in their fields.”

--The Lansing State Journal, May 4, 1954: “If the United States doesn’t lick its teacher shortage, it will be a sad place to behold in about 15 years.”

Those were the words of Phillip H. Coombs, secretary and treasurer of the Ford Foundation’s Fund for Advancement of Education, quoted in a story about a conference on a statewide teacher shortage.

The conferees offered a familiar solution: “Raise the economic level of teaching.”

“The group said the teacher shortage can mostly be blamed on low wages paid as compared to those paid by industry,” the article stated.

Another recommendation was to “Raise the community regard for the teacher so he won’t be regarded as a ‘second-rate’ citizen as he is in some communities.”

The alleged “war on teachers” has apparently been underway for more than 60 years.

And so it goes. The 1960s were a time of peace, love and teacher shortages, according to Michigan newspaper reports. “Teacher shortage hard to assess,” a Sept. 14, 1967, Lansing State Journal headline announced. “Problem exists, but information sketchy at state level.”

Apparently, none of the 1967 fixes for the problem worked. On Nov. 1, 1972, the Battle Creek Enquirer’s headline read: “Teacher shortages predicted.”

”The nation is close to having another teacher shortage, say two Michigan educators who base their prediction on economic conditions rather than birthplace,” that 45-year-old article stated.

--The Battle Creek Enquirer, Oct. 8, 1986: “Rural, urban areas in Michigan face teacher shortage.”

--A Detroit Free Press editorial dated December 1986: “Teachers: There’ll be too few to go around if action isn’t taken soon.”

The 1990s also had articles bemoaning a teacher shortage.

The early 21st century has produced more of the same, but apparently, one union-activist teacher didn’t get the word because he described a teacher surplus in an item on the Michigan Education Association’s website. The story quoted South Haven High School teacher Brian Milliron on why he spent several years working for lower pay at charter schools:

“Nobody wants to work for less money, so accepting a position at a charter school was not based on preference, but on availability. Any job was better than no job, and having a common teaching certification during a time of teacher surplus limited my employment options,” said Milliron.

--The Port Huron Times Herald, on Aug. 5, 2001, ran a story on the state of California trying to recruit Michigan teachers. It said a job fair was being held “at [a] time when Michigan is experiencing its own teacher shortage. …”

Less than month later, another story appeared in the same newspaper with the headline “Teacher shortage strikes; schools left scrambling to fill vacancies”

Apparently, only three things are guaranteed in life – death, taxes … and claims of Michigan teacher shortages.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.