News Story

Despite Claims, There Is No Teacher Shortage in Michigan

A majority of Michiganders with a teaching license aren’t teaching

The Portage school district in Kalamazoo County averaged 41 applicants for each of the 42 full-time teacher openings it advertised in 2016-17. One first-grade teaching position received 140 applicants.

With so many applicants seeking teacher jobs, claims of a looming teacher shortage are hard to support.

Yet Jim French, a principal at Portage Public Schools, wrote an article in which he argued that a shortage of substitute teachers is part of a bigger problem – a shortage of regular, full-time teachers. On Twitter, the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, of which French is an official, Tweeted at the Mackinac Center in a message that read, “Substitute Teacher Shortage – Now a Teacher Shortage?”

Michigan public school administrators and the mainstream media here have promoted the teacher shortage narrative. They often claim or insinuate that school management reforms enacted in the last seven years by a Republican legislature and governor have made the profession unattractive to new entrants. The latest such reform is an overhaul of the grossly underfunded school pension system.

To determine whether the shortage claims are valid, Michigan Capitol Confidential sent open records requests to several school districts. The responses generally indicate that schools are getting more than 100 applicants for many open teaching positions.

French said his claim of a teacher shortage is tied to the reduction in the number of people earning teaching certifications within the state every year.

There were 9,665 teaching certificates awarded to Michigan applicants in 2004. That number dropped to 3,696 in 2016, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

“I do not disagree that we get applications (good and bad) but the issue I raised about teacher shortage is the current enrollments in our state university education programs,” French said in an email. “They are down drastically and it is indicative of a larger issue on the horizon ... teacher shortage. If we cannot entice our (MI) students to pursue education as a career, how are we going to entice students from other states to come to Michigan and teach? Especially with the recent changes and the elimination of teacher pensions.”

A decline in the number of people earning new teaching certificates can be explained, in part, by the reduction of available jobs due to declining enrollment statewide.

There were 95,000 full-time public school teaching positions in 2016-17, down from 107,537 in 2007-08, a 13 percent reduction. The number of Michigan students has dropped from 1.65 million in 2007-08 to 1.53 million in 2016-17.

It may also be related to a bipartisan consensus in recent years that education departments were producing a surplus of potential candidates for regular classroom positions but possibly not enough for specialized slots. For example, a 2013 Education Week article quoted Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Flanagan saying that teacher preparation programs “can't be an ancillary part of this system that's so autonomous they don't have to worry about these issues of supply and demand.”

The Michigan Department of Education estimates there are 104,667 Michigan residents with valid Michigan teaching certificates who are not teaching in the state. By comparison, there are 71,886 Michigan-certified teachers reported as employed by a state public school.

“There is no definitive evidence of a general teacher shortage in Michigan,” said Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “In fact, the number of applicants for positions in many districts suggests the opposite. There are viable ways to attract more qualified candidates for the genuinely hard-to-fill positions. A key strategy, one that very few school districts have tried, is to offer different pay based on the relative supply. That would mean higher entry-level salaries for special educators and for high school math and science teachers.”

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.