News Story

Focus On 'Teacher Shortage' Claims: Is It A Myth?

Specialty positions aside, public schools get many applicants for most openings

Across the state of Michigan, public school districts are receiving hundreds of applicants when they post an opening for a classroom teacher.

For example, Utica Community Schools received 433 applicants for an elementary school position.

Over the past 11 years, the ratio of students to teachers in Michigan classrooms has remained about the same. In 2007-08, there were 107,537 full-time teachers, and the ratio of students to teachers was 15.30-to-1. By 2018-19, the ratio had grown to 15.46-to-1. There were fewer teachers (97,471 full-time positions), but also fewer students 11 years later.

Yet, for almost a century, there has been a virtual chorus of claims about a teacher shortage. For example, The Detroit News reported in September of 2018 that shortages were “prompting school district leaders to scramble to fill their vacancies while fearing the problem might only get worse.”

National news outlets have also picked up the theme and declared that a teacher shortage is a nationwide problem.

“The Teacher-Shortage Crisis Is Upon Us,” was the Oct. 4 headline for Jacobin Magazine, a far-left New York-based magazine.

That article stated: “Low pay and classroom-spending cuts are making teaching an unattractive profession. If this doesn’t change, we’re in big trouble. Luckily, teachers, unions, and Bernie Sanders have plans for that.”

The Economic Policy Institute has also weighed in, stating earlier this year, “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought.”

In the last year, dozens of Michigan news outlets have echoed the claim, from TV stations to newspapers.

But in February, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan released a report that stated there was no evidence of a teacher shortage in Michigan.

“No teacher shortage yet in Michigan, but talent pipeline is leaking,” was the headline for an op-ed that was published in Bridge Magazine and written by Eric Lupher of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

The CRC report stated, “The simple fact is that anecdotal and media reporting is not sufficient to establish that a statewide crisis exists. To do so requires a broader examination of the teacher pipeline, something that has not garnered as much attention or analysis by stakeholders, either at the local or state level.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential has been the only news outlet to challenge the teacher shortage narrative. We have questioned how there could be a teacher shortage when school districts such as Grand Rapids received 1,056 applicants in 2019 for a single elementary teacher position.

This is not to say there are no problems in teacher recruitment. Finding enough qualified special education and foreign language instructors appears to be persistent challenge for most schools. For example, Utica Schools, cited above for getting 433 applicants for an elementary classroom opening, also received zero applications for a world language position at an alternative education center.

Over the next few weeks, Michigan Capitol Confidential will examine specific school district across Michigan and look at their staffing as well as number of applicants per job posting.