New Law Removes Obstacles to Classroom

SB 727 should help alleviate teacher shortage outcry

School districts and unions have complained vigorously in recent years of a teacher shortage. The claim is overblown, but it still makes sense for the state to remove needless restrictions on talented people who want to teach in public schools.

Lawmakers took a big step towards filling the state’s classrooms with qualified teachers by removing a couple key obstacles that would keep potential educators away. Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed into law Senate Bill 727, a measure that smooths the way to hire hundreds more teachers starting as early as this fall.

Most public school teachers enter the profession by completing a state-endorsed, four-year college degree program. For years, Michigan has allowed for alternative certification, but very few have entered the classroom through that streamlined path. Research has consistently shown that alternative certification programs generally produce classroom instructors who are just as capable as those who follow the traditional route.

Some teachers all across the state are educating students without these official state designations – in private schools, homeschools, at colleges and universities and through programs like Teach for America. There is no evidence that these educators are less effective in the classroom than teachers who are trained via the conventional method.

In August 2017 the Michigan Department of Education approved Teachers of Tomorrow to provide alternative certification via its online training program. The organization has certified thousands of teachers in other states, mostly adults with other professional experience who seek to switch careers. Roughly half their trainees are racial minorities.

Within a couple months of approval, Teachers of Tomorrow attracted 837 Michigan applicants — including many noncertified public school employees and individuals with master’s degrees. But most of them ran into a giant piece of red tape on their way to securing a classroom job.

To secure certification, Michigan law required teachers to pass a basic skills test. For nontraditional, career-switching applicants, that meant having to sit with high school students and take the SAT before receiving a permanent teaching certificate. The extra obstacle was delaying, and possibly deterring, many potential teachers.

Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, shepherded through SB 727, which ended the basic skills test requirement. Not all of the now 1,353 Teachers of Tomorrow applicants will complete the course and make the cut, but hundreds more eager and qualified teachers should be available for Michigan to hire this fall as a result of the new law. A significant share of them should be equipped to teach in the sought-after STEM subjects or bilingual education.

Another legislative change could lead to an even greater number of prepared teaching candidates for Michigan schools in the future. SB 727 ends the requirement that an alternative certification program must be approved in other states first, instead allowing it to be “modeled after a program that has a proven record.” This lowers the hurdle for new programs while preserving a standard of quality.

When talk of a teacher shortage likely re-emerges later this year, it will be important to remember that state leaders have taken a simple but important step to expand the supply of public school teachers.