News Story

School Officials Claim Teacher Shortage; Job Applicant Numbers Tell Another Story

Some teaching positions gets several hundred applicants

The debate about an alleged teacher shortage continues in Michigan, with the most recent treatment coming in the article “Crisis point: Michigan faces teacher shortage,” which appeared in the Houghton-based newspaper The Daily Mining Gazette.

The article quoted local education official George Stockero, superintendent of the Copper Country Intermediate School District. Stockero recounted a meeting he was at.

“To me, the most telling thing,” he said, “was you had probably 300 superintendents in one big building, and the state superintendent was there, and they got up and said, ‘Alright, those who don’t have enough teachers right now, please raise your hand.’ At least half the room raise their hand.”

Some superintendents, he said, reported that their classrooms are staffed by substitutes because they can’t find enough teachers.

But both claims made by Stockero deserve more scrutiny.

Classrooms “staffed by substitutes” isn’t necessarily a sign a school can’t find enough teachers. It could be a sign that regular teachers are out of the classroom for a variety of reasons.

A report by the Thomas Fordham Institute found that one out of every four public school teachers in Michigan missed 11 days or more of work. This made them, in the official jargon, “chronically absent.” Michigan Capitol Confidential has sent open records requests to school districts and found similar results. For instance, the average teacher at Plymouth-Canton Community Schools missed 17.36 days last year. The average teacher in Detroit public schools missed 13.06 days per year. Districts are relying more heavily on substitutes because so many full-time teachers are out of the classroom — not because of a teacher shortage.

And claims made by school officials about a teacher shortage are usually generic in nature. For instance, Stockero claims that as many as 150 superintendents in the state have teacher shortages.

That’s a claim backed up in the comments section of the Houghton story by Chris Wigent, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

“I can attest to the fact that while the data is always important to consider,” he wrote, “the fact of the matter is that as was mentioned in the article there are over a hundred districts that currently cannot fill a teaching position.”

But neither Stockero nor Wigent offers specifics on which school districts are lacking teachers. Once a specific district is mentioned, however, the claim can be checked to see how many applicants it receives for each teaching opening.

For example, earlier this year, Jackson County Western teacher John Anderson told The Detroit News that his district was lucky to get three or four applicants for a teaching position. “Our youth just don’t want to go into teaching,” he explained, “because there’s no financial stability.” Except, according to the high school where Anderson teaches, there were 29.7 applications, on average, for every open teaching position.

Jim French, a principal within Portage Public Schools, is president of the board of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. French wrote on a blog that a shortage of substitute teachers is linked to a shortage of full-time teachers. His column’s headline was: “Substitute Teacher Shortage Now A Teacher Shortage?”

But French’s own district — Portage Public Schools — averaged 41 applicants for each of the 42 teacher positions it posted in 2016-17, according to district records.

And that’s similar to the report from nearly every school district from which Michigan Capitol Confidential has requested information on job postings.

Saginaw Public Schools averaged 35 applicants for each of the 28 teaching positions it posted in 2016-17.

Rockford Public Schools averaged 28.5 applicants for the 21 teaching positions it advertised last year.

An average of 72 individuals applied for every Grand Rapids Public School teacher opening in the 2016-17 school year.

Novi Community Schools averaged 123 applicants for the 66 teaching positions it had open last year.

And Leland Public Schools advertised for just two teacher openings last year. It received a total of 18 applications.

That’s not to say there isn’t a shortage of teacher applicants for specific teaching jobs. School districts are struggling to find teachers for special education and certain specialized topics, such as foreign languages.

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.