News Story

Simplistic ‘Teacher Shortage’ Claims Hype, But Big Challenges In Some Areas

‘The issues arise when we have openings in the ‘specialized’ areas’

Superintendents of Michigan public school districts have posted columns in local newspapers saying their districts suffer from a shortage of teachers.

The superintendents of Holland Public Schools, Summerfield Schools and Airport Community Schools have all penned essays arguing that their districts can’t find qualified teachers to fill job openings.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan released a report this year that said there were no general teacher shortages in the state.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to school districts claiming teacher shortages, seeking recent-year figures on the number of applicants for teacher openings.

Airport Community Schools in Monroe County posted nine open teaching positions and received 184 applications for those jobs. A posting for a third-grade teaching position received 62 applicants, which was the highest. An elementary music teaching position received three applicants, which was the lowest.

“If we just look at the total number of applicants -vs- job openings it appears there is no issue,” said the Airport Community Schools Superintendent John Krimmel in an email. “And we have found, with some positions, there are no issues. Ex. Most of the elementary general education classroom openings we have, we receive a good number of applications and a good number of quality applicants.”

Krimmel continued: “The issues arise when we have openings in the ‘specialized’ areas. Our experience has found that certain jobs at certain times are tough to get applicants. Jobs like special education, health and physical education, and even social studies have been difficult to get a decent number of applications for (more than 3 to 5). The quality of applicants is, in my opinion, usually correlated to the number of applicants we get.”

The Summerfield school district, also in Monroe County, posted two elementary teacher openings, two special education teaching positions and a guidance director position in 2019. It received a total of eight applications for those five positions. Not a single person applied for one of the special education teaching positions. One of the elementary positions received three applications.

In a four-month period in 2019, Holland’s school district posted 27 teaching openings and received a total of 111 applications.

The Holland district received 29 applications for a job teaching middle school art. But it received just one application for seven of the openings.

“Please keep in mind that very often applicants who apply for teaching positions are not certified or qualified for the position for which they are applying,” the district said in an email. “In addition, many applicants apply to multiple districts seeking a job.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential has submitted FOIA requests for numerous school districts asking for data on teacher applications for posted jobs. Responses to those requests show that school districts still get numerous postings for general teaching assignments. They also show that districts struggle to fill positions in special education and specialized classes, such as foreign languages or advanced subjects.