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Michigan’s ‘band-aid’ for filling teaching jobs is expanding. Here’s what you need to know.

Teachers welcome students to the Southwest Detroit Community School on the first day of school. Seven of the charter's 31 educators last year entered the profession through a fast-track training program.
Teachers welcome students to the Southwest Detroit Community School on the first day of school. Seven of the charter's 31 educators last year entered the profession through a fast-track training program.
Koby Levin

There aren’t enough qualified teachers to fill classrooms across Michigan — and especially in Detroit. That’s why state officials have opened the door to a controversial way of filling classrooms, loosening restrictions on so-called alternative certifications for educators.

In addition to Teachers of Tomorrow, a fast-track, for-profit teacher certification program that began placing teachers with virtually no classroom experience in schools this year, another for-profit company, #T.E.A.C.H., was recently approved to help expand the state’s teacher pipeline. They’ve joined long-running nonprofit programs like Teach for America, whose corps members typically get some in-classroom training and more hours of teaching classes.

If the expansion continues, it could change the face of schools across the state, in cities like Detroit most of all. In states like Texas — home to Teachers of Tomorrow — nearly half of new teachers take non-traditional routes to certification.

As policymakers gear up for a tug of war over teacher certification, Chalkbeat obtained last year’s teacher certification data for the entire state. The data, alongside interviews with experts in teacher training, painted a picture of where we are now — and where we might be headed.

It shows that teachers with alternative certification are concentrated in Detroit, largely at charter schools, and that they’re disproportionately at a handful of schools.

Scroll down for a list of schools in Michigan that employed at least one teacher with an interim certification last year.

But first — what is alternative certification, again?

In short, it’s an express lane into the teaching profession. Michigan teachers have traditionally attended teacher certification programs that require them to student teach in an actual classroom. By contrast, Michigan’s alternative certification route, which was created under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, allows anyone with a bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 GPA to start teaching after taking a few courses online and passing a test in the subject they hope to teach. Unlike traditional teacher colleges, these programs don’t require any in-classroom training.

Not every program is the same — some universities that provide alternative certifications require teachers to attend classes in-person and practice teaching in the classroom before they start on the job.

After three years on the job, teachers with alternative certifications can become fully certified if their principal signs off.

This fast-track arrangement is not unusual — almost every U.S. state offers an accelerated route into teaching. But some are much more widely used than others.

The vast majority of Michigan educators still come from traditional, four- or five-year teacher training programs.

It’s not even close. When the state Legislature allowed for an alternate route to teacher certification nearly a decade ago, the policy was billed as an important tool in the struggle to alleviate a statewide teacher shortage. But the 160 educators with “interim certifications” who were employed in Michigan last year amount to little more than a blip in a statewide teacher corps of about 100,000.

A few controversial for-profit certification programs, which were approved to operate in Michigan for the first time last year, hope to change that. Teachers of Tomorrow, whose graduates have begun finding work in Michigan schools, certifies tens of thousands of teachers in 12 states. And in a promotional video on its website, #T.E.A.C.H, promises to help would-be educators “start teaching almost immediately.” It allows teachers to complete their online training after they have started working in the classroom.

Teachers who go through an alternative certification program are heavily concentrated in Detroit.

Research shows that poor students of color in the U.S. are more likely to be taught by a teacher with an alternative certification. That holds true in Michigan. Two-thirds of the teachers certified through a non-traditional program in the state teach in the city of Detroit, where most students are poor and black or Latino.

This may be because Detroit schools are more willing to hire them. Less than one-twentieth of Michigan’s more than 3,000 schools don’t employ a single teacher with an interim certification. About one-third of Detroit’s schools do.

To be sure, the statewide teacher shortage is particularly punishing in Detroit, where poverty and large class sizes make working in the classroom more difficult. Alternative certification programs have focused their recruiting efforts in the city in an attempt to help fill the gap.

Across the country, cities “are where it’s hardest to get conventional teachers,” said Chester Finn, a senior fellow at the Thomas Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank that has published studies of alternative certification. “Cities are also often where people from Teach for America and other idealistic programs are likely to want to teach.”

Critics say that lowering the barriers to entry into the teaching profession won’t address the deeper problems that plague Detroit schools. And they worry that this quick fix comes with unintended consequences.

“It’s really more like a band-aid, as opposed to addressing the larger issue,” said Christopher Crowley, a professor of teacher education at Wayne State University. “These are experiments, and they’re being tested on certain populations and not others.”

Teachers with alternative certifications can be effective.

It is very difficult to determine whether teachers who take this route perform any worse than their peers, partly because the accelerated programs vary widely in the amount of training and support they give new teachers. Armen Hratchian, director of Teach for America in Detroit, says its program allows teachers to be successful with fewer hours of in-classroom training — known as student teaching — that is common at traditional teacher colleges.

“To help meet the highest standard of teaching here in Michigan, TFA teachers spend over 400 pre-service hours training over the summer, continue to receive intensive coaching and development throughout their first two years, and are monitored and credentialed by the University of Michigan,” he said in an email.

But they are far more likely to leave the profession.

There’s little doubt that teachers who use alternative certification are more likely to leave the profession within a few years. Schools that fill vacancies with such teachers can find themselves in a “vicious cycle” of never-ending hiring, said Desiree Carver-Thomas, an education researcher at the non-partisan Learning Policy Institute, which last month published a list of best practices for combating teacher shortages that does not include alternative certification.

“Most states have been struggling to address teacher shortages for several years, often filling the vacuum with underprepared teachers,” the report reads.

Charter schools hire more teachers with alternative certifications than traditional schools.

Last year, 53 teachers with alternative certification were in charter schools compared with 44 at traditional schools in Michigan. A handful of charter schools have an especially high concentration of these teachers. At the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a tiny charter high school on the city’s northern border, nearly half of the 25 teachers at the school last year had entered the profession through an alternative certification program, although most subsequently met requirements for full certification.

“As the teacher shortage continues to be an ongoing issue, I am always looking to find creative ways to find qualified candidates,” said Wendie Lewis, principal of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, in an email. In her experience, teachers who arrive at the school via programs like Teach for America are actually more apt to stay than traditionally certified teachers, perhaps because they promise at the outset to teach for two years.

There are lots of other ways to fight the teacher shortage.

Experts recommend raising salaries, trying to coax retired teachers back onto the job, forgiving student loans for teachers, offering new teachers more mentorship — and the list goes on.

Local governments, philanthropies, and companies have also pitched in, sweetening the deal for teachers by offering discounts on houses and cars for educators in Detroit.

And school leaders in Detroit are already going to extraordinary lengths to fill their classrooms.

Most recently, the city’s main district announced a partnership with the University of Michigan and the Kresge Foundation to, among other things, build a new “cradle to career” school that will feature a beefed-up teacher training program. The idea, in part, is that better-trained, better-supported teachers are more likely to stay in the profession. The district has said it won’t rule out hiring teachers from alternative certification programs, but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti has made clear that he prefers teachers with more training.

“We have to get out of the days of taking any adult that has some education and some certification and placing them in a school, and go to a model where we actually teach teachers how to teach,” Vitti said as he announced the new school on Thursday.

CORRECTION: Sept. 24, 2018: A previous version of this story referred to teachers “with an interim certification,” suggesting that all teachers counted in the data held that certification as of last year. But the data obtained from the state also included teachers who entered the profession through an interim certification program and later became fully certified. The story’s main points — that charter schools are more likely to hire interim-certified teachers, that those teachers are clustered in Detroit, and that they make up a small fraction of the state’s teaching force — still hold true. The data has been updated in the current version.

Here’s a list of schools where teachers with alternative certifications were working in Michigan during the 2017-18 school year:

School # of Teachers with Alt. Cert. City Type
MacDowell Preparatory Academy 7 Detroit Charter
Detroit Edison Public School Academy 7 Detroit Charter
Southwest Detroit Community School 6 Detroit Charter
Voyageur Academy 6 Detroit Charter
Detroit Enterprise Academy 5 Detroit Charter
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies – Elementary 4 Detroit Charter
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies (PSAD) 3 Detroit Charter
Washington-Parks Academy 3 Redford Charter
Detroit Leadership Academy Elementary 3 Detroit Charter
Cass Technical High School 3 Detroit Traditional
Detroit Innovation Academy 3 Detroit Charter
Detroit Leadership Academy Middle/High 3 Detroit Charter
Clippert Academy 3 Detroit Traditional
Pansophia Academy 3 Coldwater Charter
Beecher High School 2 Mount Morris Traditional
St. Catherine of Siena Academy 2 Private
Benjamin Carson School for Science and Medicine 2 Detroit Traditional
Mumford High School 2 Detroit Traditional
New Paradigm Loving Academy 2 Detroit Charter
Trix Academy 2 Detroit Charter
Western International High School 2 Detroit Traditional
Linden Charter Academy 2 Flint Charter
Detroit City West Side Academy for Leadership Development 2 Detroit Traditional
Cesar Chavez High School 2 Detroit Charter
Old Redford Academy – High 2 Detroit Charter
Frontier International Academy 2 Detroit Charter
University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – High School 2 Detroit Charter
University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) Middle School 2 Detroit Charter
Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody 1 Detroit Traditional
Osborn Academy of Mathematics 1 Detroit Traditional
Arno Elementary School 1 Allen Park Traditional
Legacy Charter Academy 1 Detroit Charter
Botsford Elementary School 1 Livonia Traditional
University Yes Academy 1 Detroit Charter
Burns Elementary-Middle School 1 Detroit Traditional
University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) High School 1 Detroit Charter
Central High School 1 Detroit Traditional
Chelsea High School 1 Chelsea Traditional
Washtenaw International High School 1 Ypsilanti ISD School
Jalen Rose Leadership Academy 1 Detroit Charter
Regent Park Scholars Charter Academy 1 Detroit Charter
East Arbor Charter Academy 1 Ypsilanti Charter
Croswell-Lexington High School 1 Croswell Traditional
Munger Elementary-Middle School 1 Detroit Traditional
Dearborn High School 1 Dearborn Traditional
Eastpointe High School 1 Eastpointe Traditional
Ecorse Community High School 1 Ecorse Traditional
Fitzgerald Senior High School 1 Warren Traditional
Escuela Avancemos 1 Detroit Charter
Capstone Academy Charter School (SDA) – South Campus 1 Detroit Charter
Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School 1 Detroit Traditional
Hamtramck High School 1 Hamtramck Traditional
Crescent Academy Elementary 1 Southfield Charter
ACTech High School 1 Ypsilanti Traditional
Detroit Achievement Academy 1 Detroit Charter
Kosciuszko School 1 Hamtramck Traditional
Lindemann Elementary School 1 Allen Park Traditional
Litchfield High School 1 Litchfield Traditional
Holy Family Regional School 1 Private
Madison High School 1 Madison Heights Traditional
Law Elementary School 1 Detroit Traditional
Detroit Delta Preparatory Academy for Social Justice 1 Detroit Charter
Oxford Crossroads Day School 1 Oxford Traditional
George Washington Carver Elementary School 1 Highland Park Charter
Redford Service Learning Academy Campus 1 Redford Charter
Murphy Academy 1 Detroit Charter
Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School 1 Detroit Charter
Detroit Prep 1 Detroit Charter
Inkster Preparatory Academy 1 Inkster Charter
Redford Union High School 1 Redford Traditional
Detroit Collegiate High School 1 Detroit Charter
Salina Intermediate 4 – 8 1 Dearborn Traditional
South Lake High School 1 Saint Clair Shores Traditional
Southeastern High School 1 Detroit Traditional
Novi High School 1 Novi Traditional
Northeast Elementary School 1 Jackson Traditional
Lowrey Middle School 1 Dearborn Traditional
Harrison High School 1 Farmington Hills Traditional
Noble Elementary-Middle School 1 Detroit Traditional
Saline High School 1 Saline Traditional
Jackson Christian School 1 Jackson Private
Renaissance High School 1 Detroit Traditional
Dickinson East Elementary School 1 Hamtramck Traditional
Communication and Media Arts HS 1 Detroit Traditional
Detroit School of Arts 1 Detroit Traditional
Thornton Creek Elementary School 1 Novi Traditional
Kensington Woods Schools 1 Lakeland Charter
Chandler Park Academy – Middle School 1 Harper Woods Charter
Henry Ford Academy 1 Dearborn Charter
All Saints Catholic School 1 Private
Cesar Chavez Middle School 1 Detroit Charter
Northridge Academy 1 Flint Charter
Hope of Detroit Academy – Elementary 1 Detroit Charter
International Academy of Flint (K-12) 1 Flint Charter
Conner Creek Academy East – Michigan Collegiate 1 Warren Charter
Detroit Merit Charter Academy 1 Detroit Charter
Voyageur College Prep 1 Detroit Charter
Academy for Business and Technology Elementary 1 Dearborn Charter
Multicultural Academy 1 Ann Arbor Charter
Reach Charter Academy 1 Roseville Charter
University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – Elementary 1 Detroit Charter
Advanced Technology Academy 1 Dearborn Charter

Source: Michigan Department of Education

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