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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.

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

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.CityType
MacDowell Preparatory Academy7DetroitCharter
Detroit Edison Public School Academy7DetroitCharter
Southwest Detroit Community School6DetroitCharter
Voyageur Academy6DetroitCharter
Detroit Enterprise Academy5DetroitCharter
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies – Elementary4DetroitCharter
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies (PSAD)3DetroitCharter
Washington-Parks Academy3RedfordCharter
Detroit Leadership Academy Elementary3DetroitCharter
Cass Technical High School3DetroitTraditional
Detroit Innovation Academy3DetroitCharter
Detroit Leadership Academy Middle/High3DetroitCharter
Clippert Academy3DetroitTraditional
Pansophia Academy3ColdwaterCharter
Beecher High School2Mount MorrisTraditional
St. Catherine of Siena Academy2Private
Benjamin Carson School for Science and Medicine2DetroitTraditional
Mumford High School2DetroitTraditional
New Paradigm Loving Academy2DetroitCharter
Trix Academy2DetroitCharter
Western International High School2DetroitTraditional
Linden Charter Academy2FlintCharter
Detroit City West Side Academy for Leadership Development2DetroitTraditional
Cesar Chavez High School2DetroitCharter
Old Redford Academy – High2DetroitCharter
Frontier International Academy2DetroitCharter
University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – High School2DetroitCharter
University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) Middle School2DetroitCharter
Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody1DetroitTraditional
Osborn Academy of Mathematics1DetroitTraditional
Arno Elementary School1Allen ParkTraditional
Legacy Charter Academy1DetroitCharter
Botsford Elementary School1LivoniaTraditional
University Yes Academy1DetroitCharter
Burns Elementary-Middle School1DetroitTraditional
University Preparatory Science and Math (PSAD) High School1DetroitCharter
Central High School1DetroitTraditional
Chelsea High School1ChelseaTraditional
Washtenaw International High School1YpsilantiISD School
Jalen Rose Leadership Academy1DetroitCharter
Regent Park Scholars Charter Academy1DetroitCharter
East Arbor Charter Academy1YpsilantiCharter
Croswell-Lexington High School1CroswellTraditional
Munger Elementary-Middle School1DetroitTraditional
Dearborn High School1DearbornTraditional
Eastpointe High School1EastpointeTraditional
Ecorse Community High School1EcorseTraditional
Fitzgerald Senior High School1WarrenTraditional
Escuela Avancemos1DetroitCharter
Capstone Academy Charter School (SDA) – South Campus1DetroitCharter
Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary-Middle School1DetroitTraditional
Hamtramck High School1HamtramckTraditional
Crescent Academy Elementary1SouthfieldCharter
ACTech High School1YpsilantiTraditional
Detroit Achievement Academy1DetroitCharter
Kosciuszko School1HamtramckTraditional
Lindemann Elementary School1Allen ParkTraditional
Litchfield High School1LitchfieldTraditional
Holy Family Regional School1Private
Madison High School1Madison HeightsTraditional
Law Elementary School1DetroitTraditional
Detroit Delta Preparatory Academy for Social Justice1DetroitCharter
Oxford Crossroads Day School1OxfordTraditional
George Washington Carver Elementary School1Highland ParkCharter
Redford Service Learning Academy Campus1RedfordCharter
Murphy Academy1DetroitCharter
Detroit Edison Public School Academy – High School1DetroitCharter
Detroit Prep1DetroitCharter
Inkster Preparatory Academy1InksterCharter
Redford Union High School1RedfordTraditional
Detroit Collegiate High School1DetroitCharter
Salina Intermediate 4 – 81DearbornTraditional
South Lake High School1Saint Clair ShoresTraditional
Southeastern High School1DetroitTraditional
Novi High School1NoviTraditional
Northeast Elementary School1JacksonTraditional
Lowrey Middle School1DearbornTraditional
Harrison High School1Farmington HillsTraditional
Noble Elementary-Middle School1DetroitTraditional
Saline High School1SalineTraditional
Jackson Christian School1JacksonPrivate
Renaissance High School1DetroitTraditional
Dickinson East Elementary School1HamtramckTraditional
Communication and Media Arts HS1DetroitTraditional
Detroit School of Arts1DetroitTraditional
Thornton Creek Elementary School1NoviTraditional
Kensington Woods Schools1LakelandCharter
Chandler Park Academy – Middle School1Harper WoodsCharter
Henry Ford Academy1DearbornCharter
All Saints Catholic School1Private
Cesar Chavez Middle School1DetroitCharter
Northridge Academy1FlintCharter
Hope of Detroit Academy – Elementary1DetroitCharter
International Academy of Flint (K-12)1FlintCharter
Conner Creek Academy East – Michigan Collegiate1WarrenCharter
Detroit Merit Charter Academy1DetroitCharter
Voyageur College Prep1DetroitCharter
Academy for Business and Technology Elementary1DearbornCharter
Multicultural Academy1Ann ArborCharter
Reach Charter Academy1RosevilleCharter
University Preparatory Academy (PSAD) – Elementary1DetroitCharter
Advanced Technology Academy1DearbornCharter

Source: Michigan Department of Education