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Examining teacher shortages and surpluses to improve equitable access to effective educators

Midwest | May 18, 2018
Examining teacher shortages and surpluses to improve equitable access to effective educators

Many districts and schools across the nation struggle to fill teaching vacancies in some subjects and grades while experiencing teacher surpluses in others. Michigan is no exception. State and federal data suggest that the number of new elementary school candidates coming out of Michigan’s teacher preparation programs will far exceed the jobs available. Meanwhile, the state’s districts are struggling to find qualified teachers in subject areas such as mathematics, science, special education, and world languages. Faced with hard-to-fill vacancies, districts must either drop some course offerings or hire less qualified teachers, such as those who are noncredentialed. As a result, student learning may suffer.

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is developing policies to address teacher shortages and surpluses, but more systematic statewide data are needed to inform these efforts. Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest, in partnership with the Midwest Alliance to Improve Teacher Preparation (MAITP), is conducting a study to provide an in-depth picture of teacher shortages and surpluses in Michigan’s public schools. Using data from the 2012/13 to the 2017/18 school years, researchers will identify statewide trends in teacher shortages and surpluses and whether those trends vary by teacher certification area, region of the state, district locale, and teacher compensation levels. In addition, the researchers will project future teacher shortages and surpluses in the state over the next five years.

“Teacher shortage is the result of an imbalance between supply and demand,” explains Yinmei Wan, one of the lead researchers on the study. “We are looking at the supply and demand to see where the imbalances, or shortages, are. The purpose is to provide the state with a clearer picture of where things are so they can compare that to where things should be.”

To determine teacher supply, the study is looking at the pool of potential teachers, including employed teachers, newly certified teachers from traditional and alternative routes, teachers who have moved to Michigan from other states, teachers nearing retirement age, and teachers who have left and returned to the profession. For demand, the study is examining student enrollment and student-teacher ratio.

Identifying which components may be driving teacher shortages and surpluses can highlight potential areas of concern. For example, the analysis may reveal potential future shortages associated with an aging teacher workforce.

The study’s findings will help inform decisions at multiple levels of Michigan’s education system. Alliance members from MDE can use the findings to guide policies and supports to address teacher shortages as well as the overall teacher pipeline. For instance, MDE might use the information to help recruit teachers in high-need certification areas or regions of the state. The findings can also inform potential changes to state policies for teacher certification and licensure, such as the requirements for certain high-need subject areas.

Michigan’s teacher preparation programs can use the study’s findings to align their offerings to the identified areas of need, such as specific grades, subjects, or regions. “Our analysis by region and subject area would be useful for teacher preparation programs to adjust or compare with their own projections of where the needs are,” says Wan. The study’s methodology and findings also can inform other states’ efforts to systematically examine teacher supply and demand and to address teacher shortages.

Ultimately, the study can help Michigan ensure that all students have equitable access to effective teachers. This goal is both emphasized in the state’s plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and part of Michigan’s Top 10 in 10 Years strategic initiative, which aims to elevate Michigan to one of the top 10 education states in the nation within 10 years.

A report describing the study’s findings, which is slated to be published in spring or summer 2019, will be posted on REL Midwest’s website. Learn more about the project.

In addition, learn about a related two-part training that REL Midwest provided in partnership with MDE and MAITP to explore the potential of clinically oriented teacher preparation programs for Michigan.


Joni Wackwitz

Joni Wackwitz

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