To fight shortage, state plan aims to churn out teachers

To fight shortage, state plan aims to churn out teachers

June 15, 2009/Detroit Free Press
Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press education Writer

By the time Christine Bolen earns her teaching certificate in 2010, she will have spent more than two years preparing for a new career as a high school math teacher.

It'll be time well-spent, said Bolen, 47, of Canton, who said a postbaccalaureate program at Eastern Michigan University "is one of the best."

But Michigan education officials are considering a faster route to a teaching degree -- one that would allow people like Bolen who already hold degrees in key subjects to earn a teaching certificate with as few as 15 credit hours.

This plan was drafted to address teacher shortages some districts face in key subjects.

"This ... is making it relatively straightforward and time-efficient for scientists and engineers who do want to ... learn how to be great teachers," said John Austin, vice president of the State Board of Education.

But deans who head colleges of education in Michigan have questioned whether there's really a shortage and said the standards for the proposed programs are lower than what the state expects of traditional teacher-preparation programs.

"Either you have standards or you don't have standards," said Paula Wood, dean of the College of Education at Wayne State University.

Teacher plan may be flawed
When state lawmakers pushed through new graduation requirements several years ago, a major concern was that there weren't enough math and science teachers coming through the pipeline to fill what was expected to be a growing need.

To address the perceived shortage, the Michigan Department of Education is proposing a new pathway to a teaching career for people with degrees in those subjects and some others. The program could be a boon for out-of-work professionals because it could get them into a classroom in as little as 15 months.

But does a teacher shortage really exist?

"I don't think any of us have seen definitive numbers," Austin said. But, "every year, there are anecdotal stories that we aren't producing enough" in the critical areas.

Still, deans of the state's colleges of education are doubtful. "No data have been presented to demonstrate a shortage of teachers surpassing our current ability to produce these teachers," Stephen Barbus, president of the Michigan Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, wrote to board members in March.

Michigan produces more teachers than local school districts can hire, and many end up having to leave the state to find teaching jobs, said Vernon Polite, dean of the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University. And EMU, like many other colleges and universities, already runs a program for people with degrees who want to enter teaching.

A better idea than the broad program being suggested is targeting areas of the state -- such as rural and urban areas -- that do struggle to hire qualified math and science teachers, Wood said.

Questions about a shortage are the least of the deans' concerns, though. They're more upset by what they see as a proposal that sets up two rules for teacher programs.

In 2007, the state board passed a rule requiring the 32 teacher-preparation programs to achieve national accreditation, a lengthy and expensive process that must be completed by 2013.

Though the initial three years of this new program would be limited to the state colleges of education, it eventually would be opened up to other institutions, including intermediate school districts, local school districts and charter schools. And they wouldn't have to achieve the national accreditation.

"These organizations that won't have to have accreditation, they won't be overseen by national standards," Wood said. "We think it's irresponsible."

Michigan produces more teachers than local school districts can hire, and many end up having to leave the state to find teaching jobs, said Vernon Polite, dean of the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University. And EMU, like many other colleges and universities, already runs a program for people with degrees who want to enter teaching.

A better idea than the broad program being suggested is targeting areas of the state -- such as rural and urban areas -- that do struggle to hire qualified math and science teachers, Wood said.

Questions about a shortage are the least of the deans' concerns, though. They're more upset by what they see as a proposal that sets up two rules for teacher programs.

In 2007, the state board passed a rule requiring the 32 teacher-preparation programs to achieve national accreditation, a lengthy and expensive process that must be completed by 2013.

Though the initial three years of this new program would be limited to the state colleges of education, it eventually would be opened up to other institutions, including intermediate school districts, local school districts and charter schools. And they wouldn't have to achieve the national accreditation.

"These organizations that won't have to have accreditation, they won't be overseen by national standards," Wood said. "We think it's irresponsible."

Contact LORI HIGGINS: 248-351-3694 or lhiggins@freepress.com


Posted on Monday, June 15, 2009 (Archive on Monday, June 22, 2009)
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