Is Detroit ‘the best city in America for teachers’? City leaders are giving recruits a few more reasons to say ‘yes’

Hiring teachers in Detroit has long been fiercely competitive, with schools sweetening their offers with unusual financial perks in an effort to recruit from a shrinking pool of certified teachers.

Now a citywide initiative funded by Detroit philanthropies and businesses is bringing education leaders together around the idea that a bigger pool of teachers will lessen the pressure on every school in the city. Teach 313, announced Thursday morning by a who’s who of Detroit leaders, will mount a nationwide recruitment campaign to find new teachers while offering discounted cars and home loans to educators who already teach in the city.

The initiative, named after Detroit’s area code, is intended to “make sure that every child in the city of Detroit has a qualified leader sitting in front of them,” Tonya Allen, president of the Skillman Foundation, one of the project’s funders, said. She added: “We are committed to making Detroit the best city in America for teachers.”

Teacher hiring has become a hot button issue in Detroit, where charter schools claim a larger share of students in Detroit than in almost any other American city. The resulting competition — combined with an overall shortage of certified educators — can leave schools uncertain of how many teachers will show up when summer’s done, but school leaders haven’t previously put their heads together about the issue.

It is not the first time a city’s mayor, business leaders, foundations, and school leaders have united in the fight against teacher shortages. Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Memphis have all launched similar efforts in recent years.

But Teach 313 stands out, its leaders say, in part because of its focus on retaining the teachers who are already on the job. Detroit loses more than 14 percent of its teachers every year to schools outside the city, according to figures released by the initiative.

Some of the best practices for fighting teacher shortages have already taken hold in Detroit’s largest district, which recently increased teacher pay and is creating a program in which veteran teachers mentor newer hires.

Teach 313 is stepping in to offer additional financial incentives, a centralized place where teachers can find hiring information, and a vote of confidence from city leaders.

“We need to progress from saying we’re just trying to fill” teacher vacancies, Mayor Mike Duggan said. “And that means not just recruiting, it means treating the very good teachers we already have with respect.”

The city government, businesses (GM and Quicken Loans), and philanthropies (Skillman and the Detroit Children’s Fund) are putting money behind this idea. As a result, being an educator in Detroit comes with a growing list of perks.

Two new sweeteners were announced Thursday by executives from General Motors and Quicken Loans as part of the announcement:

  • A discount on a new GM vehicle, which Detroit teachers can add to any other discount. They’re also eligible for a free two-year subscription to GM’s OnStar, a service that can connect cars to a call center in an emergency.
  • A discount of $1,500 on a home loan or home refinancing from Quicken Loans.

Add those to the 50 percent discount Detroit teachers get on homes auctioned off by the city landbank.

And for teachers chosen by Teach 313 to serve as occasional ambassadors for the city’s education system, the initiative comes with a stipend and professional development.

An event held to announce Teach 313 drew leaders from traditional and charter schools, many of whom had attended the discussion groups that helped shape the initiative.

“I can’t not love anybody who’s working to bring teachers to Detroit,” said Deborah Hunter-Harvill, a member of the school board that oversees the city district.

Alleviating the effects of a statewide teacher shortage will take more than discounts. Earlier this week, The Learning Policy Institute, a non-partisan education think tank, released a list of best practices for combating the nationwide shortage of teachers.

The list includes recruitment efforts that are a component of Teach 313. It will take out billboards and online advertisements and will seek to promote Detroit schools at the nation’s top teacher-training programs and historically black colleges and universities. On its website, teachers can access hiring and certification information for Detroit schools, all in one place.

“Teach 313 focuses in on few pieces, but there are many things that need to be done,” said Chanel Hampton, president of Strategic Community Partners, the organization charged with carrying out recruitment efforts in Detroit and nationwide.

Hampton, a former teacher, says her experience recruiting teachers — she previously led recruitment efforts at Teach for America — taught her that recruiting isn’t enough.

“Retention is the number one indicator of recruitment,” she said. “You retain teachers, you have happy teachers, you maintain an amazing quality of life for them, they’re going to go out and recruit teachers on their own.”