The Detroit district’s new way to recruit teachers: Train its own support staff

The district will begin recruiting applicants for the program in February. The new program will begin training professionals in summer 2021, offering teacher training, coaching, and support to pass the state certification exam. Photo taken in June 2019. (Anthony Lanzilote/Chalkbeat)

In an effort to increase its teacher workforce, a new program in the Detroit school district will help support staff become teachers, and help teachers expand their expertise into new subject areas. 

On Wednesday, the state’s education department announced its approval of the program, called On the Rise Academy, an alternative, teacher certification program. 

Current district employees, such as support staff, can begin teaching while working toward an interim certification if they meet program qualifications. Current district teachers can also earn certifications in math, science, and elementary education. 

The district will begin recruiting applicants for the program in February. On the Rise will begin training professionals in summer 2021, offering teacher training, coaching, and support to pass the state certification exam. Members of the inaugural cohort could begin teaching in the 2021-22 academic year.

State superintendent Michael Rice said in a statement Wednesday that school leaders need to explore new methods to recruit teachers into the profession. 

“We wanted to continue to expand current flexibilities to help address the very real teacher shortages in the state,” he said in a statement. 

The announcement comes as school leaders have braced for a potential exodus of teachers during the pandemic. In a survey of more than 15,000 Michigan educators in June, about a quarter considered leaving the profession over health and safety concerns due to COVID-19. In the fall, Michigan school districts scrambled to find substitutes after some teachers had to quarantine or didn’t return to classrooms. 

Before the pandemic, Michigan school districts struggled to recruit teachers. A 2020 report from the Michigan Department of Education shows overall enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down 36% from 2013 to 2018, despite an increase in the last year data was available. 

School districts across the country have struggled to boost their teacher workforces. In Illinois, over 6,000 teacher and support staff positions were vacant in 2019, and the state has lost half of its teacher preparation programs since 2012. 

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district will have direct control of the program’s design and implementation, a departure from similar initiatives that worked to get certified through third-party programs. The academy’s curriculum is also tailored to the district’s specific vision for instruction. Program participants must meet rigorous performance standards before the district recommends them for initial licensure. 

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“Our program builds on the work we’ve already accomplished to ground teacher training in high-quality and standards-aligned instructional materials, and to provide content-based coaching and feedback to teachers,” he said. 

Prior to the announcement, the district already established schools-wide initiatives to help develop teacher talent by training new teachers and developing teachers already in the district. 

In addition to On the Rise, the district is partnering with Wayne State University to help certify teachers in math, science, technology and engineering. 

To help teachers develop and advance their careers, the district launched a master teachers program in 2017. Veteran teachers split their days teaching students and providing coaching to less experienced teachers. The district has also raised teacher salaries to court veteran teachers. 

While these programs have helped develop more district teachers, there are still openings the district needs to fill. 

School officials have said they’ve reduced the number of teacher vacancies in the last year from 100 to 40. The remaining 40 open positions are primarily in special education, which have been historically difficult to fill for districts because they require more training and certifications than those teaching a general curriculum. Also, about 60% of district teachers are expected to retire in the next four to five years. 

The district is required to provide reports on assessments and program changes to the state each year. The program is approved until 2025-26.

The program will become the first of its kind in Michigan, and Rice said he hopes it will serve as a model for similar efforts across the state. 

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