Teach for America Detroit to help 5 Michigan districts retain and develop teachers

Several students sit at desks in a large classroom. Two of them raise their hands while a teacher stands at the front of the room.
Teacher for America Detroit is expanding its efforts to recruit, retain, and develop teachers to five Michigan school districts. (Nic Antaya for Chalkbeat)

An organization that has drawn hundreds of people into the teaching profession in Detroit by giving them a faster path into the classroom is expanding to five other Michigan communities with an initiative to recruit, retain, and develop more than 700 teachers.

The focus is on developing teachers in high-poverty schools, providing support and training, and thus improving outcomes for some of the most vulnerable students in Michigan.

Teach for America Detroit is launching Teach Michigan, which is partnering with Benzie County Central Schools, Kentwood Public Schools, Saginaw Public Schools, Sault Ste. Marie Area Public Schools, and Traverse City Area Public Schools to recruit educators on their staff who will earn stipends of $35,000 each over three years. 

Those who apply and are accepted receive a $5,000 signing bonus, a $5,000 completion bonus after the first year, a $10,000 bonus after the end of the second year, and a $15,000 bonus after the final year.

The program offers three paths for educators: One focuses on early-career educators and is aimed at helping them strengthen their teaching skills. Another is focused on teachers who want to achieve the rigorous National Board Certification. And the third is for experienced teachers who want to take on administrative or supervisory roles. 

In addition to the stipend, teachers selected will receive intense training during the three years. 

Teach Michigan debuts at a time when many districts across Michigan are struggling to fill teaching jobs, and education leaders and policymakers are looking for ways to address that challenge. But recruiting more people into the profession only addresses part of a systemic problem, said Armen Hratchian, executive director of TFA Detroit.

“All of the talk is about the pipelines. But what are we doing to keep the ones who are already here?” he said.

It’s a question that has informed the organization’s work since 2019, when it began providing support in Detroit to help retain and develop teachers. 

“There are really great people teaching every day in our schools, and in particular, in our under-resourced or high poverty communities across the state,” Hratchian said. “Roughly 400,000 students every day go to a school that would be considered high-poverty … . We know that we’re losing teachers at a faster rate in those schools.”

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The new initiative will be tracked by the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University, which has done comprehensive research on the state’s Read by Grade 3 law and other education issues.

Among the questions the EPIC researchers will seek to answer, Hratchian said, is whether this type of investment works, whether it increases retention, whether it improves student outcomes, and whether the educators who participate create better conditions for other educators around them.

TFA Detroit is part of Teach for America, a national organization that recently experienced some challenges that have resulted in layoffs. In Detroit, though, the local arm has been buoyed by a $30 million grant from the state of Michigan. The $60 million initiative has received grants from the Skillman Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Detroit Children’s Fund, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, AmeriCorps Michigan, Masco Corp., Ford Motor Co. Fund and Bank of America.

Skillman, Kellogg, and the United Way are Chalkbeat funders. Click here for a list of our supporters. 

The five districts in the Teach Michigan program were chosen because they have strong, stable leadership, good relationships between the administration and school board, and strong district-union relationships, Hratchian said.

Saginaw Public Schools launched a “grow your own” program more than a year ago and helps existing staff earn teacher certification in two phases — one for employees with a bachelor’s degree and another for those with a high school diploma and/or an associate’s degree. The first group of more than 20 educators recently graduated from the program, said Superintendent Ramont Roberts, who has led the district for five years.  

Teach Michigan fits into those efforts because of its focus on retention and development, Roberts said.

“We’re working hard to retain our current staff that we know are effective or highly effective instructors, so they don’t seek opportunities elsewhere,” he said. That can be a struggle in an urban district that has to compete with suburban schools that may be able to offer higher salaries.

The district is in the process of selecting the 30 educators who will be part of the first year of Teach Michigan. More than 70 people applied, Roberts said.

“It’s been an overwhelming response,” he said.

Lori Higgins is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at lhiggins@chalkbeat.org.

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