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A college advertises classes in “truck driving and teacher preparation.” Another program attracts potential teachers from the bottom fifth of high school students.
Becoming A Teacher In Michigan
Michigan does not set minimum standards for admission to teacher education programs, leaving the standards up to individual schools that have little incentive to limit enrollment.
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The result: Some Michigan teacher candidates study in tough-to-get-in programs like engineering, and some at “open-enrollment” schools — where no GPA or ACT is required.
“How can we professionalize the profession when the approach (to teacher preparation) is ‘come if you can walk and talk,'” said a frustrated John Austin, president of the State Board of Education. “We need to raise the bar for access to teaching.”
Education is the economic engine for Michigan’s future, and no factor within school walls has a greater impact on student learning than the quality of teachers. In community conversations and surveys sponsored by the Center for Michigan, residents said they want teachers to be drawn from the most gifted, passionate and motivated students. That is not happening in many education departments today.
The state does not collect the ACT scores of students enrolled in teacher education programs, but the scores of all students entering the college provide a proxy. The average ACT score of incoming freshmen at the University of Michigan is 29, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. View admissions standards for Michigan schools with curriculum. That means the average UM freshman scored in the top 7 percent of all high schools taking the ACT.
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Seven other Michigan schools with education programs draw their typical freshmen from the top quartile of ACT scores nationally. Only four schools with teacher preparation programs attract students from the bottom half of test takers. Olivet College, Siena Heights, Wayne State University and Marygrove College all had average ACT scores below the national average of 20.9 (out of a maximum score of 36), with Olivet and Marygrove students in the bottom half in Michigan, where the average is 19 ,9. .
Marygrove College freshmen have an average ACT of 15, meaning that the typical Marygrove freshman scored in the bottom fifth of all American students taking the College Readiness Test. Marygrove officials did not respond to requests for information about the school’s teacher preparation program.
Baker College, with campuses throughout Michigan, is open enrollment—meaning there is no minimum high school GPA or ACT score to enroll. Baker had 1,172 education majors in 2010-11, according to data from the federal Title II Higher Education Report Card, making it one of the largest teacher preparation programs in the state. While Baker College callers are on hold, they are encouraged to register for Baker College classes in, among other things, “truck driving and teacher preparation.”
“Want to know what’s best for you?” the message said. “Ask to speak to one of our helpful careers advisors.”
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Chris Schramm, dean of Baker’s School of Education, said the number of students officially admitted to the school’s preparatory program is much lower than the nearly 1,200 listed by the federal government. “That number probably includes everyone who initially says they’re interested in education,” Schramm said. Only 62 completed training at Baker in 2010-11.
Experts disagree about where the state can have the greatest impact on the quality of new teachers. Deborah Ball, dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Education, advocates for more rigorous certification exams and early-career mentoring; Susan Wilson, former chair of Michigan State University’s Department of Teacher Education, argues that Michigan should focus on “inputs rather than outputs,” raising the bar for entry into the program. Wilson believes there should be strict admissions standards for curricula at all 34 colleges and universities that now offer teaching degrees. “Some, it’s hard to get in,” Wilson said. “Some, it’s easier.
In a report he wrote for the National Academy of Education, MSU’s Robert Flodden argued that focusing on incoming students’ SAT or ACT scores is unfair to institutions that serve students from underperforming school districts, especially urban schools.
“It’s good that some places are very selective and other places aren’t, because they each serve a purpose and serve different missions,” Flodden said.
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“We all know it’s hard to attract teachers to UP,” Flodden said. “The students who will teach there probably grew up there. If it is shown that (teacher preparation) program in the U.P. you were not selective and you shut them down… UP will have no teachers.
Teaching ability isn’t all about the numbers, said Larry Corbett, chair of teacher education and professional development at Central Michigan University, the state’s largest teacher preparation program. Teaching also requires interpersonal skills that a high GPA does not fix. “It’s a complex issue,” Corbett said.
A study in North Carolina, where students’ learning has been linked to their teachers for a decade, found that students learned more in classes led by teachers who were graduates of selective-admission teacher preparation programs.
Amanda Ripley, author of The World’s Smartest Kids, found that the countries where students score the highest on standardized tests are also the countries where the teacher training programs are the most demanding.
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“Setting a high bar early in the profession sends a signal to everyone that you’re serious about education,” Ripley told the New York Times.
Finland, where test scores are among the highest in the world, does not have a rigorous system for evaluating teachers because “they screen them in advance,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council for Teaching Quality. Only 10 to 15 percent of applicants are accepted into study programs in the Scandinavian country.
“The smart stuff,” Jacobs said. “However, we are so indiscriminate, especially at the elementary level, where we produce so many teachers,” Jacobs said. “Why aren’t we more selective?” “We both know why,” Jacobs said. “It (teacher training) is a cash cow.”
Teacher preparation has traditionally been a high-volume, low-cost program for universities, said Michael Sedlak, a historian of education at Michigan State University. Teacher training is a “profit center” for many universities, with tuition from major education departments subsidizing more expensive engineering and science programs, Sedlak said.
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It’s in contrast to Michigan State University, which has one of the nation’s top-ranked education programs—the university funds its teacher preparation program at levels similar to engineering and nursing. Because the program limits enrollment, only the best applicants get in — most with a two-year college GPA of 3.5 or higher.
Strengthened admissions standards for teacher preparation programs recently passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Delaware. The new standards require teacher candidates to have a 3.0 average or GPA in the top half of their class
“The single most important school factor in a child’s academic success is teacher quality,” Delaware’s governor said. Jack Markell in a law news release. it depends on how well we educate our children today.”
The Delaware State Education Association teachers union and colleges with teacher preparation programs support the new admissions standards.
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Austin said Michigan has the authority to set minimum admissions standards. “We’ve made some changes to the standards,” Austin said, “but not as robust as would be most helpful.”
Raising admissions standards may have the unintended consequence of reducing teacher diversity. At Marygrove, for example, where the curriculum can be affected by state admissions standards, 55 percent of students are minorities. At Wayne State, which has among the lowest average ACT scores in the nation, about half of the students are minorities.
MDE believes that making the diversity of state teachers more like students is an important goal; the teacher preparation program scorecard includes a diversity category.
That same chart, for 2012, gives Marygrove, with the lowest ACT scores in the state, the best overall score among the state’s teacher preparation programs (tied with Madonna University, where incoming freshmen average an ACT of 21).
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Because state colleges produce far more teachers than are needed to fill vacancies in Michigan schools, Michigan can raise admissions standards without creating a teacher shortage.
Higher admissions standards have an ally in Dennis Van Roekel, president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, the largest union in the United States.
“What if we only take 25 percent of all the people who want to become teachers?” Rockel asked at a recent press conference in Chicago. “We can’t keep taking everyone who walks in the door.” Our children deserve better.”
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