|Even though public school enrollment in Michigan has been declining for years, the typical classroom in the state is larger than in most other states. On average, Michigan’s teachers oversee more students per classroom than their peers nationally.
The challenge for administrators is to keep the school rooms staffed. Teacher turnover – those leaving the field permanently, or just for better opportunities in a different district – is higher in Michigan than the rest of the country. The share of the workforce that moved from one school to another increased from 9.5 percent in 2004-05 to 11.4 percent in 2016-17, more than 40 percent greater than the national figure (8.1 percent). Turnover is especially high in the state’s urban districts (24 percent) and among charter schools (37 percent).
Leakage through the pipeline is considerable. Far fewer students are enrolling in teacher-prep programs at Michigan colleges and universities, completing these programs, and getting teaching credentials as a result. Among the newly credentialed teachers who do get hired, about 17 percent leave within the first five years of entering the profession.
In some ways, this isn’t worrisome. The state’s overall public school enrollment has been falling for more than a decade, will continue to fall, and is predicted to be around 1.4 million students by 2027, down 8.2 percent from what it was two years ago. But a destabilized labor market for educators goes far beyond a simple reduction in force.
All this is happening as some teaching specialties need more professionals. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and special education programs lost the most bodies between 2012 and 2016, but there were losses in early childhood areas, too. More teachers are needed to serve the economically disadvantaged students. The only increase in the number of teachers at the end of that period was for those specializing in English as a Second Language education, as the number of students enrolling with such needs continues to climb.
Possible solutions are murky, complicated by a lack of reliable information. From the data that is available, it seems that policies should focus on managing the ratio of students to teachers, attracting people into the teaching profession, and the retention of teachers already in the classroom. Some students may be avoiding education as a career because of the high cost of college, which makes paying back education loans onerous in a field that doesn’t pay well.
Founded in 1916, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan works to improve government in Michigan. The organization provides factual, unbiased, independent information concerning significant issues of state and local government organization, policy, and finance. By delivery of this information to policymakers and citizens, the Citizens Research Council aims to ensure sound and rational public policy formation in Michigan. For more information, visit www.crcmich.org.