The requirement of only 60 hours of college coursework, with no stipulation that the coursework should be situated in a program of study, should concern every parent in the state of Michigan. What’s more, the lack of a requirement for training or prior experience in teaching practice means that these long-term subs could have never worked with children or youth before being tasked with teaching them content knowledge and skills.
Teaching is a challenging profession which requires deep knowledge of child development, language development, target content knowledge, an understanding of the science of learning, the development of and practice in teaching skills, and practices and the support of a professional community.
Put another way, it is difficult to imagine how teachers who have not themselves completed a two- or four-year university degree will be able to help young people become “college and career-ready.” And yet that is exactly what our state standards call for teachers to accomplish.
Moje: The research is crystal-clear about the importance of having an effective teacher every year. Having an effective teacher throughout one’s learning life is the single most important factor in a child’s academic success.
A report by the RAND Corporation states that “among school-related factors, teachers matter most. When it comes to student performance on reading and math tests, a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership.
And the evidence suggests that the children most likely to experience one or more long-term subs are the children most in need of high-quality teaching. Also sobering is the fact that our current mechanisms for evaluating teachers — a mix of supervisor observations and children’s test score results — are irrelevant if schools are staffed by long-term subs whose evaluations are unlikely to enter the mix when school staffing is considered.
Bridge: The children who need a high-quality teacher the most (low-income, urban, rural) are the children most likely to be taught by a long-term substitute. What impact do you believe that has in a state that already has a large academic gap between socioeconomic groups?
Moje: The achievement gap is actually an opportunity gap.
Children are missing out on educational opportunities when they don’t have access to a skilled, certified teacher whose continued development in the profession has been supported. And the children most likely to encounter long-term subs are those living in high-ne communities.
Moje: The increasing reliance on long-term substitutes (as well as other solutions to staff classrooms) is the outcome of a shortage of working certified teachers in Michigan, which disproportionately has an impact on low-income, urban, and rural families.
Bridge: Do you have any policy recommendations to address this issue?
Moje: Education leaders should not be satisfied with short-term solutions to the urban and impending rural teacher shortage crisis, especially when those solutions exacerbate inequities by allowing the least prepared people to teach the students who are likely to have the greatest learning ne.
Instead, all those committed to improving education opportunities for all children and youth need to work together to solve the issues facing the teaching workforce because those issues produce the increased reliance on long-term substitutes.
We need a better understanding of the roadblocks to recruiting teachers to urban and rural areas, some of which include challenging school conditions such as old buildings or lack of resources, lack of professional support for novice teachers, low or stagnant salaries, and students with high need due to undereducation and the effects of intergenerational poverty.
Some possible policy solutions:
Residency programs provide supports for novice teachers to hone their skills and develop a sense of efficacy as professionals.
Housing incentives that encourage teachers to live in the same communities in which they work have the additional benefit of investing in the community and connecting teachers more fully with their students, which is more likely to make teachers want to stay in the profession.
Equitable, long-term solutions begin with providing districts in the greatest need — as measured by achievement metrics, the numbers of students requiring specialized services, and the amount of aging and crumbling infrastructure — more resources so that they can increase teacher supports, salaries and incentives.