Update: Detroit School Board OKs Hiring Teachers Who Took Only Online Courses

July 12, 2018, 4:19 PM by  Alan Stamm

A recruiting display at the Teachers of Tomorrow website.

Detroit recruiters can hire online teacher training graduates to help fill about 200 classroom vacancies this fall.

LaMar Lemmons: "It will increase the academic disparity." (Facebook photo)

Education reporter Koby Levin follows up on her Chalkbeat Detroit preview of the desperation move: 

Detroit’s main district is proceeding with a plan to hire teachers who are certified but have received no training in the classroom — adding an element of controversy to efforts to fill hundreds of teacher vacancies by the end of summer.

The board of education on Tuesday approved a hiring plan proposed by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, signaling that the district will lean partly on programs that offer so-called interim teaching certificates.

The move drew blowback from board members and parents, who argued that Detroit children deserve teachers who have been trained in the classroom.

"I don't think the alternative route teachers are nearly as prepared as the traditional route," LaMar Lemmons, a school board member, told Chalkbeat. “It will increase the academic disparity, as you have less qualified and less experienced teachers."

Levin also quotes parent Cynthia Jackson, commenting on Chalkbeat's Facebook page:

"So your first day of teaching will be your first day ever in front of children? You don't think that’s going to be a problem?"

Original article, Tuesday:

A district with about 200 teacher vacancies and too few applicants can't be picky, Detroit's superintendent indicates. The pool of talent, if that's the right word, includes trainees who've never taught a class.

Chalkbeat Detroit reporter Koby Levin sketches the stark reality:

Faced with a daunting shortage of certified teachers, leaders of Detroit’s main district say they may have no choice but to hire educators with minimal classroom training, including some who have been certified by a for-profit online teachers college. . . .

On Tuesday, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti will present a wide-ranging hiring plan to the Detroit school board, sending a message that the district must consider all its options. The plan instructs staff to look high and low for new hires, including from alternate certification programs like Teachers of Tomorrow, an online program that was approved to certify teachers by the state Legislature last year.

Nikolai Vitti: "We need certified teachers to fill vacancies and to reduce class size." (Twitter photo)

Here's what the second-year superintendent tells the local education news site:

"We prefer to hire teachers who have participated in traditional certification programs. However, in the short term, we need certified teachers to fill vacancies and to reduce class size so we will consider hiring teachers from alternative programs. They are certified."

[Update: Chrystal Wilson, the Detroit district's assistant superintendent of communications and marketing, says in an email response to this article:

"I'd like to express how careless you are with your reporting that you would take Chalkbeat’s story and create a misleading headline. . . . The truth of the matter is we have 2,800 certified teachers and we are looking to fill approximately 200 teaching positions with certified teachers."]

Teachers of Tomorrow – a two-year-old firm based in Houston – says it "widens the funnel of qualified candidates for school districts, helping principals and HR professionals fill all open teaching positions on an efficient and consistent basis."

It also pledges to "actively recruit a candidate pool that more closely matches the demographics of student populations." As it happens, all eight management team leaders pictured on its company overview page are white. 

 Company response: A statement from the firm is at the end of this post.

A graphic on that same page says "87% of principals surveyed in 2016 felt our candidates were prepared for their first year." That data point, an accompanying chart shows, includes principals who felt the trainees were "prepared in most areas" (31%) or "prepared in few areas" (11%). 

It almost seems like Teaching for Dummies, right?

Enrolees training to apply for Michigan jobs need a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA and must pass a test in the content area they plan to teach. They must watch 30 hours of classroom teaching, either online or in person. The state also requires a federal background check and certification to perform emergency CPR.

Graduates of the Texas-based distance learning business get an interim teaching certificate. After three years in classrooms, more training and a good review from their principal, they become fully certified by Michigan.

Education unions criticize such programs as profit-oriented teacher mills that shortchange pupils. A Michigan Education Association spokesman, David Crim, dubs it "pseudo-certification." He told Jennifer Chambers of The Detroit News last year:

"Reducing the qualifications to become a certified teacher is yet another attempt to deprofessionalize the teaching profession and is certainly not in the best interests of Michigan students or parents." 

Detroit has no formal agreement with Teachers of Tomorrow, though Vitti urges the city's 11-member Board of Education to let it be part of a solution to "the challenges of supply and demand" that his district confronts. Levin posts:

Entering the summer with more than 200 teacher vacancies is nothing new for the district. Early in his first year on the job, Vitti promised to fill the gap, but the effort fell far short. This year, he is insisting once again that there will be a certified teacher in every classroom by summer’s end.

While his decision to raise salaries for veteran teachers is expected to fill some of its more than 200 vacant teaching positions by luring teachers from other districts, that won’t be enough to fill every classroom.

Teachers of Tomorrow response

Dave Saba: "These are some amazing people who now want to dedicate their lives to teaching in Detroit."

A company executive emails Tuesday afternoon:

I read your article regarding the teacher shortage in Detroit, and I found a few inaccurate statements that I'd like your help correcting.

  1. "The pool of talent, if that's the right word, includes trainees who've never taught a class."
    Have you met these people that you can disparage them as having no talent? Do you know their backgrounds? These are some amazing people who now want to dedicate their lives to teaching in Detroit Public Schools and your first line seeks to insult them? 
  2. "Teachers of Tomorrow – a two-year-old firm based in Houston . . ."
    Teachers of Tomorrow was founded in 2005 as Texas Teachers and we have been running successfully ever since. In fact, we've certified more than 45,000 teachers in many high-need areas, and 70% of our teachers are still teaching 5 years after they started – well ahead of the national average for retention.
  3. "As it happens, all eight management team leaders pictured on its company overview page are white."
    alf of our leadership team is composed of women and one of our top executives is Hispanic. But the more important statistic is that 46% of our candidates are diverse, compared to over 80% white enrolled at four-year Michigan educator preparation programs. Is it more important for the teachers to be diverse or the staff?

I would hope that we can agree on the importance of being unbiased and accurate and you would correct the article. . . . Thank you for your cooperation.  

All the best,
Dave Saba
Chief Development Officer

Read more:  Chalkbeat Detroit

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Photo Of The Day 

Potd_img_9679_88 A brightly decorated track viaduct in Southwest Detroit near Michigan Central Station.

By: Michael Lucido