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Obay Dabaja, Allison Vernon and, Keisha Dukes
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down in Michigan. Fewer people are choosing to become teachers. There have also been reports in the last few years that some of the state’s newest teachers aren’t sticking around.

Three new teachers sat down with Stateside’s Lester Graham to discuss the challenges, and rewards, of teaching in Michigan.

tables in a classroom
Frank Juarez / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit's public school teachers have approved a three-year contract that includes a roughly 7 percent wage increase over the next two years.

The contract with the Detroit Public Schools Community District was approved by teachers on Thursday. It includes a 3 percent increase in year one and a 4.13 percent increase in year two. 

Michigan is facing a teacher shortage.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Nearly every school district in the nation uses the same type of salary schedule to pay its teachers -- a schedule with "steps" and "lanes" that pays based on years in the classroom, and you automatically get paid more if you have a master's degree or higher.

Photo courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute

Our first post in this series looked at the state's "average salary" for teachers and how that number can be misleading since it doesn't account for years of experience.

Results of our teacher survey.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

We put out a non-scientific survey earlier this summer asking teachers in the state how they've seen their pay change over the past several years. (You can check out the survey questions here.)

 

We heard from 390 teachers across more than 115 districts, which is awesome. (Thanks, teachers!)

 

We'll go through the six main themes that emerged, but first let's get up to speed on the basics.

 

A primer on teacher pay

 

Public school teachers in Michigan and most of the country follow a salary schedule that doles out automatic and relatively small incremental raises for each year of service (these are called "steps") and gives a bigger pay bump for additional educational attainment, like a master's degree or PhD (these are called "lanes").  

 

The number of "steps" and "lanes" varies from district to district. It can take seven steps to reach the top of the teacher pay ladder in one district and 30 steps in another district.  There are no more yearly step increases after a teacher reaches the top step, but some districts offer "longevity" bonuses for veteran teachers.

A child at a desk raising his hand.
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio


We entrust our kids with Michigan's teachers five days a week. Yet most us of probably don't know much  about the way our teachers are paid. The truth might be surprising.

This week, Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra is exploring teacher pay in Michigan, and what it means for keeping the best teachers in their classrooms instead of seeing them flee for more lucrative and less stressful jobs elsewhere.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Michigan's average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay.

So we wanted to know: what's going on with teacher pay in the state?

As a starting point, we have the average teacher salary in Michigan. The state Department of Education puts it at $61,978.

OK, so what does that number really tell us?

First, it marks a downward trend for five years in a row. The average teacher salary in 2011-12 was $62,613 and has dropped every year since. But beyond that, because it's not paired with any longevity data, it doesn't tell us a whole lot more.

Brett Levin / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Legislative economists estimate that it would cost $410 million in the first year to close Michigan's pension system to newly hired teachers and instead provide them a 401(k) only.

creative commons

We have an education crisis in this state; in case you haven’t noticed, Michigan is having trouble recruiting enough teachers, especially good teachers, especially in our larger cities.

That’s not surprising.

Teaching elementary and high school students is difficult and draining, if done right. You are chained to the academic calendar –no fall vacations or long weekends. Teaching involves a lot of work on nights and weekends.

Both the Michigan House and Senate introduced identical bills today to address teacher pensions.
Pkay Chelle / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Both the Michigan House and Senate introduced identical bills today. What message are legislative leaders trying to send by doing that?

DLG Images / Creative Commons

Budget talks in the House and Senate may close Michigan's pension program for new teachers.

Supporters say this would help ease Michigan's growing debt. But others say pension cuts would hurt a profession that's already struggling.

David Crim is with the Michigan Education Association.

The Michigan Senate in Lansing.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio file photo

Some lawmakers are hoping to pass a bill in this lame-duck session of the Legislature that would force new teachers into a 401(k)-style retirement system, and move the state away from supporting a traditional pension system.

Supporters say it would save the state money in the long term. Critics say it will blow a major hole in the state budget in the near term.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

A survey of educators in Michigan shows many teachers are feeling demoralized by state mandates and a lack of funding.  

Eleven-thousand teachers across the state responded to the anonymous survey by Michigan’s two major teachers unions, the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

MEA President Steve Cook says the survey puts down on paper the same frustrations he’s been hearing for years.

What is the average class size in Michigan's schools?

Sep 15, 2016
Michigan teachers on whether they've noticed class size changing over time
Courtesy Caroline Gearig / Michigan Radio

Pinning down the average class size in Michigan's public schools is not an easy thing to do.

For example, the Michigan Department of Education reports a student/teacher ratio of 23 to 1. But the way that number is calculated isn't necessarily a good reflection on how many kids are in the class.

Flickr user EL Gringo/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

You decide to become a teacher because you want to help, to see your students grow and learn. 

But take a deep dive into teacher pay and you'll discover that teachers are taking a beating on that front.

A new study from the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute shows that in 2015, the weekly wages of public school teachers in this country were 17% lower than comparable college-educated professionals.

And who's hurt the most? Male teachers and veteran teachers. 

 Suppose you came from fairly humble circumstances and had struggled to earn a college degree. You decide to become a teacher yourself, because that’s the only way poor and disadvantaged children have any chance at achieving a successful life.

You wind up teaching in a building that is falling apart, that is infested with mold and rodents, where the heat doesn’t work well in the winter, and it is like an oven in the late summer. You have to worry about fights, some involving kids bigger than you are. Guns and gangs are very real problems.

user Wonderlane / Flickr

There's wide agreement among education experts that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in how students do in school.

I’ve said more than once that it isn’t fair to expect teachers to solve all the problems of educating our kids. When a child is hungry, or has a chaotic living situation and no support at home, the best curriculum and the most effective teachers may not be able to make enough difference.

The week in Michigan politics

Sep 17, 2014
State capitol
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This Week in Michigan Politics, Emily Fox and Jack Lessenberry discuss the possibility of new teachers losing their pensions, the latest in the Detroit bankruptcy trial, and how Aramark is under fire again.


Barbara Webb (left) sitting with wife Kristen Lasecki
User: I Stand With Barb Webb / facebook

The firing of a pregnant teacher at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills is making headlines.

For nine years, Barb Webb taught chemistry and coached various teams at the all-girls Catholic school.

Webb is a lesbian. She married her wife, Kristen, two years ago. Earlier this year, they found out they were expecting a baby.

Barb Webb's firing has ignited an emotional response on social media.

Many Marian alumnae, parents and supporters spoke out in support of Webb on a Facebook page that has more than 4,000 members.

On other sites, however, there are those who believe Webb violated the teachings of the Catholic Church, and, as such, the Catholic private school was well within its rights to fire her.

All this week, we've been digging into the causes, and perhaps solutions, to the financial troubles facing our schools. As Michigan Radio has been reporting, some 50 public school districts across our state are facing deep deficits. And, for the first time in Ann Arbor history, the school district may have to lay off 50 teachers.

Today we focused on teacher salaries. Just what should determine teacher pay in Michigan?

And, Daniel Howes talked with us about the business community in Detroit.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As the 2012-2013 school year winds down, one of the issues occupying the attention of state lawmakers is teacher pay. In essence: what should determine teacher salaries in Michigan?

A state House panel has approved a plan to tie teachers' pay to student performance. But, as Michigan Public Radio's Jake Neher told us, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they're worried the bill would strip away local control.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House panel has approved a plan to tie teachers’ pay to student performance. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’re worried the bill would strip away local control.

Bill supporters say just because someone has been teaching for a long time, that doesn’t mean they’re a great teacher. They say educators should be paid more if their students are making progress, and less if they’re not.

User: Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Detroit is worse off than we thought

"Detroit's state-appointed emergency manager is painting a bleak financial picture. Kevyn Orr's first report says Detroit's net cash position was negative $162 million as of April 26 and that the projected budget deficit is expected to reach $386 million in less than two months. That's more than the city's estimate" reports the Associated Press.

Pontiac schools might be saved; no such luck for Buena Vista

The state is expected to release a payment as soon as today that will keep the Pontiac school district from declaring bankruptcy according to a letter sent to the district last week by the state Department of Education.

"There is still no plan to get 400 kids in the Buena Vista district back to school. Buena Vista closed its doors abruptly after losing a monthly payment because the district owes the state money. " Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

A new bill would reward teacher performance

"Michigan teachers' performance in the classroom would play a bigger role in the amount they get in their paychecks under a proposal being debated in the state House. Supporters argue that rewarding teachers who perform better and moving away from a system that rewards seniority will improve teachers and benefit students" reports the Associated Press.

creative commons

A new report suggests school districts in Michigan are not doing a good job of evaluating their teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. A state law passed in 2011 requires districts to evaluate teachers, and rate them as highly effective, effective, minimally effective, or ineffective.

Two Iraq War vets are now serving in the State Legislature
flickr user cedarbenddrive / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate has approved a compromise bill that would end state-provided health coverage in retirement for new public school employees and require current workers to pay more for their pensions.

The measure passed Wednesday includes further study of a plan sought by some in the Republican majority to push new hires into a 401 (k)-style plan.

State officials say the proposal reduces by at least $15 billion a roughly $45 billion liability on the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. That comes partly from the state putting $130 million toward retirement costs that school districts are facing.

A version of the bill was previously passed by the House. That chamber is expected to approve the Senate measure.

The legislation would then head to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Four Michigan unions are asking a federal judge to strike down a new state law barring school districts from collecting union dues through payroll deduction.  The unions filed the lawsuit today.

When he signed the law, Governor Snyder said it would ensure “public transparency” and make sure public resources are spent on their intended purposes.