CMU to offer free courses that will place future educators in rural schools - TAI News
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As Michigan schools grapple with an ongoing teacher shortage, unique challenges have exacerbated the issue in rural school districts.

To address the problem, Central Michigan University is hoping to bring more certified teachers into rural classrooms through the Michigan Consortium for Addressing Rural Education Expansion and Retention Resource Hub.

The hub, which is currently in development, is funded with the help of a $15 million grant from the Michigan Department of Education. It aims to provide future educators or current school staff the opportunity to obtain the credentials and mentoring necessary to become certified teachers for free.

“Providing a no-cost credentialing hub will reduce barriers to educator certificates for people who have talent and a passion for education but have not become certified due to geography and cost,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said in a statement.

Two-thirds of school districts in the state are in rural areas like Northern Michigan, and their resources are scarce compared to places like metro Detroit or Grand Rapids. For example, rural school districts don’t have the same geographical access to educator preparation programs or big universities, resulting in a smaller pool of applicants for teacher positions. Rural districts also don’t have the money to offer teachers higher wages, causing them to leave for other schools.

These factors make it more difficult for the districts to hire or retain certified teachers, according to Paula Lancaster, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at CMU.

“The shortages then just become kind of this cycle of consistently having to refill positions,” Lancaster said. Lancaster helped secure the grant funding for the university.

Because of the absence of certified teachers, long-term substitutes are becoming increasingly common in rural schools, according to a 2022 report from Michigan State University’s College of Education.

In Michigan, teachers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree in an education field and complete a teacher preparation program in addition to finishing their required courses and clinical experience, such as student teaching. Additionally, an individual must pass a certification test relevant to their area of expertise in order to become a certified teacher.

Long-term substitutes, on the other hand, aren’t required to have any teacher education and only need 60 college credit hours in any subject to work in the classroom.

Since rural districts don’t have the certified teachers necessary to teach the state’s required curriculum, their students are put at a disadvantage compared to their nonrural counterparts. When factoring in special education classes, the need for certified teachers is even greater, Lancaster said.

She noted that offering courses through the credentialing hub will make a huge difference, especially for those who are already working in a school setting and may need more flexible options: “If they are working in school districts, we want them to be able to stay where they are, finish their programs to the greatest extent possible, online or through hybrid courses, and continue to work with children and youth in our state.”

Located in Mount Pleasant, Central Michigan University has a history of serving Michigan’s rural communities, and this program will help continue those efforts, Lancaster said.

CMU will work with Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, Northern Michigan University, Saginaw University, nine intermediate school districts, and more than 50 local school districts to expand the impact of the credentialing hub. Together, the schools and universities will provide hands-on opportunities for educators to complete their licensing requirements while working in the classroom.

CMU projects the program will begin no later than August, with hundreds of educators participating in the first few years of the hub’s operation.

The university is currently working out the program’s eligibility requirements with the Michigan Department of Education. Lancaster said those overseeing the program are looking for individuals who are committed to serving in rural communities or have worked in a local school system.

“Our intention is to truly develop a deep understanding of the barriers that educators face in rural communities,” Lancaster said. “But more importantly, to also understand the tremendous strengths that exist in those communities and to build on those strengths so that we have strong, healthy, thriving schools and communities that better serve our children and youth.”

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