Could millions be used to fix teacher shortage?

Posted at 11:30 PM, Jan 26, 2016

It seems like common sense. If you are going to have a class of students, you need a teacher. In Detroit Public Schools, that is not how it works.

Teachers say the district is not doing enough to solve the problem.

7 Action News asked Emergency Manager Darnell Earley about the issue. 

"Well let me just say this here. That is no different than in other districts. There is a teacher shortage across the state," said Earley.

The fact is it is different than in other districts.

While there is a statewide teacher shortage, again and again, DPS has responded to WXYZ stories on a lack of teachers saying there are classes without teachers everywhere. It is not true.  

We have found sporadic vacancies at local schools, but the vast majority of districts find a way to put all kids in front of teachers. 

The Detroit Federation of Teachers estimates that thousands of kids going to DPS are in a class or classes without certified teachers.

Granted, it is not easy to convince teachers to take a job at a district facing bankruptcy.

"It is even made more difficult for DPS because of the uncertainty. And it is not because we have decided not to try to find teachers," said Earley.

But the question is - are they trying hard enough?

7 Action News reviewed the contract given to Marzano. The company provides professional development to teachers. District leaders have said it gives teachers a "common language" as they set student goals. 

The district is paying the consultant service $6 million for a year long contract. Teachers say it is a lot of money spent on a want, when there are needs unmet.

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey says teachers feel district leaders don't recognize the talent within their staff.  There are teachers with multiple master's degrees, doctorates, and training in numerous programs, including Marzano's. 

They could share knowledge and implement a shared language.

"I think there is a misconception about DPS teachers. They are extremely educated. The teachers in DPS are some of the most well trained, and that is because we (the district) buy into every program," said Bailey.

She says teachers would rather see the money spent in the classroom.

"We're using funds that were earmarked only for development," said Darnell Earley when asked why the district is paying Marzano $6 million.

But is that true? 

Title II A funds are being used to pay for the service. These are federal funds given to schools. The money is often used to help high-need schools. 

The Department of Education website says, "The Improving Teacher Quality State Grants program increases student achievement by elevating teacher and principal quality through recruitment, hiring, and retention strategies. The programs uses scientifically based professional development interventions and holds districts and schools accountable for improvements in student academic performance."

The Detroit Public Schools budget for 2016 even says these funds aim "to increase the academic achievement by helping improve teacher and principal quality, and increase the number of highly qualified teachers in classrooms and highly qualified principals and assistant principals in schools."

Teachers say the district should be prioritizing getting teachers in every classroom. That would ease the burden on teachers with sometimes 40 or 50 kids in a classroom. 

It would also benefit students. They don't come to school to teach themselves. They come to learn with the help of teachers.

7 Action News asked Emergency Manager Darnell Earley why more of those funds weren't being used to address the severe teacher shortage. 

He said he would look into whether this was possible during the remaining six months of his time as emergency manager.

"No one has presented a plan to me to do what you suggest," said Earley. "Again, if they are sharing it with you I think the place to share it is with me."

No one presented a plan to 7 Action News. We simply researched what restrictions were on the funds being used to pay for a service teachers say is a relative luxury given their needs, and saw it could address the teacher shortage.

Earley said the state does oversee Title II A funding, and would have to approve it.