A new model for better evaluating Mich. teachers

By: State Sen. Phil Pavlov

The past couple of years have seen significant changes to Michigan’s state government, with no issue receiving more attention than our public education system.

For many years, Lansing did everything possible to shield schools from feeling Michigan’s economic woes, but ultimately everyone has been impacted by a decade of population, employment and revenue losses. To help schools manage their finances, Republicans in Lansing passed seven major cost-saving measures in 2011 alone. At the same time, we focused on quality academics across the entire system, with dozens of school accountability and transparency reforms passed in the 2011-2012 legislative session.

Of all the work accomplished, none was more valuable to foster effective teaching and school leadership than the overhaul of Michigan’s teacher evaluation and tenure laws. As part of those reforms, the Legislature formed the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE), a temporary, independent commission of education experts chaired by the University of Michigan’s Deborah Loewenberg Ball. Since fall 2011, the MCEE has been developing recommendations for a fair and meaningful educator evaluation model, and its final report is expected next month.

Why does Michigan need a model evaluation system?

The quality of teachers and school administrators is so crucial to children’s educational achievement that it’s essential our schools — all of them — have effective tools to recognize and reward the best educators and identify and support those who are struggling.

Not enough Michigan students are achieving at high levels, and many others are failing to reach even minimum proficiency levels in basic subjects like reading and math. To prepare our children for life and work in the 21st century, we must ensure that our schools are honestly evaluating educators — from principals down to first-year teachers — and informing parents about their performance.

It’s also the right thing to do for educators, to elevate their profession and help them continually advance. Teachers, like other professionals, want to excel at their craft. Most of them chose teaching because of a noble desire to work with children and help them develop their unique talents and skills.

Reliable, meaningful feedback that helps teachers improve is good for them and good for students. Likewise, practices that encourage administrators to support their teachers with sound observation and appropriate professional development are good for the whole school.

Some school districts have already implemented successful evaluation methods, but others need help. A 2013 report by the non-profit Education Trust-Midwest calls high-quality systems a “rarity” in Michigan, and highlights Grand Blanc High School, near Flint. That school’s principal, Jennifer Hammond, sits on the MCEE, and believes robust evaluations are “transforming the culture” at her school. She credits teachers who bought into the process, became more collaborative, and now want even more feedback. This success is exactly what a statewide model can help all districts achieve.

The MCEE will recommend how best to measure student achievement growth, since that will eventually count as half the evaluation for both teachers and administrators. But to be truly fair, a system must take into account factors beyond educators’ control that can hinder student growth — like poverty. So the MCEE will also recommend a tool for value-added modeling, which measures more precisely an individual’s or school’s contribution to student growth. These are key components of first-rate systems.

In exchange for requiring more school accountability, the state’s responsibility is to provide research-based standards to guide local evaluation models and appropriate levels of support and oversight.

While we’re at it, we should consider how to incorporate other things that will drive improvement, like performance pay that rewards the most effective educators, or assigning schools simple A-F letter grades so parents can choose wisely between various education options.

Next month, as students graduate and families head off on summer vacations, the Legislature will begin considering the MCEE recommendations, examining other states’ best practices, and crafting a model for Michigan. One that is rigorous, but also fair and constructive.

From The Detroit News