Opinion | Michigan reform bills will hurt teacher education programs

Mitchell Robinson is associate professor of music education at Michigan State University

The Michigan House of Representatives is poised to pass a package of bills targeting teacher education programs in the state. If these bills move forward, teacher education in the state would be damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

Highlights include...

House Bill 5598: This bill would require all teacher ed faculty to complete 30 hours of subject-specific continuing education per year. "Faculty members must demonstrate completion of these requirements to the satisfaction of MDE (Michigan Department of Education)". 

Collegiate faculty are typically the persons who provide this instruction, so it is unclear how this continuing education requirement would be implemented, and by whom. Further, collegiate faculty already engage in significant professional development by attending research conferences and other events throughout the year--it is unclear how this requirement would impact those events.

House Bill 5599: would link teacher education program approval to the effectiveness of their graduates in the schools by instituting a "warranty" program. While this may sound like a good idea in theory, it equates the process of education to that of a business transaction. A warranty may make sense when one purchases a car, but early career teachers are not commodities, and teacher prep programs are not automobile manufacturers, or car dealerships. Evidence suggest that most teachers who struggle in the classroom do so as a result of a lack of adequate administrative support and mentorship--not inadequate preparation.

Further, the MDE has stats that indicate fewer than 1 percent of Michigan teachers receive a rating of "ineffective" each year--suggesting that a "warranty" program like the one here may be a solution in search of a problem.

Finally, while it's seductive to connect a young teacher's effectiveness in the classroom to the quality of instruction that novice teacher receives in their undergraduate education program, the connection here is much more complicated and complex than that. Just as K-12 teachers should not be evaluated based on their students' scores on standardized tests, teacher educators should not be evaluated based on their students' effectiveness upon entering the profession. Education is a relationship, not a business transaction--and conflating the two does a disservice to all involved.

House Bill 5600: requires that all cooperating teachers who agree to work with a student teacher receive a stipend of $1,000. Unfortunately, the bill does not mention where these funds would come from, and given the size of most higher education department budgets this requirement poses a significant challenge. For example, the program I teach in produces roughly 30 graduates per year, with a budget of around $3,000. This bill would add an additional $30,000 per year to our responsibilities during a time when budgets across our university campuses are shrinking, not expanding. If the legislature wants to provide additional funding to meet this requirement, this would be a wonderful way to recognize the contributions of cooperating teachers. As it currently stands, this is simply another unfunded mandate.

The irony of the legislature advancing this package of accountability measures, while at the same time approving new alternative routes to certification in the state  is beyond rich. If passed, this legislation will only hurry the division of the state's teacher workforce into two castes--one, a group of hurriedly-prepared and hastily-certified edu-tourists for the state's charter and private schools, and an increasingly small and dwindling number of hyper-scrutinized and continuously-monitored graduates of traditional teacher preparation programs. Neither is a pathway leading to a sustainable vision of professional success.

I suspect that any objections from teacher educators to this package of bills will be characterized by legislators as our fear of being "held accountable." Just the opposite is true--all teachers welcome true accountability. None of these bills, however, offer real accountability. They are nothing more than a bait and switch, offering punishments and threats under the guise of "higher standards" and "enhanced accountability."

Michigan is fortunate to be the home of some of the nation's best teacher education programs. The state's legislature, in their misguided attempt at micromanaging the work of these programs, is poised to destroy one of Michigan's last remaining treasures. Let your representative know that you support the state's teacher education programs, and tell them to vote "NO" on this legislation.

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Fri, 06/01/2018 - 10:36am

Can we get a "warranty" program for the Michigan legislature so the ineffective ones can be gotten rid of or retrained? I'm not talking about just waiting until the next election.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 06/01/2018 - 1:01pm

That's actually not a bad idea.

Given the number of legislatures who cannot hold a real job and just leap-frog from office to office, I cannot tell you how sick and tired I am of hearing the time-worn excuse of "needing to learn the job" before they actually accomplish something (if ever).

James Rathbun
Sun, 06/03/2018 - 5:50am

It's called a recall election and should be used more often.

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 5:12pm

Elections are
Too Expensive...just tell ineffective bunch to hit the road!

RJ McElroy, MD
Fri, 06/01/2018 - 5:20pm

These three bills demonstrate the continued incompetence of the Michigan legislature. Examination of legislators complex and critical thinking should be required before they are allowed to vote.

James S. Katakowski
Sat, 06/02/2018 - 7:37am

The Dr. is spot on this legislature is so stupid inept they cannot do anything right. The GOP is pitiful look at the results of nothing of substance accomplished in the last 8 years.

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 4:41pm

With your doubt about the capacities of the Legislature, what criteria do you use to assess candidates when deciding on who you vote for?
I wonder if it would be helpful to provide voters with a list of described functions that are expected of the legislators? to gather a list of the various criteria people use for assessing candidates and deciding on who to vote for? to gather a list of people's ways/criteria for assessing the performance of elected officials, how do people tell of their Representative or Senator is doing a good job?
Do you think people would offer their ideas if these questions were asked?

Tom D.
Mon, 08/12/2019 - 9:34am

Yes, I do believe that voters would answer those questions if asked.
How about some legislation that takes away the autocratic government we have and puts some of the decisions into the hands of the voters? Better yet do not allow the legislature to try and figure out how to override a voted on Bill if the legislature doesn't like the outcome?

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 10:47am

If legislators are serious about playing a role in the improvement of Michigan public schools, they should carefully study the report from the School Finance Research Collaborative and develop strategies to support the implementation of the recommendations it makes. It would require serious political skill and hard work and bipartisan cooperation, but it would move our state in a better direction.
They could also respect the intent of Prop A and the will of the voters who passed it in 1994 and stop raiding the School Aid fund that Prop A established. In the meantime they could work to find a next generation method to fund education to replace Prop A.
They could also stop pandering to the Devos machine and throwing money to online providers who provide little value and generate few results while pocketing the same foundation allowance that real schools get. School Choice in Michigan is not about education excellence, it is about money for corporate providers, segregation, and tax cutting agenda.
What legislators have done with the bills currently moving and other legislation in recent years is to slowly erode and degrade what was once a public education system that was the envy of the nation.

Karen Miller
Sun, 06/03/2018 - 2:27pm

Very insightful information that states a bipartisan legislation is needed to assist Educators , both future and present, with more practical and efficient means of funding, training and assessment. Mr. Robinson is correct with what legislators have done in recent years...”slowly erode and degrade...a public education system that was the envy of the nation.” Following is a plan that affects the process of training future teachers initiated through MSU in the late 60’s that may be worth a 2nd look. Back then, students took part in an educational training program, of which I participated, titled the Elementary Intern Program. A brief synopsis of which follows:
Under the direction of Dr. Sutherland, who developed the Intern phase, 4th yr. Education majors would complete their study through initiation in a public school classroom. This was to be accomplished by assuming the role of Teacher, under supervision of an advisor, and was in addition to the Student Teaching already completed when a Jr. The “on the job training” program provided the Teacher with a $4,000 stipend for that Senior yr. Upon completion, end of school, the teacher was evaluated and upon graduation was eligible for hire by the school district. So, what are the benefits economically and professionally to reinstating a similar program in today's crisis ridden climate?
1. Improved training for future teachers ( on the job with supervision)
2. In a time of teacher shortage, this appeals to the serious student willing to take on the responsibility of their own classroom with monetary reward.
3. School districts save money by acquiring a full time teacher at minimal cost to the district.
4. Possible federal funding with no strings attached (common core, charters etc)
Input welcomed.

Monica W
Sat, 06/02/2018 - 11:18am

30 hours of content area professional development? For people who could probably teach it? That's what Michigan teacher's should do; the art teacher's should get together and professionally develop each other and get their SCECHs for it. https://mdoe.state.mi.us/moecs/login.aspx

Margaret Berkhousen
Sun, 06/03/2018 - 9:44pm

Teachers can't correct poor parenting, poor nutrition, (although schools certainly try to provide food while the child is there,) lack of parental involvement or other factors that impact success in school. They do the best they can with a child, even when the child is poorly disciplined and disrespectful in the classroom. I can't imagine what a "certification" program is going to accomplish. If you want to improve education you should ask the experts-the teachers. What qualifies congress to make these suggestions? Perhaps the teachers should come up with some solutions for running the state.

Amy B
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 9:04pm

Good comments but you introduced a little (unintentional?) confusion by referring to “congress” in your post. “Congress” only refers to federal lawmakers. State lawmakers are “legislators.” The proposed legislation the article speaks about is at the state level, thus Congress has nothing to do with it. I see this mistake in a lot of comments.

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 5:10pm

Better Pay Teachers a heck of a lot more than they now make if you require additional hours annually. Higher Ed is expensive..and 30 hours annually...Really? I suggest legislators get 30 hours annually to learn about the legislative process and subjects related to educational process

Bristie A. Caruthers
Mon, 04/08/2019 - 12:37pm

Educational programs are very important in our time, as a former student, I remember what it is when learning does not give enough attention. Children need not only books that are in the educational program, but also other developing literature that may be more interesting and useful for them. I am a volunteer, fight for children rights and work as a writer at https://essayshark.com/