Teachers need more training and resources to teach to higher standards

As two leaders who don’t always agree on what “education reform” should look like in our state, it’s striking when we do agree – and agree strongly – on what makes most sense for Michigan students.

One of our organizations – the Education Trust-Midwest – is known as one of Michigan’s leading organizations committed to higher achievement and school accountability. The other – the Michigan Education Association – is among the state’s most ardent advocates for improving learning and working conditions in our schools. Unexpected allies, perhaps, but we agree on a lot.

We believe teachers are a key to success in our public schools. We believe high expectations play an important role in raising achievement. We also believe that our teachers will excel at teaching higher standards when they receive strong support.

Here’s something else we agree on: Michigan’s new college- and career-ready standards will accomplish little if our state does nothing to ensure they are actually implemented. It makes little sense to expect that students will meet higher standards without supporting teachers in implementing them and measuring whether students get there.

Now that Michigan has committed to adopting the new standards, we call on the state to move forward with high-quality professional development for both standards-aligned teaching and for constructive annual performance evaluations that will help educators in their efforts to teach to the new standards.

Michigan’s college- and career-ready standards will require educators to teach students at much higher levels – and to help them gain much deeper skills – than ever before. For most teachers, even in the best schools, this will require significant shifts in instruction. Educators need professional development on the content of the new standards, as well as the most effective ways to teach to them.

Other states have invested in training teacher-leaders, who provide training to school teams of teachers. We support this type of collaborative professional development because it provides teachers with access to highly skilled colleagues to whom they can turn for assistance.

Likewise, we need to make sure a proposed new statewide educator evaluation system is focused on supporting teachers to improve, not simply on rating them. Good work has already begun on this front, led by Rep. O’Brien and Rep. Zemke, but the state must also invest in high quality implementation of the new system.

With a projected surplus of $1.3 billion, Michigan should invest in what we know works to improve student learning – raising standards and supporting teachers and students to meet them through targeted, research-based training. In his proposed budget, Governor Snyder committed over $27 million to the tools and training needed to support educators in the new statewide evaluation system. This kind of investment would produce a win for both students and teachers.

A new assessment system aligned to the standards should provide teachers with better feedback on student learning. And it should tell everyone who cares about education in Michigan how our schools compare with schools across the nation, so that we can identify and share best practices to improve all schools.

One state assessment system should be used to measure student proficiency and student growth for educator evaluations and school accountability. Timing issues are important, though, as the Legislature considers changing the state’s assessment plan for next year. In the transition to higher standards, we believe there should be a moratorium on using results from the new college- and career-aligned state assessments in performance evaluations until the end of the third year of implementation.

Our call for a three-year moratorium does not mean delaying implementation of educator evaluations or college- and career-ready standards and aligned assessments. Teachers, students and parents need to see results from the tests that our schools will be giving next school year. And teachers need to see their student growth data. But it makes sense to give teachers and principals three years to learn how to incorporate these standards into instructional practices before holding them fully accountable.

Parents, business leaders and other concerned Michiganders should join us in pushing state and district leaders to invest in supports to help teachers teach to the new standards.

If our organizations can agree on these issues, then surely others can agree, too.

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Thu, 04/24/2014 - 1:03pm
Another article trying to protect the MEA and find yet another way to delay, deflect and defend teachers from having to do what most of us in the private sector must do: PERFORM. Teachers were trained to teach curriculum. SO teach it. Many have masters degrees so that they are entitled to higher pay grades. Curriculum is curriculum. They don't need additional training (read: more dollars) to teach to these mythical "higher standards". They just need to do their homework on the standards required and curriculum, use their college educations and teach. It's not a group effort. Most American Schools, in my experience as an employer have been dumbed down. These "higher standards" that are being complained about, appear to be "normal" expectations of what intelligent people expect of their fellow citizens. Any re-run of "Jay Walking " on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, shows how ignorant and how low the expectations of our citizens are. Our citizens don' t have the math skills (are we 36 or 37th in the world?), basic scientific knowledge (39 or 40th?), and our English is horrible (Michiganders are famous of misuse of double negatives and contractions-"that don't matter no how"). In school, we don't learn things that could help us practically. Like nutrition, diet and exercise (60% of the population obese), financial management and proper use of credit (record bankruptcies), relationships, marriage and child rearing (55% divorce rate and record abortion rates). And apparently, we are not learning much either to prepare us for the real world based on our world rankings. Educators, looking at these shoddy numbers versus our world competitors, should be aghast, embarrassed, and willing to demand more from themselves and their students. Instead, they are running and hiding behind their tenure (another idea that has outlived its usefulness) and their unions. This request, to provide or require "more training" is another MEA boondoggle to prevent sorting the wheat from the chaff and lose (gasp!) union dues. The union "leaders", who many make two to four times the average member, have no interest in better schools, better teachers, or better students. They only care about maintaining the status quo and pushing children through the system. When these children graduate with sub-par skill sets, the Unions will clamor for more "training and education" for jobs that may or may not exist.The Unions have failed the US and need to be scrapped for a system of accountability (like civil service and incentive based systems) Unions have made this country sub-standard in education, compared to our world competitors. Our competitors, unlike the US, are not involved in this game playing, excuse hugging non-sense. Instead they are forging ahead with high expectations of their staff and pupils. Eventually, countries like China and the Far East collectively will eclipse the US as they convince an ever growing number of employers to relocate more and more facilities there.
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 7:45pm
Dan, I have no idea what your background is, so I don't know if you have kids or not, or how long it has been since you have been in school. If you have not seen the expectations that students have on their shoulders from kindergarten on, or the types of assessments students are taking these days, then you should check them out first before criticizing. 1) If you think the standards and assessments are not relevant to real life, then don't use them as a basis for evaluating schools. 2) If you check them out and think they are hard, then realize that it means more now when students do well on them than it used to. There is no question that standards are higher in schools than they were 10 years ago. The assessments are harder also, and because the results are comparative instead of objective, the public gets a severely distorted view of what the results mean. If the standards you had to meet to do your job changed significantly, you would want and deserve a grace period as you worked to meet the new standards. You would probably expect help from your employer to communicate what was expected of you and some strategies for getting there. That's what the article is advocating for. Regardless of what you think Common Core is positive or negative, everyone agrees that they change the curriculum significantly. So your comment about "curriculum is curriculum" is nonsense. Figuring out where and how things fit together, a good curriculum sequence, and developing activities and lessons in order to teach for understanding (not just facts) is what professional teachers do everyday. And in many cases, teachers will be doing major revisions to lessons, and have to discover where students struggle and help them ("no child left behind"). If the assessments are important (and you can debate that, no question), then it is perfectly reasonable and appropriate for teachers, students, and schools to be able to use the results for several years without the high stakes involved, giving them the opportunity to revise lessons and teaching approaches to help students "get there." This is exactly what private companies do when product testing occurs. You don't normally use your prototype and announce that you have arrived at the end product. That is exactly what schools and teachers are simply asking for. The MEA and other groups are advocating for their teachers - teachers who want high standards and are not afraid of a challenge - but who feel that in many cases and circles in the "reform" movement, are just being set up to fail and blamed.
W. F. Moigis
Sun, 04/27/2014 - 5:32pm
I will limit my comment to one of the statements made by the author. "Our K-12 standards are higher today than they were 10 years ago" This certainly true. However, how do our present standards compare with those of countries that clean our children's clocks in the international academic competitions? The fact that we spend more money than any other country in the world should on K-12 education is certainly a rational argument against increasing this school budgets any further!
Chuck Fellows
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 4:26pm
"We believe teachers are a key to success in our public schools. We believe high expectations play an important role in raising achievement." Sorry, but that statement is a little difficult to believe since there are two groups whose input been studiously ignored by all. You know who they are, the ones that do the real day to day work of learning, our teachers and their students. Traditional educational thinking is resistent to change. It is going to take a great deal more time and serious reflection on the part of the participants in the "system" of education to catch up with the significant cultural, technological and development shifts that have occurred in our society. Recognizing our prejudices, our myths, our personal bias and our fears is a required first step to taking the baby steps toward substantive change from today to a culture of incremental continual improvement. Improvement that takes its' lead from the learners, the teachers and the students, instead of the professional academics, pundits and politicians. After all, in the current climate of "reform" whose expectations are we talking about? Certainly not those held by those who will implement change.
Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:58pm
Chuck, It is a hard statement to accept and even harder to understand until you consider what maybe the strongest influences on their thinking. Ms. Arellano and Mr. Cook seem to be focused on the education system not the students’ learning. Their organizations have their impact on the education structure, on delivery, on spending; they don’t deal with the students and how they learn. They appear to ignore the importance of the student’s role/responsibility in learning, the barriers they face, even the successes they have; their only interests seems to be Lansing, spending, and teachers. I wonder why, if Ms. Allerano and Mr. Cook were focused on student learning, they didn’t include in their article a description of how their ideas would specifically create student successes. I wonder if they could describe what successful student (K-12) learning looks like. For without the vision of success how could they claim what they are promoting would achieve it.
Ken Ballard
Fri, 04/25/2014 - 12:02am
I'd like to use Finland as an educational example, from what I can best remember. The parents send their children to school having positive expectations. They start their educational life at seven years of age, not less than five as many propose. They start children at seven so more children are able to handle the understanding of the beginning basics of knowledge. The teachers are encouraged to be innovative and have the respect level of doctors and lawyers. The administrators are required to also teach at least one class them selves. Testing is considered counterproductive until the end of the school year. What we have here is a chain of inter-relative steps on the road to solid education. We need to have parents supporting the system, children who know they are expected to apply themselves, teachers who feel the support, administrators who are hands on and aware of the need to coordinate efforts, and lastly legislatures that either have a grounding in real education or willing to educate themselves.
Fri, 04/25/2014 - 9:27am
Over the last 30 40 years the average education/training level of our teachers has done what? Yet we hear we're not getting the results we're looking for? So now we need additional training? So is it likely that expecting the answer from the same Educational Establishment Complex that has been leading the program all along is suddenly going to give us the answer? Is it possible that we're so far off the track and our problems so foundational yet possble solutions are so opposite to this establishment thinking that they will never be considered?
Sun, 04/27/2014 - 11:01am
I am a middle aged adult who was not identified with learning disabilities (until my middle 40's). I graduated from HS without being provided any special education growing up. Later I graduated from college but it took me longer than most because I could only manage a few classes at a time. I understand there are students that need special education services. However, for students that are intelligent but learn differently, the special education label does them a disservice. In my experience as a parent, it is very frustrating when general education teachers do not understand the meaning of full inclusion, the difference between accommodations and modifications, and their responsibilities under the law to provide the necessary accommodations. However I do not blame them. I believe administration is more committed to balancing their budget, then to help every child be successful. The sad thing is, that many supports that help different learners, don't cost anything and would also help all students. Therefore I don't understand why the resistance. I believe that if schools would invest time to partner and collaborate with parents and the community, students would be more successful.
Mike R
Mon, 04/28/2014 - 5:50pm
I see here a lot of the same old blah blah from some of the same old anti-teacher/anti-union/anti-education commentators. No solutions, no ideas, nothing positive or useful; just the same attacks about how broken is our system, how lazy are our teachers, how wasteful and incompetent are our administrators, how corrupt are the unions, and how we get nothing for our money. Please, for the sake of all of us, just say "Ditto" or something else Limbaughesque and spare us the repititious, counter-productive, pointless Luddite venting and we'll simply fill in the blanks after your name.
Mon, 04/28/2014 - 7:30pm
I am not sure if the previous comment was in response to my post. However if it is, I would like to clarify that I am not anti-teacher, administrator, etc. I have friends and family that are educators and I have the greatest respect for the profession and the work they do. However, it is my belief that education is at a critical point in our history. With the speed and growth in technology and the sad state of our current economy, it seems that schools would welcome the support, and open to collaboration with families and communities. While my post-secondary education is in another field, I have attended hundreds of hours of training that provided direction instruction on topics that would qualify as continuing education credits in the teaching field. My efforts to take information back to my local district or offer ideas/ suggestions founded on evidenced based practices, my ideas were either ignored or dismissed without consideration. I believe that everyone has ideas to contribute and should at least be afford the opportunity to have those ideas heard. Perhaps if more people opened there mind and hearts instead of going on the attack or getting defensive, our society would be more accepting of diversity and see the value of working together. I understand as people we are only human and it takes continuous work to set aside our closely held beliefs to expand our own perspectives. I think it is important to keep in mind that we all have the same goal of providing children with a good education. We also need to remember that a good education should not only focus on academics and should not stop when students exit the school building.
Ned Curtis
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 2:09pm
I am ashamed of the MEA and Education-Midwest...we accept an irrational system of evaluation one-third based on incoming raw material AND we don't even debate the Common Core at a time when it is being re-visited around the country. We already have them, but what plans I have NOT heard yet for students who do not satisfactorily meet the Common Core testing and don't have a SPED disability? What about this group that is about to grow. Don't tell me Title I remedial, as that will be gone due to failure of the school to achieve. That is part of the "punishment" or "motivation" for schools to achieve under NCLB and Race to the Top. This corporate reform effort will be evaluated in the future and it will not be favorable.