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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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