Maybe the best things that can be said about the current “lame duck” session of the legislature is that it gives lawmakers a chance to make amends for purely political posturing before the election and to take a shot at actually governing in the interests of the state.
A case in point has to do with two state house-passed bills now awaiting action in the state senate that would benefit hundreds of thousands of Michigan elementary and high school students by improving teaching and learning.
They are officially known as House Bills 5223 and 5224, and they are “tie-barred” together, so that one cannot be passed without the other. In a legislature too often paralyzed by partisan infighting, these two are among the very few that have bipartisan support.
These bills will tie a lower but still significant portion of teacher and administrator evaluations to student growth and assessment in the next few years, and would specify a number of complementary tools to help improve teacher performance, including classroom-tested models for reliably evaluating educators and a mentoring system for teachers who are having problems.
The aims of those behind these bills are backed up by two years of research and powerful testimony of other states with demonstrated track records of school improvement. They’re supported by experts, teachers and ordinary citizens. With encouragement from Gov. Rick Snyder, and votes from both sides of the aisle, they passed the House in May.
But the Senate has yet to take action, and this holiday season and lame-duck session offers a great opportunity for our lawmakers to give a lasting gift to Michigan students and parents by taking an important step to improving our schools. I urge Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), widely respected as a thoughtful and well informed chair of the Senate Education Committee, to move both bills to the Senate for passage and signature by the governor.
The reasons to do so are, in my view, overwhelming:
First, these bills do what the people of Michigan want. Last year, the Center for Michigan released “the Public’s Agenda for Public Education,” a report based on 250 community meetings and two statewide polls involving more than 7,500 diverse Michigan residents. The Center found a powerful public mandate in favor of improving teacher preparation and at the same time in support of holding teachers accountable for student success.
These two bills meet these public priorities through intensified teacher evaluation and investment in ongoing educator training.
Second, these bills do what other states with better success than Michigan’s in improving their schools are doing. Bridge Magazine filed reports from Tennessee and Florida offering first-hand looks at how these states have registered greatly improved student achievement by intense teacher evaluation and lasting teacher training.
Third, Michigan’s teacher training system isn’t very good and badly needs improvement. Bridge Magazine’s 2013 report, “Building a Better Teacher, set out the details: University teacher training programs generally have very weak admission standards. New teachers are plopped down in front of a class with very little practical experience. And the most inexperienced teachers are generally shunted off to Michigan’s poorest schools.
The legislature has already moved to improve Michigan’s teacher qualification exams. But intensifying teacher evaluation and boosting ongoing teacher training are also important parts of a comprehensive solution.
State Representatives Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) and Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) together developed house bills 5223 and 5224 in a terrific example of bipartisan collaboration to solve big problems. Their work was widely praised when the House passed the bills earlier this year. The Senate can earn similar applause by passing both before final adjournment at the end of this month.
It’s a great opportunity for lawmakers to leave Lansing feeling they’ve accomplished something that should pay enormous dividends for hundreds of thousands of Michigan students for years to come.