State needs Senate to pass bipartisan bills to improve teacher evaluation and training

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.

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Tue, 12/09/2014 - 10:10am
Phil, Do these bills specify anything about measuring the growth of various subgroups or are they just using aggregate data for evaluations? We need to make sure than no group is being left behind in growth. One group that often ignored in the classroom and not given the curriculum and instruction needed to grow is gifted students. If we want this state to be on the road to economic prosperity, the top 5% needs education aimed at them. Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, underscores the power-law distribution in stating that the top 1 percent produce nearly 20 times the per capita output of the bottom half in many measurable undertakings. At the level of nations, Heiner Rindermann and James Thompson examined cognitive ability data sets from over 90 countries to show that average IQ is essentially the decisive factor in human capital and that it is really the top 5 percent—or the normal smart—of a country's population that has the biggest impact on that nation's wealth. (Quote from I would love to see Bridge Magazine address the current state of gifted education in Michigan. In most districts, it has been cut completely or only lip service is paid. Gifted athletes still get good funding and often great facilities, but they will not make significant economic contribution to our state. Gifted learners are lucky to receive scraps. Often the teachers are the only ones who provide help for gifted learners - because the state and the districts sure aren't!
Steve Smewing
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 6:22pm
I can tell you it is a drag. I am/was one of those students. I was always bored out my mind with how painfully slow things progressed in classes. The most I could do was to take all the highest level courses that were available even if they were not of much interest. I still slept through many classes. Even at the college level this continues. When I was getting my last 2 years of my bachelors degree what helped me is I turned both student and tutor. It was a great leadership exercise as I got to make those around me better. The moral of my brag story is... sometimes you have to find your challenges. I learned a life lesson in that I was able to read the struggles of those around me and then formed a plan to bring them along. In a finance class I was in I took my classmates from their first test scores of c-d's to a-b's. It did not help that we had a horrible instructor, I self taught by reading the text book and passed that on in a form my classmates could get.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 11:10am
Steve Smewing December 10, 2014 at 6:22 pm Steve, well done! I am a tutor as well. I started tutoring for much the same reason about 20 years ago. I found that I can work with 2 or more students at once, by pairing them up as twins and preparing something written for them to go over one-on-one to each other. Are there any tricks you have learned? Leon
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 11:34am
Sadly, we're still waiting for some legislation to get the charter school mess under control and some major accountability and transparency on the spending of so much of our tax money. Phil - this needs some pushing. Please. Unless you're a big fan of the 'race to the bottom' charters where teachers are essentially burger slingers (at the same wages).
Chuck Fellows
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 11:51am
The only "mess" in my view is our unwillingness to set aside beliefs and consider the evidence starting with the 1,782 shall statements in PA 451 of 1976 which is only one of the many Public Acts governing the reporting and activity of public charter schools and traditional public schools. They are subject to the same rules, state monitoring and enforcement. After many days and hours of reviewing the law and investigating the actual reporting and transparency available for both Charter and Tradtional public schools it may become apparent the barriers to mindful and authentic learning are created and enforced by the system of education, not the teachers, not unions, not students, not parents or any of the other usual suspects reported by all sides of the conversation. Sir Ken Robinson makes a profound statement in his brief video, "How Schools are Killing Creativity" and describes the factory model used by educators (as differentiated from teachers) to insure the production of compliant adults in the RSAnimate video "Changing Education Paradigms". (
Chuck Fellows
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 11:38am
“You have to listen to the river if you want to catch a trout.” Performance review is not an event, it is an ongoing process of collecting objective and subjective information over time Effective and Meaningful Performance Review Process Materials Required: Blank sheets of lined paper three hole punched. Binder to hold sheets. Pencil. Eraser. Process: Place direct reports name at the top of the sheet. No more than six direct reports. Once daily look at each direct reports sheet and if any comment comes to mind write down the date and your comment. No more than fifteen minutes to review all sheets. Allow that specific direct report to view their sheet (only theirs) and add any comments they might have. Take necessary action based on information gathered – don’t wait. Expectations: Avoids unintended isolation of a direct report. Lowers stress at performance review time. Capture information as close to the actual event as possible. No surprises. Issues can be identified and problems corrected early. Accurate information and balanced dialogue over time. Irrefutable documentation to support any action taken. Outcomes: A productive performance dialogue focused on children learning. Increased productivity, timeliness, fairness and proactive behaviors.
Tony Duerr
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 12:52pm
Efforts to improve teacher evaluation are laudatory. Using student achievement as a component is a complex and disputable matter. Improving teacher training and working conditions should remain a focus. As someone who has had some experience in this area the greater problem is not identifying the weak teachers (everyone knew who they were) or weeding them out but is retaining the good ones.
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 2:30pm
Tony, What would be your suggestions for retaining good teachers? I'm thinking of methods that aren't aimed at all teachers, good and weak, but specifically good and great teachers. While there are areas like improving teacher training and working conditions, they affect the profession in general, but don't necessarily retain great teachers. What if it were something like this? The teachers make $125,000 per year, but that comes with huge expectations. The average class size is 31 students. About one-third of new teachers at TEP charter school are not hired back for a second year. I'm not sure if that is reproducible on a statewide level though. They do a nationwide search for teachers. In any field, finding the really great ones can be difficult and not all companies can hire the best because the talent pool is limited.
Charles Richards
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 5:05pm
The problem is that we have a system of adverse selection when it comes to teachers. If everyone is paid according to certification and seniority, there is no room to pay more talented, able teachers more than the average or less than average teacher. The talented, superior teacher is underpaid for his contribution compared to other teachers, gets fed up and moves on to a situation where his contribution and ability is adequately rewarded. The mediocre, less talented individual, protected by the union and tenure, recognizes that he has a very good situation for his level of skill and makes a career of it. Thus the system self selects for mediocrity. The answer is to give significant raises to the talented, superior individuals and deny increased pay (except for cost of living) to the average, and deny even cost of living raises to the below average. And pay teachers according to the scarcity of their particular skills. Professors of Management at the University of California at Davis make three time as much as English teachers. A good Math teacher with a Masters in Math (not a Masters in teaching math) should easily make twice what a gym teacher makes.
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:47am
The mediocre, less talented teachers AREN'T protected by the unions or tenure. Both the tenure rules and union contracts give simple, easy directions to fire them if they aren't doing their jobs. Your comment reflects ignorance about the situation in schools. Admittedly, it's an ignorance you share with lots of people, and it's one that's been widely spread on purpose by misleading propaganda, but you're still commenting as if you understand something that you don't.
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 1:23pm
Eric, I believe most of us have experienced at least one mediocre and less talented teacher and several of us have had experiences with bad teachers. If the old rules and evaluations were sufficient to remove them, why were they still there? This isn't propaganda. This is personal experience.
Steve Smewing
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 6:30pm
I don't know where the poster who said the other was ignorant comes from. I have seen many tenure instructors that were completely horrid. The college acknowledged the problem but said they had little they could do and this instructor was the only one to be able to teach the courses. Then in another course latter in my life I had to tutor my classmates while I was taking the course. It was a dual campus situation and my campus dean was bcc in all my correspondence with this instructor and backed me all the way. The best he said he could do is hope that he can stop it from happening the next semester. I also took the chalk away from a tenured instructor to do a problem on the board for him because he was doing it wrong. So who is ignorant?
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 12/14/2014 - 12:35pm
Jax and Steve, Of course we have all encountered bad teachers personally or from our kid's experience. There is a difference between college and k-12. Tenure in college is more about publishing and many professors are there to publish. Tenure is no longer an issue in Michigan, but we know that will not solve the problem. Superintendents and principals are responsible for ensuring schools hire and fire teachers appropriately. Unfortunately, I haven't found that they really know who the worst teachers are. They may complain that it is too hard, but it is their job. Maybe part of the problem is that many Superintendents are recycled over and over from other districts in Michigan. Very rarely are superintendents hired who don't have experience in the same system that keeps spitting out the same superintendents. Need new blood and new ideas. Principals most frequently come from sports programs and they have more immediate problems than evaluating teachers. So I am for weeding out the really bad teachers, but we have to make sure we know who they are. I also have had bad teachers, but later realized that it was probably me and my attitude at that particular time in my life. I also know that a good teacher for me would probably not be the same for someone else. I have always wondered why my math teachers were so bad and my English teachers were so good. Hmmm. Guess maybe it was more about me than them?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Thu, 12/11/2014 - 11:15am
Eric December 10, 2014 at 11:47 am Eric, could you please give me an example from each, of the wording from the Tenure Rules and the Union Contracts that you are referencing? I may be uninformed as well. Thanks, Leon
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 3:43pm
The evaluations are doing little to improve teaching. They are just adding more work for administrators. The new evaluations are costing millions of added dollars for training. That money would have been better spent on school supplies.
Chuck Jordan
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 8:59pm
In this system would the Meap or Smarter Balanced test have to be given at the beginning of the school year AND at the end? How would that evaluate teachers teaching classes not related to Meaps or Smarter Balanced? Value Added Model (VAM) has been discredited by most all education and statistics professionals. More standardized testing, more time dedicated to teaching to the test, and money diverted from teaching would not lead to better teaching or student learning. Professional educators and mentors evaluating and encouraging teachers to improve their craft would work, but the evaluators have to be trained and given the time to do the job. Student learning and teaching need to be improved, no doubt, but education reformers and politicians have no idea what they are doing. I also doubt most teachers support the kinds of teacher evaluation that are coming. In Tennessee many of the best teachers have lost their jobs or gotten out of education and the teachers who teach to the test to raise test scores are rewarded. Test scores and student learning are not synonymous. This new evaluation system would also not help districts with fewer resources. Just the opposite. Poorer districts are more likely to teach to the test with skills and drills and have trouble attracting the best teachers. The best teachers are punished for teaching in a district where their chances of raising test scores are least likely. Those are the good teachers who will leave. Getting the best teachers (more difficult to quantify than anyone realizes) into higher poverty districts and supporting those students would help students and teachers much more than any evaluation process. Teacher evaluation is needed, but the way our legislators (democrats and republicans) are going will cause more harm to students than good. This bill will not pay enormous dividends, only divert more time and money away from teaching and learning.
Richard Baker
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 9:27pm
Whats not talked about is the effect of the right work law that has emasculated the union and protections for teachers, They are now totally under the control of the principal and if he/she doesn't like you - your gone. Got to transfer and lose all seniority, got to give up your planning time (if you still have any) to "fill in" for the absent/sick teacher - no back talk now - you aren't acting as a team member, etc. The beatings will continue until you stop complaining. When did teachers become the public enemy, the whipping boy for all of our society's ills. They used to be respected, honored and looked up-to. Now they are the cause of our failures. Not good!!
Mary Kovari
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 9:31pm
Evaluations will only be as good or as bad as the school in which the teacher works. If a teacher works in Troy High School where students bring high social capital to the table, the teacher is able to leverage this capital to move student achievement forward. Expectations of parents to do this work well is another lever. Time, Space, Money and People are important but not as important as the students' social capital. Hence, evaluations will not be an issue even if based on student growth (unless you disaggregate based on special education/minority). In communities with high concentrations of poverty like Detroit, schools are organized to deliver instruction very much like they are in Troy except students bring little if any social capital into the classroom. Teachers struggle under weak leadership and systems to improve student achievement. Even the best teacher struggles in these kinds of systems. The question we should be asking is what would a highly effective school and classroom look like in high poverty neighborhoods? What would these systems know and be able to do to create career and college ready students? This is the place where the levers of time, money, people and space become critical. Training for teachers and school leaders is critical. But if we do not begin to address the issue of effective schools for high poverty students we will continue to struggle with evaluation results that mimic student achievement results based on class and race.
Tue, 12/09/2014 - 10:36pm
Mr. Power has framed our education system is a failure without these two joined laws. How can I not accede to such strong support, not agree that the teacher is where the burden for student education lies, not understand that the teacher support people need a mandated tool to manage the classroom practices, not believe that without this legislation the students fail? Yet I pause wondering how the politics of promoting this legislation are different than the past. I wonder about why there are no Michigan successes, no mention where the elements of the legislation are being practiced. I wonder when 97% of the teachers are rated well, suddenly it is the teachers and not the support system/programs/protocols that require legislative focus. I wonder about what isn’t mentioned; how a teacher will use this personal evaluation tool, how it will allow the teacher to gather needed supplies, how it will establish needed learning havens in classrooms and schools, how it will provide effective programs and protocols. I wonder if Mr. Power will describe, “…should pay enormous dividends for hundreds of thousands of Michigan students for years to come…”, what and how we should measure these ‘enormous dividends’. Is this the same old politics so elected officials can “leave Lansing feeling they’ve accomplished something”, and the proponents simply ignore results, claim success, and move on to the next topic forgetting how important they claimed this legislation was? Should we wonder how others approach individual success when it is so critical to organizational success or should it always have to be done by Lansing with more laws?
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:50am
The old evaluations were more than adequate to remove bad teachers from the profession, and required enormously less time and effort to complete. The changes we've already made have made evaluations worse. The road we're on would make them worse yet. It sounds self-evident to people who know nothing about education or testing that student results can help you evaluate teachers; everyone who knows anything about education and testing realizes it just isn't so. But we keep getting more paperwork, more hoops to jump through, and more garbage data added into the evaluation process by politicians who don't know what they're doing, who've sold a fantasy of bad teachers protected by tenure and union membership to the public. Put the evals back to the way they were, and that'd be an improvement. This is just a further decline in quality.
Ralph Skinner
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 8:00pm
Why not let the professionals (the teachers and administrators) who are much better trained and qualified in their profession do their own peer review. Isn't that how professionals tend to do things. I know that the legislators think they know all (with their reliance on out-of-state large dollar donations from the educational reform set) but experience shows they know naft all when it comes to education! The notion that teacher preparation at college isn't good enough may be true but by the time someone has been teaching 3 - 5 years (even if they have been teaching for 15) they still aren't professionals in the eyes of the legislature. Funny how everyone seems to speak as if there were no standards before the legislature started screwing around with introducing the corporate crowds standards into the mix. A country that doesn't respect teachers is destined to be a country that needs more law enforcement so get busy. So, if you want to focus on raising the bar for a profession or creating one, why not focus on minimum qualifications and ongoing training for law enforcement officers? I understand that in some places all that is required to enter that profession is a GED, passing a twenty-five to fifty question psychological survey, physical fitness, and an ability to get a concealed weapons permit.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:57pm
Ralph Skinner December 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm You said, "Isn’t that how professionals tend to do things?" No. In my world that is not how professional do things. They do things by contract. A customer says what they want in a contract and the professional takes it or not. If the agreed to contract is not met, there is hell to pay. What happens if we leave out of a teacher contract what we really want? 50% of the 'graduates' have to take remedial courses before they can take their first college level course. 50% of those never arrive at that first college level course. 80% of the 'graduates' have to take remedial courses before they can begin a STEM or highly technical major in college. 50% of college graduates are not employed in their major immediately after college. Best regards, Leon L. Hulett, PE
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 12/10/2014 - 11:16pm
Phil, I have a suggestion for the Center. You said, '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.' I first must ask, to what end? What specific end will satisfy this powerful public mandate? What end will best encompass teacher preparation and teacher accountability for student success? These two bills before the Senate? This is my suggestion, as a way the Center can frame this powerful mandate, and best accomplish a great step forward for Michigan. It may not be this lame duck session that accomplishes all this. Let's say exactly what we want teacher's to accomplish. Let's suggest to teachers how best to accomplish the reason they took up teaching. Let's tell Principles exactly how they can help teachers accomplish all this, as well as how they can make their activities most meaningful. Let's tell School Boards a way they can hire teachers, and with the power of the entire school behind them, they can accomplish this high goal for education before us all. Let's dialog with neigh-Sayers well enough to accomplish a great thing. When teachers bind themselves to their hiring contracts each year they could say, "I have the knowledge and skills to bring each child in my charge up to grade level [as required by the Michigan Constitution] by the end of the school year, or I will hire a tutor to accomplish this before the beginning of the next school year." Obviously, their Principal, has to match students to such teachers successfully. This tells everyone what level of teacher preparation [and resource availability] is needed. This constrains Principals as to what level of students can be successfully assigned to any teacher who makes this level of commitment to the school and community. [He may have certain students and no one with the knowledge and skills to make such a commitment, for that student.] And, what students can be assigned to teachers who can not make this level of commitment. This constrains School Boards as to what level of teacher qualification is required for successful students [at this level] to meet their school Mission Statement. This, or the lack thereof, tells parents exactly what they can expect on the first day of school. For example; if their school does not support this notion, then every parent will know quite clearly they have been left adrift, without such a school commitment to excellence, that 'social promotion' will be Job One for their beloved. If the Senate could accomplish as much as this one suggestion, they will have accomplished much this year. If the Center can embrace any path with as much promise, they will deserve our praise and admiration. Any teacher, right now, may choose these words when they make their next commitment to our children. Any school board that hires teachers, could hire such teachers. Any neigh-Sayer may raise a howl. Any force-majeure may stop this suggestion utterly in its tracks. But could the interests of any student be better served, than by this suggestion? Best regards, Leon L. Hulett, PE
Jeff Salisbury
Mon, 12/15/2014 - 8:40pm
Michigan ACT score are higher than both Florida and Tennessee. Both Michigan and Tennessee require 100 percent of their students to take the ACT. Florida has about 75 percent of high school students take the ACT annually. Of course, in all fairness Michigan has fewer people living in poverty than both Florida and Tennessee. When it comes to testing (evaluating) classrooms teachers, I am not sure what the "aim" is - perhaps to have Michigan students score even higher in the ACT. Much ado about nothing.