How a single, powerful senator killed serious reform of teacher evaluation

On a warm day in Ann Arbor in August 2013, a small group of educators attended a cookout at the home of Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education.

For two years,the group had gathered at the behest of the Michigan Legislature to research teacher evaluation systems from around the nation, looking for ways to improve classroom teaching in Michigan. They’d just published an exhaustive report they believed would help turn around Michigan’s flailing public schools, which had fallen to the bottom rung of schools nationally. With their work done, the group expected their recommendations would soon be made into state law. There were brownies, toasts and pats on the back.

“I remember saying we should get back together in a few months when the bill passes,” David Vensel, principal of Jefferson High School in Monroe, said recently of the work of the group, known as the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness.

“Now, it’s two years later.”

Today, the group’s cutting-edge efforts to improve teacher accountability, which seemed like a sure bet as recently as five months ago, have been essentially gutted. A central provision of their recommendations – to rid the state of its patchwork of local, often useless evaluation models in favor of rigorous statewide criteria – is gone from a new bill now before the House. Even some who support the watered-down bill privately admit it likely will do nothing to improve education for Michigan students.

The new bill, created and championed by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, would allow local school districts to continue to create their own standards for evaluating teachers, despite the recommendations of Ball’s group, despite research showing the benefits of tougher, more consistent standards in other states, and despite a clear public mandate for increased teacher accountability.

“Quality is a statewide issue,” said a frustrated Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, a fervent supporter of more rigorous evaluation standards. “When it comes to evaluations, we need to have statewide standards.”

This is the story of how a critical education reform, which enjoyed broad support among state education associations, education experts, the governor’s office and legislators in both parties, was undone by a lone lawmaker ‒ Phil Pavlov, the powerful chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

MORE COVERAGE: Ball Q-and-A: Michigan kids ‘will lose’ with weak teacher evaluation bill

Bridge Magazine interviewed 20 people involved in efforts to build a rigorous statewide teacher evaluation system over the past four years. Many did not want their names revealed because they are still involved in negotiations over teacher evaluation. Some spoke of frustration with a process they contend is fraught with politics, self-interest and mistrust, and in which what was best for children was seldom discussed.

Public hearings begin this morning in the House Education Committee on Senate Bill 103, Pavlov’s bill, which if passed would allow school districts across the state to continue to create their own evaluation tools, without any state-mandated standards.

If SB 103 passes the House and is signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, four years of negotiating for more robust teacher evaluation will end as it began: with no coherent system for assessing teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, and no way to ensure that struggling teachers are identified so that they can get the training and support they need to improve.

Why teacher evaluation matters

The fate of teacher evaluation legislation is critical for Michigan schools, which now rank in the bottom tier of public schools across the nation. It is widely acknowledged that no single factor inside schools has a bigger impact on student achievement than the quality of classroom teachers. For example, studies have shown that low-income students who are given access to a succession of highly effective teachers are able to close learning gaps with more affluent students. And yet Michigan schools have had no reliable system for determining which teachers are rock stars and which may be failing their students, year after year.

Before the Legislature first took a stab at improving teacher evaluation, some districts had not evaluated teachers for years. In others, evaluation often consisted of a principal spending a few minutes in each teacher’s classroom once a year, marking boxes on a checklist then delivering the results to the teacher.

The result: teachers were given little meaningful feedback on classroom performance, much less the tailored training and collaboration with colleagues that would help them boost classroom performance.

And across much of Michigan, nearly all teachers were being told they were doing just fine, even in schools where students were failing miserably.

That’s why in 2011, the Michigan Legislature, including Pavlov, worked closely with Gov. Snyder to reform the state’s teacher tenure laws, as well as evaluation, to hold teachers more accountable. Under the state’s tenure reform, schools were given more flexibility to pick and choose which teachers to lay off based on evaluations, rather than the number of years they’d taught.

But those reforms addressed only the broad outlines of how teacher evaluation should be carried out. For example, the 2011 legislation called for part of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student growth during the school year, but left for later what kind of system would most reliably capture student improvement.

Other states had already started this journey, investing in sophisticated systems so that truly great teachers could be identified and rewarded for their work, while average or struggling teachers were given the tools to get better. Those teachers whose performance showed they just couldn’t cut it were eased out of the profession.

Creating such a system for Michigan was the mission of UM’s Ball, a national expert on teacher training, and her group. It was also the strong sentiment of Michigan residents.

Community conversations and polling conducted by The Center for Michigan found overwhelming support for increased teacher accountability, while also providing better support for educators.

As Bridge has reported, that’s what was happening in leading education reform states like Florida and Tennessee, whose students have lead the nation in academic improvement.

In Tennessee, schools choose from among evaluation models selected by the state. Districts can tweak those models to fit their needs, but the evaluations must be based on one of the four state-approved models.

“You really need rigorous guidelines and reporting,” said Sharon Roberts, Chief Operating Officer for SCORE, the State Collaborative On Reforming Education, an education reform organization in Tennessee. “What we learned loud and clear is you need a set of guidelines that are agreed upon … and rigorous reporting to ensure fidelity going forward.”

That would not happen under the Pavlov teacher evaluation bill now in Lansing. In his bill, local school districts would be allowed to retain virtually the same systems that as recently as 2012 still ranked 99 percent of teachers as effective or highly effective.

Sen. O’Brien co-sponsored the tougher teacher evaluation bill last year when she was in the House. She voted against Pavlov’s evaluation bill, as did four additional Republican colleagues of Pavlov’s in the Senate. His bill nonetheless passed the Senate 22-15 in May, and is now being considered in the House.

‘Local control’ or bust

Pavlov’s senate district covers the eastern shore of the Thumb, from St. Clair County on the south to Huron County on the north. He graduated from St. Clair High School, and took classes at St. Clair Community College without earning a degree. He ran a heavy truck sales and repair business before coming to Lansing.

Now 52, Pavlov said his motivation for removing state standards from teacher evaluation is simple: his bedrock belief in local control of education.

In an interview this week, Pavlov expressed doubts about the state Department of Education’s (MDE) ability to manage and enforce teacher evaluation standards.

“If you put the Department of Education in charge of this for all school districts, you are setting yourself up for failure,” Pavlov said. “The Department of Education is not equipped to handle teacher evaluation.”

He chafed at the suggestion that state “bureaucrats” should choose evaluation systems for public schools. Actually, the systems were chosen by Ball’s group, the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness, after being piloted in 13 Michigan school districts.

Though the council was created by the Legislature, Pavlov expressed concerns about the impartiality of the council, whose recommendations followed two years of study and cost more than $6 million.

“Any time you throw $6 million or $7 million at something, you have to be careful they’re not gunning for a (specific) outcome,” Pavlov told Bridge.

Instead of “micromanaging from the state,” Pavlov said, “we need to concentrate on giving schools flexibility.”

Among his concerns is the wisdom and cost of requiring training for observing teachers in class. “Why don’t we let them determine at the local level what works best for them?” he said. “They’re the ones doing the evaluation. It’s hard to say that the Department of Education knows more about it than the local superintendents at the end of the day.”

Superintendents may be closer to the needs of their districts than outside experts. But, as Ball has noted, most local districts don’t have the time, money or expertise to create reliable tools for the consistent observation and rating of classroom performance, let alone being able to accurately measure a teacher’s impact on student learning.

“Although the idea of developing a tool specific to a school district might be attractive to some administrators, the vast majority of school districts are not equipped to conduct the level of research necessary to demonstrate that their ‘home-grown’ tool is valid and reliable,” Ball wrote in April. “Without such assurance of validity and reliability, districts and the state leave themselves in legal peril.”

In an interview this week, Ball was more pointed in her criticism.

“Saying ‘local control’ doesn’t really make any sense,” she said. “Why would it matter if you’re in Grand Blanc or Petoskey how you would lead a class discussion that gets all the kids to take a turn? Why would it matter what district you’re in when you want to assure somebody can explain how to add fractions? Those things don’t have anything to do with local districts.

“Nobody would say that about any other profession. It would be a little bit like saying all the hospitals in the state should have different practices for surgery because they know best who their patients are. Do you want your pilot in Petoskey to land differently than they land in Detroit?”

The holdout

Sen. Pavlov’s differences are not only with Ball and her council. Late last year, the senator found himself facing off against a room full of fellow Republicans.

It was December, and advocates for tough evaluation reform thought their three-year fight was near completion. A tough, bipartisan bill had passed the House 95-14 and was sent to the Senate in the lame-duck session.

The bill had the backing of virtually every education group in the state, including support from the MEA (the state’s largest teacher union), and the conservative-leaning Great Lakes Education Project (or GLEP), which supports the state’s charter school industry. Noted a lobbyist familiar with the effort, “it had a coalition like I’d never seen before and don’t expect to see again.”

With Republican leaders of the House and Senate and the state’s Republican governor also backing the measure, rigorous teacher evaluation appeared days from passage.

“We had 27 votes lined up” in the Senate, with only 20 needed to pass the bill, said one lobbyist who supported the tougher measure. But they didn’t have the one vote ‒ that of Pavlov ‒ needed to bring the bill to a vote in Pavlov’s committee before it went to the full Senate.

It was a standoff. Pavlov versus everyone.

The senator found himself in heated negotiations with the bill sponsors (Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, and then-Rep Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage), then-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and Dick Posthumus, the state’s former lieutenant governor and now senior advisor to Gov. Snyder.

According to several people familiar with the negotiations, everyone in the room wanted the original, beefed up evaluation bill to pass, except Pavlov. At one point, there was a heated exchange between Posthumus and Pavlov, and Pavlov broke off negotiations.

“It’s very unusual, when you have a room full of powerful people who all want a resolution, for one person to scuttle it,” said one person familiar with the meeting.

Shifting support

Some education groups that supported a stronger evaluation bill last year, have now thrown their support behind Pavlov’s bill this year. Groups that have signed on include numerous intermediate school districts, including those overseeing schools in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, as well as the Grand Rapids Public Schools, which ironically has a rigorous teacher evaluation model that is considered one of the best in the state.

Representatives from two groups acknowledged privately that their support for Pavlov’s watered-down bill wasn’t about which version would do most to improve student learning. They cited various other reasons:

Fear of state testing. If a teacher evaluation bill is not passed and signed into law this year by the governor, 50 percent of teacher evaluations will be based on student growth, as measured by tests. But standardized testing in Michigan is now in flux; last year, students took the MEAP; this spring, they are taking the M-STEP. The test may change again next year. In the bill sponsored by Pavlov, student growth on whatever statewide test MDE settles on will account for only 10 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in 2017-18, and 16 percent in following years, which many of these groups like.

Why should I pay for your evaluation system? Some districts developed extensive teacher evaluation models of their own, including some based on models recommended by Ball’s group. These districts don’t want the state monkeying around with their system. But they also don’t want to see the state hand over free evaluation systems to other districts when they had to pay for their own.

Fear of lawsuits. Some districts want to create their own evaluation systems without being forced to certify those systems are “valid and reliable.” So they support Pavlov’s bill, but are fighting a proposed amendment that would require them to certify their system is reliable. How would a district know, then, if its home-grown evaluation system was valid? “They wouldn’t,” said one lobbyist for a school group.

Other priorities. Some groups have other education issues that they care more about, such as allowing retired educators to work as substitute teachers and an expansion of how “sinking funds,” now used for repairs and construction, can be used. Those issues would remain on the back burner until the Legislature deals with teacher evaluation.

Exhaustion. “You can sense the fatigue on the issue,” said one person who has been involved in the issue for four years. “People are tired of talking about it. They want to move on.”

What the future holds

What changes will the current bill bring for Michigan students?

Not many, if it becomes law as written.

Pavlov’s bill “would not likely have a huge impact on student learning,” said Sarah Lenhoff, director of policy and research for Education Trust-Midwest, which helped write last year’s tougher evaluation bill and opposes the current version unless it is amended. “It allows so much flexibility that local districts could by and large do what they have been doing, which hasn’t produced variation in teacher ratings and hasn’t produced gains in student learning.”

Wendy Zdeb-Roper, executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, bemoans an opportunity lost if Pavlov’s legislation prevails.

“Schools that have a good evaluation system call it a game-changer,” she said. “The current bill will make no difference (because) there’s no criteria imposed on districts to make sure evaluation is rigorous and reliable.”

One education policy analyst expressed concern that leaving teacher evaluation in the hands of local districts will widen the gap between affluent and low-income districts.

Small and rural districts don’t have the resources to craft reliable evaluations, and there is little money to help implement such systems in their schools. “Maybe a district with 6,000 kids can muster some expertise, but what about smaller districts?” the policy analyst said. “We’re just telling people, ‘Best of luck, hope it works out for you, you’re all on your own.’

“The politics here and the right thing to do are not lining up well.”

Pavlov counters that his changes “don’t make it weaker, they make it workable. Less Lansing is better when it comes to teacher evaluation.”

Numerous people who spoke to Bridge hold out hope that the Pavlov bill will be strengthened by amendments in the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Amanda Price, R-Holland.

But the bill would then go back to the Senate for approval of changes. There, Pavlov could place more roadblocks to setting minimum state standards for teacher evaluation. And he seems prepared to do just that.

“Where we are right now,” Pavlov said, “is a split between what is a state role and what is a local role.”

That’s not how opponents of Pavlov’s bill say they see it.

“We came up with a fantastic product created by the best minds in education in Michigan that had a real chance of improving education in Michigan,” said one person involved in the debate. “We lost sight of that somewhere.”

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Thu, 06/04/2015 - 7:36am
This article assumes that evaluation and "accountability" are the single most, perhaps the only, important way to improve education. In reality these are superficial tools. When we try to produce better scientists or athletes, we focus on recruitment, training, and equipment. Why this assumption that teachers, unlike other professionals, just need to be measured more accurately and then punished or rewarded more intensely? Teaching is an immensely difficult job; I did it decades ago and have never lost my appreciation of those who still do. Our energy should go into helping them do their job and into making the field more attractive. This single-minded "test and punish" approach is Insulting and counterproductive. Applications to schools of education have plummeted. No surprise.
Matt G.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:27am
"Test and punish based on a bell curve" A.K.A. No Child Left Behind. "Test and reward while still punishing based on a bell curve" A.K.A. Race To The Top. There's no meaningful difference between Bush and Obama on education policy. These policies don't care about mastery of subjects or students learning to think and be creative...they care about ranking people against each other. It's ridiculous. People need to understand that the "standardized" in "standardized tests" doesn't mean "testing based on state/national standards". It means "standardized scoring" or ranked scoring. The items on the tests are constantly massaged and the weight of different items are changed in order to ensure scores will fit a bell curve. It doesn't matter how much the students have mastered the material because the tests are designed to always have winners and losers...and our higher education system and our culture are set up to reward those who "win" on the tests and punish those who lose.
Ron French
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:46am
Matt, that's why the recommendations made by the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness de-emphasized standardized tests in the evaluations, and instead focused on an area that research clearly shows makes a difference - effective, rigorous classroom observation and feedback by trained evaluators. that's the part that is at risk in the current bill being considered in the Legislature.
Charles Richards
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 6:21pm
I have never seen any credible evidence that the state standardized tests are "massaged" to result in a bell curve distribution of results. It may be that the scores are normally distributed, but that is not evidence that anyone has not been given full credit for their mastery of a subject. Matt G. says, "It doesn’t matter how much the students have mastered the material because the tests are designed to always have winners and losers…and our higher education system and our culture are set up to reward those who “win” on the tests and punish those who lose." There are always winners and losers in any competition, and that is his real complaint with tests. His objection is to people being "ranked." But how else are we to know how well students have been taught except with tests?
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 7:43am
Scores are aggregated and "massaged" by application of z scores to normalize the results - AKA fit it to the bell curve. There is absolutely no assessment of variation or any attempt to determine special or common cause. The scores produced are the result of common cause dysfunction, the design of the educational system which has not materially changed in 100 years. No "Mastery" is indicated by testing short term memory and providing essay answers to laundered questions graded by minimum wage employees. That's how this system works, not to mention is ignores the important part, the context the child arrives from and lives in. Standardized tests, ranking and rating, rewarding and punishing - these "tools" do not work and there is no evidence that they ever had except for the battlefield where it kill or be killed. And that is absolutely no solution to anything.
Wayne O'Brien
Mon, 06/08/2015 - 9:42pm
Chuck, I think that you are making a critically important point here, when you point to "...common cause dysfunction, the design of the educational system which has not materially changed in 100 years." In the excellent article by Harvard's Susan Moore Johnson (suggested and linked by Nancy Flanagan in comments under the accompanying article), James Coleman (1988) is quoted as he discussed social capital "inheres in the structure of relations between actors and among actors." (p. S98)....Moore was actually referencing this Coleman quote because she was making a point about the importance of the relationships between school personnel (teachers, administrators, etc.) But there is a much deeper issue that should not be missed relating to your "100 years of schooling in America" point and the educational revolution which began in the 70s in Finland. Here in America, we have for decades devalued the social capital that develops between teachers and their students. Every nine months, all that a teacher learns about his or her students (family bonds, learning style, educational accomplishments, learning challenges, etc.) is discarded when students move on to a new grade. The social capital aquired by the teachers during the school year is essentially lost every June. As part of the Finnish educational reforms, this crucially important social capital gained by teachers over the school year was no longer to be discarded. It actually became leveraged by the new system! Excellent, highly respected, teachers work with the same students from four to six sequential years in Finland. The student-teacher-parents/family social capital is very successfully leveraged -- benefitting the students, the teachers and the schools. These years-long valued-extended relationships enhance both teaching and learning enabling the teachers to be more innovative and creative as they tailor lessons and curriculum toward meeting the needs of the specific students who they have come to know and understand better and better year after year. Teachers there think of themselves as the students' "school parents"; a dimension of what they call "kasvatus" child-rearing----also the title of their (required-to-obtain) teaching masters degree. It is important for folks in Michigan to pay attention to world-wide success stories like this and to experiment with such specific proven-over-time innovations.
Charles Richards
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 5:59pm
Jandrel says, " When we try to produce better scientists or athletes, we focus on recruitment, training, and equipment." That is precisely what we are attempting to do with teachers. First, we are trying to select far more talented individuals than we have in the past; secondly, we are trying to train teachers by observing and testing how well they are doing, and then pointing out the areas where they are doing well and noting their weaknesses and advising them how they can correct those weaknesses; thirdly, we are trying to provide them with the tools and equipment they need in order to do their job well. I cannot see that Jandrel has a legitimate complaint about any of this.
Mon, 06/08/2015 - 2:33pm
Charles.... Yes, BUT this is the responsibility of the employer (local school boards) who hire, train, pay, and should evaluate their employees.
Jean Howard
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:00am
As a retired teacher, it is so sad to see something so important to education being stymied by one politician. This is a change that is sorely needed throughout the state.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:20am
And local control gives all teachers a 'very effective' rating. BS
Matt G.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:59am
Get involved with your local district, then?
Karen Bednarek
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:28am
All of the studies over the past 50 years point to economic status and specifically the educational level of the mother, as the major determining factor for educational achievement. The relentless repeated redundant testing of students and blaming and shaming of teachers as the " problem" is not research based and does nothing to address the real cause of academic failure-- "poverty". But it is cheaper for legislators who work 2.5 days a week, have way more vacation breaks than teachers to become instant "experts" on education. These legislators pretend to know how to educate our children and batter the hard working teachers who are obligated to work during their Summers to stay certified and in the good graces of their districts who treat them as at will employees with no tenure, no seniority and no job security, subject to the favoritism, cronyism, ageism, nepotism of non union businesses, to blame the teachers instead of addressing the real problem of poverty. I worked in education for 37 years and have been appalled by the abysmal deterioration of support for public education, the condition of the schools, the closing of schools, treatment of poor children and working conditions for teachers in the past 5 Republican led years of so called " reform". Wake up! Talk to teachers! Try actually sub teaching yourself or visit a school in Detroit or other poverty striken areas--then compare the conditions of the schools and educational opportunities in wealthy areas like West Bloomfield which recieves the highest school aid grant and tell me that it is the teachers fault.
Matt G.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:02am
Totally agree, Karen. I'm going to paste my response from the other Q&A article, because I think it's in line with what you're saying here. ================================================ “We have a very decentralized state (public school system), and every district was doing its own thing and we were paying the price in terms of the progress of our students. The language wasn’t about how do we respect local control; the language was how do we put Michigan on the map for taking hold of this question of how do we educate our children.” Quotes like this are very disappointing. This politically-motivated talk of “language” and reframing the debate is obnoxious. “Paying the price”…”taking hold of the question”…there’s nothing concrete being said here. If there’s so much “proven” study behind these ideas, why is that work not being communicated? I think the analogies between professions here are misguided. Students’ cultures are indeed different from place to place. A pedagogy that works in urban schools will not necessarily work in suburban schools or rural ones. Keeping teacher evaluation heterogeneous is democratic…homogenizing it is autocratic. What you are saying to districts by homogenizing it is “hey, you local guys can’t handle the responsibility and we think you’re doing it wrong, so we’re going to take it away from you”. Why is everyone so sure that’s the right choice? Why so much focus on teacher evaluation and not on the poverty that often is the root cause of students’ struggles? Here’s the most important point, though: Basing evaluations on standardized test scores is destined for failure. I can’t fathom why any teacher organization would support such a thing. What people don’t understand is that the “standardized” in “standardized testing” means that the scores are put onto a bell curve. This means that the composite scores do not reflect whether or not students have mastered the material, they measure the students against each other. This in turn means that even if every student in the country mastered 75% of the material in the curriculum, there would still be a “bottom 5%” of schools to label as failures. The current system of scoring GUARANTEES there will always be losers no matter how well the students do. This is a vast misuse of the bell curve and it is an undemocratic and unfair sorting system. ….and the bell curve system of scoring tells us what we already know: that poor test scores are highly correlated with poverty. Shocking! What teacher would want to teach in a poor urban district when they KNOW their students are more likely to have low test scores and that those scores will be prominently featured in their evaluations? Test scores as a part of evaluation provide a strong disincentive for any teacher thinking about working in a district with high poverty. The other problem I have with this discussion is the emphasis of correlating “student growth” with good teaching. I’ve never seen/heard anyone explain how these systems of evaluation deal with teachers whose students consistently perform well but don’t “grow” very much. And, as I stated earlier, “growth” in a bell curve measurement system is a zero-sum game. No matter how much the nation’s teachers and students actually master of their work, under this measurement system there will always be a “bottom 5%”. Instead of addressing these sorts of issues, we get vague politician-y generalities about “improving the quality of education for our state’s children”. It sounds like talk from someone running for office, not an expert trying to communicate the scientific and philosophical basis for their argument’s premises. Maybe my rhetorical questions have good answers, but they certainly haven’t been answered by anything I’ve read on the topic…this round of Bridge articles is no exception.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 12:34pm
Matt G, you have a very confused understanding of the statistics behind standardized testing. There is a huge difference between criterion-referenced and norm-referenced tests, and in neither case are any group of test-taking students "forced" into a normal distribution / bell curve to define the bottom 5% as failures. The point of a standardized test is to compare the student to a standard. The point of using student growth as a criterion for teacher evaluation is to see if the teacher was able to teach the student approximately one years' worth of material in a year. You complain that no "growth model" accounts for students who do well but show "little growth from year to year". You are entirely wrong in this assumption. The idea is that a completely average student with an average teacher should move from a 50th (or whatever) percentile 3rd grader to being a 50th (or whatever) percentile 4th grader. That means that, on average, every student should see at least one years' growth in mastery per year in school. If you have a kid whose incoming level is a 90th percentile 3rd grader who tests at the 50th percentile for 4th graders at the beginning of 4th grade, that student had a teacher who taught them little or nothing. To produce a years' growth across a school year, that 90th percentile student should stay at approximately the 90th percentile when they move to the next grade. School systems, students, teachers, and parents need to care about the results on standardized tests because they matter intensely in the students' future. Admission to colleges, universities and selective skilled trades training is heavily based on standardized test scores. Class placement within open-admission community colleges is based almost exclusively on standardized test scores. A single point can mean the difference between being required to take no-credit remedial classes before students can even begin to train for their desired careers. Teachers who can teach children so that their scores improve from year to year are extremely valuable to our communities. We need to use all the tools available to identify them and coach the other teachers to emulate them.
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 7:52am
What is aggregation of scores and generation of z scores? What is an average? What is "normalizing? All methods applied to the test scores produced whether they be criterion or norm referenced tests. Scores and averages from standardized tests are meaningless in a learning context. The data produced, a score, contains absolutely no actionable information to improve the process. That is a statistical fact. Basing even a tiny part of teacher evaluation on this type of data is worse than useless, it is harmful. Imagine a teacher has a group of students who all score poorly. Is that the teachers fault? A teacher can only work within a system designed by others. If the system design is defective and the assessment methodology is defective the question becomes, "What's the point in trying to teach?"
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 7:38pm
Will that standardised test fairly assess a teacher on the growth of a student who frequently misses class or performs poorly on tests due to anxiety? Will it fairly assess a teachers ability who teaches students with mild intellectual disabilities and causes them to learn far less than one year's worth of curriculum in a year? Who would want to teach this type of student if standardised tests measured teacher effectiveness. What of the student had a grudge against the teacher and decided to skip answers on the test just to get back at the teacher.... Too many falls with this form of teacher appraisal. Canadian teacher Andrew.
Matt G.
Mon, 06/08/2015 - 10:09am
Anna- "The point of a standardized test is to compare the student to a standard." This is incorrect. The "standardized" in standardized tests does NOT refer to WHAT the test is checking. This is a common misconception, and it is one I had until I took a course on assessment. For example, on the ACT, an 18/36 does not mean you got 50% of the answers right. It means you're dead average compared to the other test takers in your cohort (middle of the bell curve). The raw scores (hidden) are compared to other students and the 18/36 is part of that comparison. I realize it's confusing because the language of "state standards" and "common core standards" obfuscates what is actually done with scoring. Further, the ACT does not test any specific public curriculum (unlike the common-core-based tests). Call the companies that make up the ACT and SAT and ask to see the standards they're testing...they don't exist in written form.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:34am
"to blame the teachers instead of addressing the real problem of poverty" I agree with your assessment but some people would think that is a cop out and say I saw "Stand and Deliver", you teachers are just not trying hard enough. Around and around it goes.
Jim V
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:29am
Can someone please tell me how a semi-educated, truck repairman with little knowledge of the educational system, became the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee? The republican party needs to get their leadership straight if they plan to lead this state into the 21 century. The people of St. Clair should send this ignoble truck mechanic back to the garage. Isn't it ironic that ASE Master Mechanics need to pass a series of exams administered the national level to be certified, but Mr. Pavlov believes that a statewide system of assessing teachers is a bad idea? Maybe he didn't believe in rigorous assessment of his mechanics either.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:48am
Perfectly said, Jim. I can't even imagine how this knucklehead landed in this senior role. Now our kids can pay the price for years to come.
Matt G.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:14am
Students are not cars, Jim. (There's a Star Trek joke to be made here). Your analogy is misused. You're comparing a results for a profession where everything is standardized (cars) with one where students are most definitely not standardized (students). It's bizarre that people think these things are comparable. If mechanics were evaluated on repeated repairs of the same component on the same car (say, shocks/struts), would those mechanics be "failures" if they worked in an area with bad roads? Should we evaluate mechanics based on the average value of the cars they repair? Schools are not to be equated with businesses if you're trying to be fair.
Ron French
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:40am
Good morning Matt G. Yes, students aren't cars. But I'd still suggest that there can be value to research indicating what teaching methods improve student learning. That's what this policy effort is about - getting research-proven methods of classroom observation and feedback into schools. thanks for reading
Patricia Lang
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 1:51pm
Thank you to all who commented on poverty having a serious impact on student learning. Why do we not have equality in education?? I will never vote for another education bond issue until there is equality in education. I taught for 38 years in a district where parents did not value education. I live in a top ranked district. It is unfair to compare all children on the same standards and blame the teachers for lack of performance when the districts are not funded the same. Basing funding on property values only continues the inequality of education. Even if each child received the same amount of funding across the state you would still have the difference of cultural enrichment of well off parents and the poor nutrition of poverty level children to contend with. It is so stupid to say that this district is the very best when all it usually says is that the community is wealthier...
Mitchell Robinson
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 8:09am
Why? Matt makes a great point about the dangers of these forms of comparisons, and yet you persist in your belief that "there is something to be learned" by pursuing an obviously ridiculous approach. This is why teachers are so frustrated with this rhetoric--arrogant proclamations from "experts" who have never studied education or actually taught. We mock Mr. Pavlov for being a car mechanic and chairing the education committee--with good reason, BTW--and yet Mr. French continues to position himself as an arbiter of education policy. Stay out of policy discussions of which you know nothing, and leave the policies that govern teacher evaluation to the folks that actually know something about this topic.
Chuck Fellows
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 8:07am
Research based? If research was actually done proponents of standardized tests and metric based accountability and performance evaluation systems would cease their reliance on these methods and the metrics they produce. Despite writing to, meeting with, providing resources to politicians and academic bureaucrats the supervisors of our system of education rely on the psychometricians of Pearson Inc to provide methods to account for the trillion dollar annual expenditure for education in the US. Despite the efforts of organizations such as the Khan Academy, George Lucas Educational Foundation (Edutopia), the hated Gates Foundation, and schools such as High Tech High, Big Picture Schools, Mission Hill Schools, etc. etc. etc. they refuse to acknowledge there just might be a different way. If they did they would lose their source of income. Despite all the academic white papers and millions of pages of black ink on white paper these "researches' are wrong. They are justifying their comfort zone, nothing more (except for spending billions of taxpayer dollars). If you wish to know if a child is learning or a teacher is performing you must observe and listen, not dictate and judge. Do some of your own research. Read a very small book with large type, it's only 137 pages long and although it deals with statistics it is understandable. "Understanding Variation" by Donald Wheeler. SPC Press.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 12:12pm
As long as you hold all the Democrats (Conyers for instance) to this same standard I'm comfortable with it (a little), but otherwise...please stop. - Half the elected officials in Detroit (all Democrats in case you didn't know) are in charge of some level of municipal finance and either bankrupt or nearly so. - Watch any speech by the aforementioned Conyers from the last 20 years and tell me that he should be in charge of anything? There's rarely more than a few poorly strung together cliche's or snippets of the party line, much less grammar, syntax or logic.
Chuck Fellows
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:37am
Effective and Meaningful Performance Review Process Materials Required: Blank sheets of lined paper three hole punched. Binder to hold sheets. Pencil. Eraser. Process: Place one direct reports name at the top of each sheet. No more than six direct reports per supervisor/manager. 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 each day. 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. The above is a system that works, does not require extensive training (you just received yours) but does require practice and persistence. It assumes the supervisor/manager has meaningful classroom experience (meaningful = appropriately managed classroom experience). Those who have not had meaningful classroom experience must not be allowed to assess teacher performance. In the history of public and private organizations there have been many schemes tried, many similar to what the MCEE proposed, and all have failed to improve performance. If anyone wishes to really understand what it takes to produce a high quality effective system of anything read Ed Deming's "Out of the Crisis". He is no novelist but his philosophy of management, adopted by many of America's successful industrial and service competitors, works. This suggested method forces supervisors and managers to pay attention to the work of their employees, not interfere with the work of their employees nor does it require the setting of arbitrary goals or targets that cannot be achieved since the system prescribed by management does not support their achievement. And make no mistake, superintendents, principals and department heads are managers first and academics second. Leadership is not finding fault or placing blame. With all due respect to Dr. Ball and the members of the MCEE, I listened to your testimony and read your reports, interim and final, you quite simply do not have the experience or knowledge necessary to design a performance evaluation system - nor does the legislature. Outcomes? Metrics? Accountability? An effective way to waste billions of taxpayer dollars. The one assessment of schools is the demonstration by a student post graduation that they have learned and desire to continue learning. A continuing dialogue between and among teachers, their bosses, the students, parents and the community insures that outcome will be achieved. As an Irish saying proclaims, “You have to listen to the river if you want to catch a trout.”
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:45am
It's a real shame that our system is set up such that a single ignorant and stubborn legislator can scuttle a sensible reform bill developed by experts. And if he's not term limited, I expect he'll easily win reelection, thanks to gerrymandering. Wow.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:09am
How does a person who couldn't complete their own education become the Chairman of the Senate Education Committee? Thanks St. Clair Shores for electing a person who is obviously completely unqualified to even hold a State office.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 9:28am
In fairness to St. Clair Shores, Pavlov is from St. Clair County, specifically Marysville.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:31am
It is interesting that the argument of local control can be used to scuttle an educator evaluation process that has widespread bi-partisan and management and union support, yet school districts will not be allowed to exercise local control if they wish to make the schools gun-free zones.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:08am
The GOP is in favor of local control unless the locals impose control that conflicts with the politics of the GOP. As usual, no actual principles.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 12:14pm
The expectation is that once control is moved to the state or federal level that political correctness and pro-union bias will become the cornerstones of the program, as we've seen with so many other things that have gone that way, so that no one will read 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', but everyone will have to read, 'My Two Daddies'.
David Werner
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:26am
This article, although written about our educational system in Michigan - teacher evaluation, really points more to the drastic failure of our Michigan legislature - government at its worst. We continue to spiral down in those issues of vital importance to our future.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:36am
Jandrel, the first comment in this string, you said it all. Arguing about teacher evaluation is a tempest in a teapot. There are other much more important factors. It is disturbing, however, that once again our legislators ignored the recommendations of people who actually know about what works in education, choosing to decide the issue based on an ideology; less govt. is better. This has no basis in fact - certainly not as it relates to education. Teacher evaluation aside, the relevant issue is lack of effective leadership in education, and that begins with our legislature.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:06am
It's so frustrating to see otherwise progressive organizations and publications be cheerleaders for punitive rather than supportive school reform. I suppose because many Republicans oppose it (albeit for the reason of opposing any sort of federalism and not because it hurts children and communities), people think the reforms are progressive. This is neo-liberal economics at its worst and it applies to both parties (NAFTA, TPP, CAFTA, deregulation, privatization, etc.). Real progressives oppose these types of reforms because they know that once corporate interests dictate what is taught in our schools, the public will no longer be able to use critical thinking skills when making consumer and political choices. The assumption that children and the communities where they live are standardized defies both research and common sense. I have worked with many students who can not concentrate on tests and test prep because they are hungry and/or afraid to go to and from school due to the violence in their neighborhood. How is a teacher supposed to fix that and concentrate on the other 30 students they have?!?! Blaming teachers for not being able to overcome the challenges associated with poverty is even more absurd and is really just an attempt to create a false public narrative that unfortunately, is working (as evidenced by this article). By developing meaningless standards that do not account for the many variables that affect a child's ability to learn, corporate minded reformers are convincing the general public that we need to privatize more schools via charters and "turnarounds". It also drums up more support for the use of more TFA McTeachers who have 5 weeks of training, don't get paid as much, and are unlikely to join a union during their two year assignment. Our children deserve better than McTeachers, a curriculum that does not allow them to discover themselves, and tests, tests, tests, that research is showing is having a negative psychological impact on children. It's interesting that we do the exact opposite of the countries reformers like to compare the U.S. to in order to help create the false public narrative. Finland for example, treats the teaching profession the same as doctors and lawyers. Teachers do not even graduate if they are not able to effectively teach. We are also the only country in the world that uses standardized tests scores to justify closing schools and firing teachers. I'm not saying our public education system doesn't have issues. It would be great if we could adopt bottom-up policies to identify and address unique issues that exist within communities, families, and students. It's very odd that we elected a POTUS based on the whole "change from the bottom up" mantra, yet we beg for more top-down policies.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:53am
Why is evaluating a teacher assumed automatically to be punitive?
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 2:54pm
It shouldn't be but I suspect most teachers under this kind of system will feel that they are "on trial" so to speak, it does sound very intimidating. If a group of kids wanted to make life hell for a teacher they could act competely out of control while the evaluator is in the room.
david zeman
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:26pm
Dave, thanks for your perspective on this article and on the roles of the legislature (and the media) in helping to shape public perceptions of education policy. I feel like I should step in here to address some common themes running through some reader comments that I don't think square with this article or the reporting that went into it. First, Bridge (and by extension, the Center for Michigan) are not set up nor operated as progressive institutions. Bridge's niche and our mission is to provide nonpartisan reporting that is driven by data and research rather than by political ideology. That does not mean, however, that our reporting is wishy-washy. Sometimes, as here, our reporting has a stronger tone, but this is reserved for issues where were have already followed the research and reached evidence-based conclusions based on that reporting. Such is the case with educator evaluation. Moving to the substance of your criticism, it's my sense that you may have misunderstood the evaluation systems that Ball and the others are championing. If you read the council's report, you will see that the models they are pushing are aimed specifically at supporting teacher development, rather than punishing teachers for factors beyond their control. Agree with her or not, Deborah Ball has a celebrated national reputation for promoting policies that provide teachers with real feedback, while giving them more opportunities for collaboration with colleagues and tailored professional development that will raise their performance in the classroom, not scapegoat them for the damage done by absentee parents or the very real hurdles presented by poverty. That's why the article states that teacher performance is the most important IN-SCHOOL factor impacting student performance. That's what this article is about, examining policies within the schools that can lift Michigan from the bottom rung of states nationally. In addition, I feel compelled to point out that high-quality educator evaluation of the kind featured in this article does NOT rely solely, or even mostly, on standardized testing. The evaluation systems that Ball and her group are promoting rely on a host of measurements, including substantive classroom observations of teacher performance that also play a significant role in how teachers are rated. Certainly, there are many criticisms to be made of standardized tests, and you allude to some of them, but what can't be said is that Ball's group and Bridge's past and current reporting promote evaluations based exclusively on student testing. That is not the case. My guess is that the reason education groups across the political spectrum supported the more stringent evaluation bill from last year is because it offered features that both conservatives and progressives could get behind. For conservatives, including Sen. Pavlov, there was the promise of teachers being held more accountable for classroom performance. I think you will find little argument from anyone these days that school districts that give 99 percent of teachers the same, positive ratings each year, as many did and continue to do, are doing a disservice to both teachers and students. And that is true even if you believe that some conservative politicians may be motivated to use evaluation reform laws as a club to either fire or cut the salaries of public school teachers. For progressives, the benefits of high-quality teacher evaluation are many. As stated earlier, serious evaluation would involve deeper, more thoughtful examinations into individual teachers' strengths and weaknesses. That will allow schools to tailor professional development to the needs of each teacher, something that is impossible to do when every teacher in the building is rated "effective" or "highly effective." Such systems are also designed to promote more collaboration among teachers, and allow some districts to create what's known as "master teachers" who can help principals carry out classroom observations while also mentoring newer teachers or those who are struggling. In addition, as groups like the Education Trust-Midwest have pointed out, being able to more reliably identify truly high-performing teachers has benefits for the teaching profession as well as for the state's most vulnerable students. Under improved evaluation systems, superstar teachers will finally receive the acknowledgment and rewards they deserve, while taking on more of a mentoring role with colleagues. More importantly, studies have shown that low-income children and children of color are far more likely to be taught by inexperienced teachers, low-performing teachers, or teachers who are teaching outside their fields of expertise (i.e., a Spanish teacher teaching math) than students in more affluent school districts. If we can better identify high-performing teachers, we can craft policies that provide incentives for getting more great teachers to work in low-performing schools. Appreciate your thoughts and anticipated feedback to my remarks. Thanks for considering and thanks for reading Bridge. David Zeman Editor Bridge Magazine
Wayne O'Brien
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 2:31pm
The most pivitol point Dave made about looking to the Finnish model of world-wide success was neither acknowledged nor addressed in David Zeman's reply. The real elephants in the room seem to be enveloped in cloaking devices here in Michigan. Colleges of education have for decades produced more than twice as many "teachers" than job openings listed. Most students entering teacher prep programs (but not all) were academically low performers. This was lucrative for the universities because when students could not find teaching jobs they returned to university, payed more tuition, and attempted other fields. This was a financial win for the universities. Ask nearly any teacher you know if they were taught how to be a teacher in their university "teacher preparation" courses and the answers are almost universally negative. So-called experts at colleges of education "certified" folks to teach who were neither well enough educated nor prepared pedagogically to actually "teach". Now the chickens have truly come home to roost and the college of ed folks who have certiified and graduated less than highly skilled teachers for decades are now asserting their "expertise" as post-hoc teacher evaluators. That lawmakers are asking some serious questions about this suggests to me that the legislators are actually doing their jobs. The tough questions need to be asked and skepticism about what so-called educational experts might portray as answers to problems are long, long overdue. When the Finns began their countrywide reforms more than 30 years ago.....closing some colleges of education was an early step. Making sure the best folks were preparing the best candidates in the best teacher prep programs was also an early positive step for the Finns. Recruiting top performers as prospective students for teacher preparation came next. A continuous improvement model underpinned their currently acknowledged world-wide success. Educational dollars were spent wisely to bolster the real foundation of the teaching profession: pedagogy, the art, craft and science of teaching. Teachers' work days included specific time for teachers to share pedagogical techniques, collaborating and helping each other to improve, improve, improve. Highly capable teachers (all with masters degrees) help each other to become better and better at what they do in Finland. Read all of the literature you can find about the Finnish education model of world-wide success and you will not find anything as silly as graduating too many teachers so that school districts can compete for the candidates who "might become successful" teachers.....If they are not highly capable they are not fact, if not highly promising applicants, they are not even admitted into the programs. Before college of ed faculty are invited to fix problems in Michigan's schools, it would be wise for legislators to first invite them to fix the problems with teacher preparation and student recruitment at their respective universities. Legislators and media folks who really care about successful school improvemnt programming need to become aware of what the world-wide leaders are doing and have done to make changes that benefit students and enhance their futures and their wider communities. This means looking at the big picture; acknowledging that very serious mistakes have been made in the past; identifying each of those problems, calling them out; making amends; "de-cloaking" the elephants. And next, breaking a new path to honesty and success through increasingly skillful teaching and legislating.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 4:29pm
Hi David, Thanks for your reply. I realize Bridge isn't necessarily a "progressive" publication, but generally you write about important social issues and usually offer a perspective on it. In this case, you were very clear in your support of this evaluation and even somewhat disrespectful to the legislator who opposes it. I also realize the problem is bigger than any one state in the U.S. The U.S. Dept. of Education with Race "from" the Top and other initiatives are using public money to incentivize states and districts to use neo-liberal, corporate reforms like privatization, deregulation, and test based accountability. This brings me to my next point. How can teacher evaluations not be punitive when the USDE is basically mandating that they are by being based heavily on standardized test scores. You can try doing something less punitive, but inevitably you will have to comply with federal mandates. Arne thinks teacher salary should be based on test scores rather than expertise and level of education. I suspect with pressure from USDE, even the most well-intended evaluations will be used for punitive purposes by the states. I also suspect that like with other evaluations, all the "ineffective" teachers and schools will somehow be magically concentrated in low-income, minority communities. Remember when test data was used to help teachers identify and help students who were having difficulties? Now its being used to help reformers privatize the education system. Again, with the USDE, it is impossible to separate evaluations from test score data. Besides, ANY use of test score data to evaluate teachers is counterproductive. You also wrote "It is widely acknowledged that no single factor inside schools has a bigger impact on student achievement than the quality of classroom teachers." This is false and misleading. It completely ignores all of the other many factors that affect a child's ability to learn. This is heavily supported by research. With all due respect, you lost a lot of credibility there. Quit scapegoating teachers and start addressing the real problems that legislatures are too afraid or incompetent to tackle (i.e. violence, hunger, social inequality, etc.). You mention a lot of research supporting teacher evaluations, but didn't cite any of it. You have to ask yourself why is the teaching profession the only one that receives so much scrutiny. It's because education policy in this country is being driven by organizations like ALEC whose members stand to gain lots of profits from the reforms they push. Like other professions, their should be a hierarchy of accountability. It shouldn't stop with the teacher. We don't have evaluations for anyone who is higher than a teacher or maybe a principal. USDE oversees state education boards who oversee districts who have a Superintendent and school board that holds principals accountable who are then suppose to hire and fire reward and punish teachers. I'm all for high-quality teachers and schools, I just wish we would take more a Freirian approach rather than a Milton Friedman approach.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:36am
One very good reason for term limits. Wish it were shorter for this anti-education so-called "leader".
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:56am
So a “small group of educators” (who don’t want to be identified) met for two years and came up with a really great report (that the link in this article does not link to so it can’t be read) on how to improve teacher evaluations, but it’s not being implemented. Oh boo-hoo. If I had a hundred dollars for every report generated by a small group of experts that turned out to be chock full of holes, oversights, and unintended consequences – because the small group of experts had tunnel vision, built in biases that skewed their work, no common sense, or were just plain ignorant about how things work in the real world outside of academia – I would probably be a millionaire. In 30-plus years of working in the private sector I was involved in numerous projects and programs “designed by a committee of experts” that were only partially successful at best, or downright failures. But they all cost of lot of money to implement and they were all pronounced “successful” only because the data used to analyze their success was skewed to make them look like they were successful. It’s no different in the public sector. When are people going to realize that “standards” only work in relation to weights and measures? People are all unique individuals. Every single classroom in the country presents unique challenges because the occupants are all unique individuals. But let’s not let that stand in the way of standardization because standardization worked so well on the factory floor.
david zeman
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 1:17pm
Hi Gus, Thank you for alerting us that the link to Ball's report was not working. It has now been fixed. David Zeman Editor Bridge Magazine
Julie Durham
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:09pm
It is important for schools to be able to monitor and address teacher quality according to their own needs, culture and students. To Dean Ball’s point: You don’t want a plane to land differently in Petoskey than in Detroit do you? Darn right, I do. In Petoskey, chances are that plane is small and simple and competing with few other pilots to navigate the landing. In Detroit, the pilot is just as likely to have 800 passengers on board, and is competing for runway space with hundreds of planes. We would be remiss to assume that the skill set required to do both is the same. And that if you can do well at one, you can do well at the other. A recent report by TNTP, a reform organization founded by Michelle Rhee, DC’s former chancellor, talked about a problem in teaching called the Widget Effect. The problem is that teachers aren’t professionalized and are considered interchangeable. How much more like a widget can you get when, as a human being, you can only be observed and evaluated one specific way, using a specific rubric? Good teaching does not look the same across all schools, but it is recognizable, and there are plenty of resources out there that help teachers hone their crafts. Simply having a leader follow a research-validated rubric is not going to ensure that the teacher will get better, which should be the ultimate goal of any observation process. What will have an impact is a strong leader, who can take a teacher observation and use the results to impact teacher practice. Rubrics don’t teach that. They don’t teach leadership skills, critical conversation skills, or cultural competencies. They treat teachers and classrooms like never-changing widgets, who can be educated one way, using one tool.
david zeman
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:34pm
I would respectfully counter that evaluation systems in which 99 percent of teachers are all told they're doing fine when their students are in fact failing is the ultimate example of treating teachers as widgets. Under a high-quality evaluation system, teachers will no longer get the once-a-year, drive-by observations that teachers have been receiving for generations. They would instead get more thoughtful, individualized observations, with more time for rich feedback afterward and more time for collaboration with teaching colleagues, rather than trying to learn the art of teaching in a vacuum. As Bridge's reporting has shown, high-quality teacher evaluation is intended to offer classroom teachers more support and guidance than they've received in the past, and where implemented has often changed the teaching culture in schools for the better.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 4:18pm
David, Your comment that "99% of teachers are doing when in fact their students are failing" is a gross overgeneralization. Please elaborate considering we don’t have an assessment that provides a true growth measure in this state. It should also be pointed out that the two states -- Tennessee and Massachusetts – that are often referenced, do not differ that greatly with their teacher ratings. Looking at the data from Tennessee they rate 97% ( of their teachers as satisfactory or above. Massachusetts on the other hand rated 94.7 percent of their teachers rated as satisfactory or above. Even with “safeguards” in place there were news reports criticizing Boston Public Schools for having so many educators rated as proficient or exemplary (
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 6:14pm
Perhaps the report addresses this, but the problem with these idealized notions of teacher evaluation (both the old way and the new way) is that there is a presumption of a school leader/administrator whose first focus and priority is on pedagogy and the work of teachers. This was never the case in five school districts where I have taught in multiple states (sorry for a n=5 anecdata here). The reality is most school leaders/administrators have 5,000 other priorities: student fights, drug raids (from Detroit to Troy to Grand Rapids, not an 'urban' thing), bullying, parent demands, chamber of commerce meetings, construction meetings for a renovation, a survey report the state needs, combing over personnel changes, fundraising for new astroturf, investigating student-teacher relationships, responding to a local news story about an errant Facebook post, textbook review, awards banquets, planning graduation, gearing up for never-ending school-wide testing windows, puzzling over inoperative wireless internet in the building, fire drills, tornado warnings, "leadership evolution summits" and "change retreats" - reading books titled "How to Deal with Difficult Teachers" (one of the more popular real titles for ed leaders on Amazon). Some administrators want to cultivate cozy and caring communities for students, which means lunch with student council and advisory breakfasts with students. Where is the school administrator who sees her or his primary duty as reading about, focusing on, and acting upon pedagogy, the work of teachers, what's going on in classrooms, conversing with departments, setting up reading groups, doing in-house learning for staff instead of outsourcing to some "professional development" firm that swoops in and out after two afternoons of PowerPoint clip art and "trust exercises." If we want learning and teaching to the be the focus of schools, we need school leaders to focus on learning and teaching and not on buildings and operations and maintenance and management and public relations and crime prevention and social work and juvenile detention services.
Sat, 06/13/2015 - 2:14pm
The reason that teachers get once-a-year drive-by evaluations has to do with the available resources, including administrator time and quality. It's not for lack of knowledge of how to do better evaluations. Indeed, one of the little-discussed crises in Michigan education is the weakness of our building level administrators, and the extent to which we play dance-of-the-lemons at that level. It would be far better to address the quality of building administrators and the extent to which their time is consumed by other things; indeed both of those are necessary steps before any sort of successful teaching evaluation and mentoring are likely to take root.
sam melvin
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:42pm
IN our familie the children where HOMESCHOOLED and at age 16 in collegeand now into lawerence tech .ctec PAY mothers for teacheing there children
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:48pm
Apparently spelling, grammar, and punctuation were not stressed?
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:49pm
FOLLOW the best school in Michigan education teaching. Bloomfield Hills International school very imported now that our world is on the internet and more then one rule gov. missed education scabble team in lansing or Michigan.
Darryle Buchanan
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 1:35pm
Mr. Pavlov's actions prove exactly why local control will not work. It amazes me how someone who has a little more than a high school education knows more than the thousands of educational experts here in Michigan and across the country. In my encounters with the senator I found him to be the epitome of presumptive knowledge and obstructionism. Fortunately term limits will put and end to this foolishness but not before the damage is done.
Mitchell Robinson
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 8:02am
1. Those leading reform states, FL and TN, are disasters. Nothing to emulate there. 2. There is no evidence that this approach to teacher evaluation will actually identify the "best" teachers. In fact, there are lawsuits in process right now over capricious teacher evaluations based on this approach, and teachers rated as "highly effective" one year are being found "ineffective the next. How could that happen if the system was valid and reliable? 3. We know how to help teachers improve their teaching, and it has nothing to do with students' standardized test scores. It involves having teachers work together collaboratively and more intentional professional development experiences. Things that have been eliminated in favor of more tests and Value Added Measures. 4. There is nothing close to a "clear public mandate" for greater accountability for teachers--especially accountability via this approach, which evaluates nothing meaningful. The link above goes to a report from your organization, based on poll questions that were designed to derive the results you support. To characterize this as a "clear public mandate" is unclear at best, dishonest at worst.
david zeman
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 9:27am
Hi Mitchell, I appreciate your thoughts and your skepticism. What Bridge's reporting and other studies have shown isn't necessarily at odds with many of your criticisms. There ARE concerns about the volume of standardized testing, and there is no question that the development of value-added formulas is difficult work and that these scores haven't always been implemented seamlessly, or well. States have had some growing pains, including Tennessee. As our story says, this is difficult and complex work, and all the more reason why it is very rare for a local district to have the resources or expertise to measure student growth, which they are required to do in Michigan. I think you are in sync more than you may think with the sentiments of Dean Ball and others who would agree that an evaluation system based entirely on student growth numbers or standardized tests does a disservice to students and teachers. What they seem to be saying, however, and I don't mean to talk for them, is that an effective evaluation system incorporates multiple components, not least of which is a carefully implemented model for observing teachers in the classroom multiple times a year and then having deep, substantive feedback with those teachers afterward, something that traditionally has rarely been done in our public schools. And, as you say, it shouldn't end there. Jennifer Hammond is the principal at Grand Blanc High School, and was also a member of Ball's council, the MCEE. The year she signed on, she put into practice a comprehensive teacher evaluation program at her own high school, using many of the components that later showed up on the council's final report. The most notable of which was a conscious effort by Hammond to have deep discussions with individual teachers after each observation. And Hammond didn't carry out the observations on her own, but also relied on trusted administrators and teachers to meet with and counsel young or struggling colleagues. She even hired substitutes at times to fill in for classroom teachers, so those teachers could have an opportunity to steal an hour to sit in the classrooms of colleagues they admired and watch how they interacted with students. Hammond carved time into teacher's schedules to meet with other teachers in the same subject to talk about lesson planning and classroom practices. Many of the teachers there said they wary at first. But the biggest advantage they saw, they said, was how this system changed the teaching culture at Grand Blanc High, from a school where teachers operated alone in silos (sound familiar?) to a place where colleagues met regularly to ask questions, share frustrations, and brainstorm how to best raise student achievement. That is not to take away from your valid concerns. But it sure seems like there are a lot of takeaways from the council's report and the work in other states to raise questions about the ability of well meaning but under resourced local school districts to carry out evaluation reform on their own, without meeting some quality standards set by the state. Thanks for considering. David Zeman Editor Bridge Magazine
Sat, 06/13/2015 - 2:08pm
Jennifer Hammond is the principal at Grand Blanc High School, and was also a member of Ball’s council, the MCEE. ---- The problem that you have to contend with is that anecdote is not the singular of data. The world of education is full of exceptional educators or highly-resourced environments whose approaches cannot be reliably replicated by others. Educational research is typically done by developing school-university partnerships, where the university provides extraordinary additional resources ranging from technology to teacher release time to professional development to extra in-class support. Dean Ball's institution is just one institution which is actively engaged in such partnerships. Naturally, when you dramatically increase the resources and support in one place one would expect to see positive results. It would be astonishing if you didn't. What doesn't follow is that the same approaches can be replicated elsewhere without the same level of resources and support, or can be sustained when the original innovators and their resources depart. So when Dean Ball or one of her partner districts talks about comprehensive classroom observations with highly trained observers who exhibit and maintain high degrees of inter-observer reliability, there is substantial resourcing cost to that, and substantial social time investment. More administrator release time, more teacher release time, comprehensive training for observers, the engaged leadership of deans and directors and pioneering school administrators, on and on. It is not at all clear that such efforts will be successful beyond these sorts of startup environments. There's certainly no evidence to suggest that they can be successfully scaled to an entire state.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 9:27am
If you want realistic evaluations of teachers, ask their students. While it is true the quality of the results will depend on who is doing the analysis, it has a higher potential for improving performance than outside "experts " who have no experience having trouble learning, for whatever reason. Even the lowest performing student is not stupid, they know what makes a good teacher.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 9:34am
It's rather irritating that so many in our Legislature don't have more important things to do than to work on teacher-evaluations. At some point, all of us need to recognize that there is an indisputable correlation between socio-economic standing and student achievement.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 10:41am
Put that question to Gov. Snyder and watch him in his whiny tone of voice, ending up giving you an evasive non answer.
Greg Thrasher
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 11:11am
One of the things about living in the DC region that reminds me of living in Detroit is quite often the similar themes of inequity are always present. It is a constant of life in America regardless of one’s domicile. The specter of inequality is always present in every aspect of life for people of color. Recently the discussion about failed educational outcomes of DC students was always depicted as the sole failure of unprepared Black students who lacked the basic intellectual skill set to achieve. This ugly theme is whispered often and it is water cooler and chatter class discourse whenever Black folks are not present . Media accounts documenting the disproportionate rates of suspensions between Black and white students in the DC Region school districts of course are not a newsflash to many people, including Black parents. The contempt for Black students is similar to what their parents encounter. The soft bigotry of low expectations shares the lesson plan with disparate rates of expulsion and suspensions for Black students. The landscape of academic success in our nation for Black students is full of obstacles; navigation is perilous in all levels of education from kindergarten to the university venue for Black students. The more important issue now is how can Black families and their students navigate around these inequities and obstacles. Black parents must develop their own lesson guide to disarm educational officials, teachers and even students who discount the educational goals of Black students. We must embrace our own self worth, recognizing that we are worthy of respect and our offspring deserve superior educational efforts and outcomes. Black parents must develop strategies that equip them to combat , reject and influence educational systems that have contempt for our offspring. Instead of lamenting the horrors of a destructive pathological educational system that has contempt for Black students, now is the time to develop our own lesson plans that produce motivated students who can themselves defeat the waves of contempt for them that exist in our classrooms across Michigan the our nation.
Don Voyles
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 11:47am
Why can't the state set the minimum (high) standard that the teachers have to meet. If the local school districts want to go above and beyond that more power to them.
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 2:52pm
Mr. Zeman, Perhaps you should re-read the report a bit more carefully. You previously wrote, "I feel compelled to point out that high-quality educator evaluation of the kind featured in this article does NOT rely solely, or even mostly, on standardized testing." You gingerly tip-toed around the section of the report that stated that "at least HALF of the teacher's student growth component should be based on state-provided value-added modeling (VAM) scores," or in other words the results of standardized tests. The report goes on to say that that makes up 50% of the framework for evaluating teachers. So, while technically you are correct that it doesn't rely "mostly" on standardized testing, it is disingenuous to pretend that a teacher could get anything more than a bit fat "F" if the 50% that comprises their VAM is incorrectly assessed as appeared to be the ridiculous case for New York's Teacher of the Year. Furthermore, I'm sure you know that the "small group of educators" who were hanging out at Dean Ball's cookout were not mostly or even half comprised of members of the hoi polloi, boots on the ground teachers of K-12. From research I did on the consultants, reviewers, and advisory council names in the report none are actually, currently in the classroom versus researching, administering, or funding K-12 related programs. Perhaps I missed one or two. It was interesting that none put their titles next to their names...But even if a couple tokens were thrown in that would be a slap in the face to those who have to work with students every day and then be forced to follow an evaluation program where the importance of their input has been disregarded. Furthermore, the advisory council included the Executive Director of the Education Trust - Midwest, an organization that also had a hand in writing the evaluation bill per your interview with Sarah Lenhoff in the article. That makes them directly involved in the outcome versus just advocating for reform, which is a conflict of interest. Heck, they could have at least pulled together some virtual focus groups of K-12 teachers to weigh in if they didn't want to share their hamburgers and hot dogs. But unfortunately, teachers are treated like they don't understand the higher level concepts that impact what they teach when nothing could be further from the truth. You also stated "That’s why the article states that teacher performance is the most important IN-SCHOOL factor impacting student performance. That’s what this article is about, examining policies within the schools that can lift Michigan from the bottom rung of states nationally." With all due respect Mr. Zeman that's like saying that the most important IN-OVEN factor for baking a cake is the temperature. Let's just ignore the sugar, baking powder, eggs, flour, and everything else and just focus on the heat. Then maybe the cake will get a little bit tastier than those in the other ovens in other states. It's ludicrous to keep shoving the issue of poverty's impact on academic performance under the rug and then laying the burden on teachers while wondering why students are not improving relative to their counterparts in more affluent communities. Finally, you repeatedly referred to the "professional development" of teachers as though when students are found to be having issues not only in the classroom but perhaps at home as well then all that will be needed is to either send teachers to a few training courses or keep replacing the ones that can't somehow fix societal ills with collaborative pow wows and all will be well. Professional development is most helpful as a tool for increasing knowledge that already has a good foundation not fixing what's fundamentally broken. As the editor of this magazine I encourage you to look at the best practices of other places mentioned here such as Finland and hopefully connect the dots between a robust socioeconomic safety net, respected, highly-valued, well-prepared (on the front end), and well-compensated teachers and positive academic results. There's no need to reinvent the wheel when it's already rolling along perfectly elsewhere. We just need to be less arrogant, admit when others are better at something than we are, and follow their template with adjustments for scale as needed.
Wayne O'Brien
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 5:48pm
Congratulations, Ne, for succinctly pulling together the foundational and truly salient issues; describing them robustly and making a very convincing case for transparency, honesty and rationality in this discussion. Thanks also to Bridgemi for hosting the lively and thoughtful discussion. Perhaps, after considering your thoughtful appraisal, David Zeman and the Bridgemi staff will call on trained professional journalism evaluators to assist them in their own search for journalistic professional development with an eye toward ever more skillful news gathering, reporting and transparent editorial efforts. You did not miss the pivotal educational path forward blazed decades ago by the Finns, Ne......How did this escape Bridgemi? Aren't journalists taught about how to ferret out important facts and connect dots in university journalism schools? Do journalists take courses in ethics which cover the sort of "conflicts of interest" you disclosed in your comment? I think that possibly a hidden elephant or two "in the room" may have been "de-cloaked" thanks to your careful reading and assessment of this chapter of Bridgemi journalism. I am grateful that I did not miss it. Maybe some history has been made here.
Jeff Salisbury
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 6:01pm
Uh... no... teacher evaluation is NOT an example of a "critical education reform" in Michigan or anywhere else for that matter. Just because local districts want to exercise local control does not mean they live in isolation. BOE's, administrators and teachers associate and collaborate in professional organizations, learning and sharing best practices, research, etc. BOE's were and are not making up evaluation systems by scrawling them on a napkin at Denny's.
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 8:48am
Place 31 five year olds in a classroom and what do you expect? Place 35 kids in a high school math class and what do you expect? place 30 plus kids in a creative writing class and what do you expect? Tenure is truly a double edge sword. Try as hard as possible to get the right people in teaching and get rid of the truly poor teachers. Change those laws that protect incompetence.. R.L.
Don Borsvold
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 5:54pm
This is no surprise. Michigan voters, vote crap into the legislature, they can't expect anything but crap out of the legislature.
Pete VanKempen
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 9:47pm
Effective teacher evaluation 1. Ask the graduates from 4 years ago who they learned the most from and the least 2. Ask the current students who the best teachers are (that they learn from) and the worst Done
Mon, 06/08/2015 - 10:00am
People complain about tenure protecting bad teachers and that is true but one thing not talked much about is that tenure also is an incentive for good teachers to continue in the profession and be willing to put with all the the pressures of the job.
Doug Curry
Mon, 06/08/2015 - 7:23pm
A very important part of growing as a teaching professional is to receive high quality and useful feedback on job performance based on accepted and clear standards of performance. Then, using that feedback the growing teacher must set improvement goals for themselves in conjunction with the learning leader of heir school, the principal. The district then needs to provide opportunities and resources for the teacher to work on those improvement goals so that teacher can apply those improvements to their daily teaching. At the end of the process the teacher and principal must evaluate and provide feedback on the achievement of those goals. And then the process begins again. Student and teacher performance with accepted standards must form a significant part of the evaluation process. The improvement and evaluation process must need something. Successful teachers show be identified and praised and encouraged in meaningful ways. Teachers consistently failing to grow needs to be supported for a time, but if growth does not begin then these teachers need to find another profession. Michigan must have a teacher evaluation plan that is strong and realistic if we really wish to promote large scale teacher performance growth. Doing the same old thing did not work and will not work. Our children deserve better.
Sat, 06/13/2015 - 1:45pm
All of that sounds really nice, but what's missing in it should be obvious: kids! Teaching is a complex art that involves long-term and sophisticated interactions with groups of kids. Different kids respond to different approaches, and different teachers are successful with different styles. Teaching for the last 50+ years has been full of snake-oil "accepted clear standards of performance" that have come out of Schools of Education, beginning with Madeline Hunter and before. Every lesson must have seven components. Every teacher has to do an anticipatory set. Open classrooms. Mastery Learning. Snake-oil reform after snake-oil reform. They all share one thing in common. They don't focus on the individual kids in front of you. Teachers have to fill out lesson plan sheets, they have to track tests, they have to do Think-Pair-Share exercises, on and on... the focus is on somebody's favorite technique of the year or pet research idea, not on the kids in front of them. So the schools that have done the best are the private and Catholic and other schools that have avoided the latest snake oil and just kept their focus on supporting teachers in the art of reaching the particular kids they have in front of them. That's why local control is often better than mandated one-size-fits-all approaches. It results in less dysfunction, less instability, better focus on what really matters, and higher levels of professionalism and job satisfaction.
Sat, 06/13/2015 - 1:31pm
"It would be a little bit like saying all the hospitals in the state should have different practices for surgery because they know best who their patients are. Do you want your pilot in Petoskey to land differently than they land in Detroit?” For a supposedly smart lady, Deborah Ball really doesn't know very much. Standards for surgery do vary by hospital. Emergency medicine protocols in Michigan vary by county. Pilots do have different regulations landing in Petoskey vs. landing in Detroit. The reason is that the resources and conditions vary in different parts of the state. When there are longer transport times to a trauma center or less equipment on ambulances, the rules have to change. When you're landing both small planes and large on a big runway with lots of instrumentation and air traffic control the rules are different than landing small planes on a small field with limited or no air traffic control. It's no different in education. Professor Ball should know that the first step in competent instruction is knowing the prior knowledge of your students, and different students have different prior knowledge. Districts have different resources, different access to professional development, differing abilities to attract and retain teachers, different levels of student mobility and poverty. Expecting that a one-size-fits-all evaluation scheme will work well for every student across such a diverse range of students and districts is nonsense. When she's talking about research validation, she's talking about statistical averages with limited effect sizes. When we're actually trying to help kids and schools, what's needed is not an average response, it's a highly tailored response. Good teachers and good school administrators know this. Research deans apparently do not. No Child Left Behind was our last research-based, one-size-fits-all effort at evaluation and accountability. How did that work out in the real world of kids and schools? Perhaps more research and more old fashioned scientific skepticism is needed before jumping on the latest bandwagon.
Barry Bussewitz
Thu, 06/18/2015 - 12:35pm
What does Sen. Pavlov want? If this has been addressed somewhere above, I failed to catch it, but that is my driving question. What need, interest or agenda is motivating Mr. Pavlov? I can certainly speculate, but from my perspective as an educator and political citizen in California, I have no substantive basis for understanding what Mr. Pavlov is driving for. I have not extracted any educational aims from the way he is represented, and I conjecture the compelling motive for him is a political value. Is there some way it could be satisfied with the adoption of the teacher evaluation model he has blocked?