Jul 25 2013

Tenure reform continues in MI

When Michigan passed its teacher tenure reform bill in 2011, the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness was formed to propose a new teacher evaluation system. Yesterday the MCEE released its recommendations calling on the Legislature to pass one of four model teacher and administrator evaluations that would rank individuals as “professional,” “provisional,” or “ineffective” based on classroom performance and student growth. The group recommended that this information be confidential and not linked to an educator’s pay.

Let me start with the positive and say that every school and district should have some kind of formal or informal evaluation system. Currently, at my school in Milwaukee, we have nothing. As a result, there’s no meaningful interaction between our teachers and our administrator because there is not real framework for us to engage. It’s putting us in silos. We don’t know what to work on because it isn’t easy to sit back and watch yourself teach! The teachers want an informal performance review to be put in place. I think that’s important because every educator should be getting meaningful feedback from his or her peers and supervisor. This plan, rightfully, would put evaluations in place across the state.

Further, the MCEE has recommended that the evaluations be confidential and not linked to pay. These two components are critical because educators should be able to focus on improving their craft as opposed to worrying about what people think about them and whether or not their evaluation is going to reduce their paycheck. If passed in this form, everyone can honestly engage in the evaluation process as opposed to putting on a show.

What I don’t like about the proposed evaluation system is that it’s too basic and too blunt.

The evaluation only looks at classroom performance and student growth. Any teacher knows that while test scores are important, they are not the only thing we aim to accomplish over the course of the year. The work that we do goes into building a whole child. Any teacher evaluation should look beyond test scores and include an evaluation of how a teacher engages with students and parents, what goes into a teacher’s plans and preparation, how the teacher delivers the content, and what the teacher is doing to improve his or her practice. If we’re looking to raise the stature of this profession, then we need to evaluate educators on more than one factor of the profession. <– See update at end of post

Also, if this evaluation is supposed to encourage educators to improve their craft, then why is there an overall grade? I believe this sets up a slippery slope to penalize educators. If that’s the case, then there need to be more than three categories. As a tough grader myself, I’d add an exemplary category to recognize excellent educators. I still, however, advocate against merit-based evaluations. When we see Atlanta and D.C. mired in testing scandals, we know we’re doing something wrong. Let’s stay away from merit pay.

While there are several serious flaws to MCEE’s proposal, the saving grace may be that schools and districts that already have an evaluation system can keep it so long as they prove that it’s as effective as the model evaluation. While, similar to the overall grades, this factor could easily change in time, it is a good measure that won’t derail the work of exemplary schools and districts.

I’m happy that the Legislature will take up this issue, but I hope that some of these adjustments can make their way into the bill. A truly teacher-focused evaluation can do a lot to move us forward as a profession and as a state.

UPDATE: A friend who had the opportunity to attend presentations on the report said the evaluation does go much deeper into preparation, content delivery, and engagement. Also, John Austin, President of the State Board of Education, has emphasized that the evaluation would be a comprehensive look at a teacher’s practice. This makes me much more comfortable with the evaluation. I do, however, still worry that it will become a metric for merit pay as opposed to a tool for improvement.

4 Responses

  1. Meghank

    In Memphis, the rubric supposedly includes “domains” for preparation and community outreach, but, since evaluating teachers on classroom performance and student growth, as it is, is too much for principals, the other domains haven’t been officially included in anyone’s evaluation yet. I don’t know if they’ve decided to get rid of them altogether. If your state is using something similar to the District of Columbia Public Schools rubric, which is what Memphis is using (or very similar), they may try to pull the same thing over on you.

    To be honest, teachers are grateful because the classroom performance rubric is nothing more than a checklist: things that must be said and done in every observed lesson. Trying to do that and actually TEACH at the same time is very difficult. The additional domains are just more items on a checklist.

    • I listened to a radio program today where the host interviewed the head of this committee. She’s also the head of the University of Michigan’s Ed School. She said that they’re keeping the final assessments to the three levels so that it’s clear where people land on the spectrum. It sounded like the evaluation is going to be similar in that it lists skills and it should be clear whether those skills are present or not. In that sense, it should be like a checklist.

      Something a caller brought up was the frequency of the evaluations. She said that it is very time consuming at her charter and that she didn’t think teachers should be evaluated every year. I’m not sure if it’s enumerated in the Michigan recommendations, but that’s a serious consideration as well!

      How often are you evaluated in Memphis? Is there anything positive you’ve taken from your experience under the evaluation system?

  2. Meghank

    There are three to six formal observations a year. It is very time-consuming for the principals. In fact, they were talking about hiring “business managers” in our school system to take some of the work of running a school off the principals’ plates so that they could devote this time to evaluations.

    There is nothing positive I’ve taken from my experience under this system.

    • Meghank

      (And, by the way, I made the highest score on that evaluation, so you’d think I’d like it better. I don’t.)

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I'm an educator, Kalamazoo College alumnus, Democrat, and proud Detroiter! Views here are my own.

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Milwaukee
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Early Childhood

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