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Michigan Radio's special week-long series on teacher education in Michigan.There's wide agreement among education experts that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in how well students perform in school. So how are Michigan schools of education doing when it comes to turning out effective teachers?

Where are Michigan's best and worst teachers?

Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

Today, we reported about how much teacher evaluations vary from district to district. It makes comparing teachers across the state pretty much impossible.

But here’s a breakdown of where districts report the best and worst teachers are.

First, the bad news:

There are some things you should know about this list. I did not include districts with fewer than 10 ineffective teachers. There are lots of super tiny school districts with, say 1 in 4 teachers rated ineffective. So their percentages of ineffective teachers are high, but there are just not that many teachers, so we didn’t include them.

Pontiac Academy for Excellence is a “priority” school. “Priority” schools are in the bottom 5% of the statewide Top-to-Bottom School Rankings. The rankings take into account data on student achievement, improvement, and achievement gaps in standardized test scores.

The CEO of the academy, Will Jackson, says 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student growth measures – i.e., standardized tests. That’s relatively high. But it’s also what ALL districts will be required to do next school year, unless state lawmakers adopt changes.

Jackson also notes that the district got rid of half its teachers just before he started last August as part of its state-mandated turnaround plan.

Michigan Technical Academy appears to have the highest percentage of “ineffective” and “minimally effective” teachers of any district in the state. 77% are rated poorly. It’s a dramatic shift from where the district was a couple of years ago, when more than 80% of teachers were rated “effective” or better.

But Jeremy Gilliam, the MTA superintendent, says they started looking much more critically at evaluations. He says that’s led to good conversations among his staff about how to improve.

Benton Harbor Area Schools has been struggling financially for years. Its teachers have taken major pay cuts to help keep the district solvent.

Detroit Public Schools has 52 “ineffective” teachers, by far the highest number of ineffective teachers in a district. But it’s a huge district, so that’s sort of expected. What’s maybe more unexpected is the number of “highly effective” teachers at DPS – 2,542 teachers. That means 79% of DPS teachers are rated “highly effective” – double the state average and more than six times as many as DPS had a few years ago.

A DPS spokeswoman told me 30% of a teacher’s evaluations are based on student achievement scores. And they’ve tweaked the model they use over the past couple of years after getting feedback from teachers and administrators. They believe the model they use now “more accurately reflected the effectiveness” of their staff.

Grand Rapids Public Schools’ numbers closely reflect state averages. The district appears on this list mainly because it's a large, urban district. So 1% of its teachers equates to 12 “ineffective” teachers in total. 5% of a teacher's evaluation at GRPS is based on student surveys, which is a pretty uncommon factor to include compared to other districts.

Now, the good news:

In this case, I also excluded many super tiny school districts. Specifically, any district that has fewer than 20 teachers in total is not included. There’s quite a few of them, spread all over the state.

I had a good conversation with Richard Carsten, superintendent of Ida Public Schools about his numbers. 40% of a teacher’s rating in his district is based on student growth on standardized tests.

I was getting ready to grill him on how all his teachers could be rated that well two years in a row (99% were rated “highly effective" the year before).  But then he said something that really struck me.

“If the students test well, and ours do, teachers do well,” Carsten said.

Well … in that case, it’s as simple as that.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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