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Teacher tenure law requires new "evaluation tool" for educators

Gov Snyder will appoint a commission to come up with a tool to measure teacher performance.
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio
Gov Snyder will appoint a commission to come up with a tool to measure teacher performance.

The new teacher tenure law that Governor Snyder signed this week makes it easier for school districts to fire teachers in classrooms where students are struggling.  As Rick Pluta reports, the law "eliminates discipline and layoff rules as a subject of collective bargaining with teachers unions."

The devil is in the details

The law also talks about teacher performance, and how it will determine whether or not that teacher gets to stay in the classroom. But exactly how to evaluate those teachers is still up in the air.

John Austin, president of Michigan's State Board of Education, says that was intentional.

Austin says Governor Snyder will appoint a diverse group of education experts, teachers and policymakers to come up with what the “evaluation tool” will look like:

"It’s good to have a thoughtful cooling pond for designing this system well, in the form of a commission; not have the legislature do it in a politically charged and prescriptive way. The legislature passed a framework that called for it; now it’s up to the rest of us to do our job and make sure we get a really good, supportive teacher evaluation in place in Michigan."

He said, she said

Whatever the new evaluation tool ends up looking like, it will go into effect in 2012. The commission has until April 1, 2012 to develop the evaluation tool and present it to Governor Snyder.

The tool will be phased in so that in 2012 it accounts for 20% of a teacher's assessment score, by 2014 it will account for 50% of a teacher's score.

Republican state Rep. Margaret O'Brien, who introduced one of the bills that eventually became part of the new teacher tenure law, says whatever the commission comes up with will "not automatically go into effect." She says the legislature will get to vote on the recommendation:

We were very careful in how we crafted that. We did not vote to implement something that we didn’t know. It will take another action of the legislature."

She also says the evaluation tool will not be open to collective bargaining.

Here's what State Board of Education president John Austin said when he was asked whether he thought the recommendation would have to put in front of the legislature for a vote:

"No, I mean the legislature has done its job and I think we don’t want the legislature, nor any politically charged policymakers micro-managing this, because it could get too polarizing."

Austin says teachers and union representatives "absolutely"  need to be part of the commission so they can help craft the tool. He goes on to say that "without teachers and representatives co-creating a system that’s objective, we’re not going to get a fair thing."

An education expert weighs in

Deborah Ball is dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. She and her colleagues at U of M have been developing ways to measure teacher capabilities.

Ball says "we don't have particularly good ways of getting close to the skills teachers use when they're working with children."  She points out how the discussion around measuring student achievement gains is important, and "you wouldn't want to argue against that, but I wouldn't put that in the category of useful teacher evaluation."

If you're interested in knowing whether "a particular teacher is actually equipped to carry out the professional responsibilities in the classroom," continues Ball, something like student achievement gains "is too distant from the classroom."

Instead, Ball  is interested in a set of assessments that measure teachers actual skills in the classroom:

"Which includes their ability to explain content, to lead a discussion of children about a particular text, to be able to diagnose kids’ learning difficulties, or progress that they're making. The actual work they have to do in the classroom are the kind of assessments that we’re advocating for.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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