Press Release

ROYAL OAK, Mich. (September 20, 2012) – Teachers, like all hard-working professionals, want to get better.

Last year, for the first time, every Michigan public school was required to measure teacher performance using four rating categories. The idea was that by expanding the range of ratings most districts use, teachers would get more individualized assessment and feedback on their strengths and weaknesses — and appropriate professional development — to help them improve, and in turn boost student learning.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

An Education Trust-Midwest survey of large Michigan school districts found that more than 99 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective on their 2011-2012 performance evaluations. Only 0.2 percent of teachers surveyed — that’s 2 in every 1000 teachers — were rated ineffective.1

The results of the Ed Trust-Midwest survey are even starker than the findings in an influential 2009 national study by The New Teacher Project called “The Widget Effect.” That study found that 94% of teachers were rated in one of the top two categories when more than two rating categories were used.

Our findings show that districts keep treating teachers as if they are interchangeable, like parts on an assembly line. This is a disservice to thousands of teachers across the state, who take pride in their work and are eager to get the intensive feedback, training and support they need to improve.  By treating all teachers as if they are the same we are neglecting to recognize high-performing teachers and empower them to be school leaders and mentors; we are missing out on richer data and more actionable feedback to the vast majority of effective teachers to help them improve, and we are not identifying struggling teachers who need extra support and interventions.

If we are serious about bolstering our students’ ability to compete for 21st-Century jobs, we need a statewide educator evaluation system that offers honest feedback on teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, while providing the support and actionable, tailored professional development that many teachers say they want, but too often, do not receive. A reliable, statewide system will also give parents more accurate information on how their school compares to other schools in their community, and across Michigan.

“It’s essential that state leaders step up and invest in the development of a thoughtful educator evaluation system that is focused squarely on supporting teachers to improve teaching and learning in Michigan,” said Amber Arellano, Executive Director of The Education Trust – Midwest. “In the coming months, Michigan practitioners will be looking to our leaders on both sides of the political aisle to make that investment.”

The state-appointed Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness has been working to develop such a system. The council must now bring greater urgency to its efforts, and be attentive to the needs of thousands of Michigan teachers and principals.  Districts and charter schools have been waiting for months for the development of state standards, which will help ensure local evaluation models are fair, reliable and truly developmental.

That is important not only for teachers, but also for Michigan students, whose academic futures are inextricably tied to teacher performance. Teaching quality is the most powerful in-school predictor of student achievement, according to widespread research. School leader quality also is an important factor in school success.

“The districts that participated in our study showed a lot of courage by being honest about their teacher evaluation results,” Arellano said. “Many of these districts know they have work to do to improve and are looking for state guidance on how to perform smart evaluation that truly helps educators improve.”

It’s time for Michigan to invest in high-quality teaching by supporting our most valuable resource: our teachers.


1 Ten of Michigan’s 30 largest school districts initially responded to our survey. An 11th district, Grand Rapids Public Schools, replied Wednesday, after our report had gone to press, saying it had inadvertently failed to notice and respond to ETM data requests over the summer.  Of GRPS’s 1,363 teachers, 97 percent received positive evaluations. The GRPS teacher evaluation rating breakdown in 2011-2012:  Highly Effective: 573 (42 percent); Effective: 744 (55 percent); Minimally Effective: 46 (3 percent), Ineffective: 0 (0 percent).

The Education Trust-Midwest is Michigan’s only statewide nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization focused on what is best for Michigan students. Our mission is to work for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African-American, Latino and American-Indian students in Michigan, and to provide honest, reliable information to our state’s families and policymakers.