Statement to the Michigan Governor
The Education Trust-Midwest thanks the Governor’s Council members for dedicating their time to this incredibly important work – and to Senator Phil Pavlov, former Rep. Tim Melton and Rep. Margaret O’Brien and the other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who provided so much thoughtful leadership on the issue of teacher evaluation. The Education Trust-Midwest is a non-partisan education policy, research and advocacy organization focused on improving public education for all Michigan students, particularly for low-income children. While many organizations advocate for what’s best for the adults in our education system, we advocate for what’s best for students, based on research and data.
Over the last decade, research has shown teacher quality is hugely important to student learning outcomes. Indeed, teacher quality is the most important in-school factor in student achievement. Yet African-American, Hispanic, Native-American and low-income children of all backgrounds are the least likely to get highly effective teachers.(i) From school to school, we also know there are major differences in how much teachers’ development is supported.(ii)
Research also shows there are big differences in the quality of our educators. Yet by and large, our education system pretends that those differences don’t exist. Reports such as The Widget Effect show that the vast majority of teachers are rated “satisfactory.” Poor performance goes unaddressed, and excellent teaching goes unrecognized. These problems start early in teacher’s lives, too: Novice teachers typically do not get the professional development that they should have early in their careers.
Despite the critical importance of teachers to our students’ future, Michigan still lacks a coherent set of policies, systems and practices that focus squarely on improving teacher effectiveness.
Michigan has taken two passes at this issue:
First, unlike other states, our state education agency delegated the job to educator groups to provide guidance to districts. The result: districts got very little guidance, and even less support, which small and budget-strapped districts especially needed.
Realizing it got the first pass wrong, this year the legislature tried it again by establishing the Governor’s Council. The new law indicates that the legislature’s intent is to create a state-wide evaluation system. The Council was designed to develop state guidelines for local evaluation models and a state default evaluation model that districts can opt to use.
We have great confidence in the leadership of Dean Deborah Ball — but the task ahead is big and time is short.
Here are some of the most important things for the Council to get right:
1. Evaluation is, first and foremost, a developmental tool. A system should serve to help teachers identify strengths and areas for development, aiding all teachers to become good — and good teachers to become great.
2. We need thoughtful state standards and comparable data and reporting systems. Presently in Michigan, every district defines what effective teaching is and what student growth is. A teacher considered to be highly effective in one community may be ineffective in another community. Michigan parents and educators have no idea how their schools and their educators are really doing.
3. Quality evaluation systems include regular classroom obser¬vations by trained evaluators with clear standards. Many districts are struggling with this – for good reason; this is very challenging work. They need a tool to do this well.
4. Quality evaluation includes multiple measures, including measurements that consider the contribution each teacher makes to student learning over a year’s time, taking into account the achievement level and remediation needs students bring to the classroom.
Ultimately, everyone stands to gain when teacher evaluation systems are designed to gauge teacher performance fairly, clearly, and comprehen¬sively, with an eye to professional growth that fuels student learning.
(i) Peske, H. and Haycock, K. (June 2006). “Teaching Inequality: How Poor and Minority Students Are Shortchanged on Teacher Quality.” The Education Trust, Washington D.C. https://edtrust.org/sites/edtrust.org/files/publications/files/TQReportJune2006.pdf
(ii) Jupp, B. (December 2009). “What States Can Do to Improve Teacher Effectiveness.” The Education Trust, Washington D.C. https://edtrust.org/sites/edtrust.org/files/publications/files/TeacherEffectiveness_2.pdf