Press Release

Ed Trust-Midwest Testimony to Legislature: Michigan Needs a System of Improvement to Support Teaching Quality

Publication date: Feb 19, 2014

Today Amber Arellano, Executive Director, and Sarah Lenhoff, Director of Policy and Research of the Education Trust-Midwest, testified to the Michigan Legislature about Michigan’s proposed statewide educator evaluation and support system.

Thank you for giving us the chance to speak to you today about Michigan’s first proposed system of educator support and evaluation. I am Amber Arellano, executive director at the Education Trust-Midwest. With me today is Sarah Lenhoff, our director of policy and research. ETM is a non-partisan, data-driven, education research, information and advocacy organization. We work to serve as a source of non-partisan information and expertise – and a partner to state leaders, educators and others – about Michigan education and achievement gap closing. First, we’d like to thank Governor Rick Snyder and lawmakers for your tremendous leadership on the development of this new system focused on raising teaching and learning in our schools. From the very beginning of this system’s development in the 2011 tenure reforms, the legislature has been a leader on the issue of raising teaching quality. We strongly support Governor Rick Snyder’s recommendation to invest more than $27 million in the FY15 state budget in this proposed new system. Special thanks go to Rep. Margaret O’Brien and Rep. Adam Zemke for their incredible investment of time and dedication to HB 5223 and HB 5224.

Clearly, Michigan desperately needs this new system. Today Michigan is at the bottom for student learning and growth among all 50 states in most subjects and grades. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The state of Tennessee provides us a good model of how this new system can dramatically and quickly transform our schools – and Michigan students’ learning levels.

As you can see in the slides shown here today, Tennessee has been far outpacing Michigan – and the national average in student growth – since 2011. Indeed, it is now the nation’s leading state for student growth, according to the new national assessment. These gains are being made not just for white students but for African American students, too.

Tennessee’s leaders attribute this extraordinary growth to their implementation and investment in their new statewide educator support and evaluation system, along with higher standards.

Leaders there acted on decades of research that show teaching quality is the most important in-school factor for improving student achievement.

Michigan can follow Tennessee’s sensible path toward improvement. Indeed, it’s clear that we need to do so. Our state has serious problems with its current approach to educator evaluation and support. Today we’d like to highlight just a few of them:

  • No Definition of What Effective Teaching is in Michigan: Like other professions, educators need clear goals to work toward, and they need to know what excellence looks like. Right now, every Michigan district, school, teacher prep program and sometimes even every educator makes up their own definition. This is a disservice to both students and teachers. These bills would fix that. This will advance Michigan’s teaching profession – and help the public understand why great teaching should be valued and respected.
  • No Statewide Standards for Evaluating Teachers: Presently Michigan has a patchwork of local systems and student growth models. This means some teachers are getting fair evaluations, while many others are not. And districts and schools have incentives to set their bars for evaluations and student growth low so that their students and teachers look like they are performing well. These bills would address this problem.
  • No Voluntary Model for Districts that Need or Want One: Good, reliable evaluation systems are costly – and they take resources and expertise that few districts can afford or readily access. Leading states provide a model that local schools may opt to use, along with state-provided training and coaching. Such investments have been key to Tennessee’s success, according to state leaders there. We need to make this happen here.
  • Practically Every Michigan Teacher is considered “Effective” or “Highly Effective” – while Michigan Risks Marginalizing our true Master Teachers: More than 99 percent of our teachers were rated Effective or Highly Effective in the 2011-2012 school year. Meanwhile, new state regulations define master teachers based largely on credentials. Research shows credentials are weak predictors of teaching quality. These practices risk marginalizing our truly masterful master teachers.

Lastly but importantly, these bills would hold accountable the Michigan Department of Education in the quality implementation of the new system.

We recommend waiting three years to incorporate data from our new state assessments into teachers’ evaluations. This will give teachers the appropriate amount of time to transition to our state’s higher standards and new assessments. But this does not mean waiting to implement the evaluation system or to hold teachers accountable for student learning. In fact, local districts should continue to incorporate local assessment and growth data into evaluations.

As Tennessee and plenty of leading states demonstrate, educational improvement can start with good policy, but it needs investment and sustained implementation to make it soar in classrooms.

Thank you for your time today.

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