Ed Trust-Midwest Comments on Gov. Snyder's Education Speech

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Contact info: 

Donnell Green, (248) 854-5297, dgreen@edtrustmidwest.org
Amber Arellano, (734) 277-5084, aarellano@edtrustmidwest.org

Publication date: 
April 27 2011

DETROIT, MICH. (April 27, 2011) —Today, Gov. Rick Snyder moved to make students a higher priority and to ensure that all of Michigan’s classrooms are staffed by high-quality teachers.  We applaud his recognition of the importance of teachers to our students, but urge him to take further steps to ensure that his proposals are smartly implemented. Students must remain a top priority as the state pursues the governor’s ideas, such as performance bonuses and charter school expansion.

The Education Trust-Midwest has advocated rigorously for Gov. Snyder to enact dramatic teacher quality reforms.  The Snyder administration has paid attention, and is proposing revamping Michigan tenure law and teacher lay-off policies. Today, the governor proposed to award tenure based on three years of effective teacher performance.  He also pushed for teaching performance to trump seniority in school lay-off and placement decisions.

“Every Michigan student deserves an effective teacher,” said Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, Michigan’s only state-wide education policy and advocacy organization that advocates first and foremost on behalf of students. “We urge the legislature to quickly pass the legislative reforms that Gov. Snyder is proposing—and to do so while respecting teachers’ bargaining rights.  Tenure should be modernized, not gutted.”

Snyder also proposes giving districts bonuses on top of per-pupil funding based on district performance and “growth.” He did not clarify whether such bonus funding would come out of state per-pupil school funding.

“The question is, how will districts be required to measure such growth and performance?” Arellano said. “Tenure and other teacher quality reforms—as well as any smart performance bonuses—rely upon robust evaluation systems that reliably measure student growth and teacher performance. Such systems don’t currently exist now in Michigan, which must be addressed.”

In particular, the legislature must change our state assessment timing; define what effective teaching looks like; and develop rigorous evaluation standards and a state-wide evaluation model for all districts. Presently, Michigan’s state assessment is administered in the fall, which means it measures the learning that has occurred under two different teachers – one in the previous school year and one in the new school year.  That is not a good way to measure the impact of individual teachers. 

Instead, Michigan needs to move its fall assessment to the spring, which would allow it to more accurately assess what students have learned over the course of the school year and give the governor an opportunity to reward a much more reliable picture of student growth and school performance. 

The state also needs to develop a state-wide model and standards for teacher evaluation.  Unless it does so, districts will use whatever evaluation that they want and set any standard they choose.  Districts would have incentive to set their bars low so that their students and teachers look like they are performing well.

“Without thoughtful reform of both teacher evaluation and accountability systems, Michigan parents will have no idea how well their students are doing and how good their teachers really are,” Arellano said. “Other states, such as Colorado, are taking months to create a smart, state-wide evaluation system.  If we’re serious about improving our schools, we need to do this as well—and right now.”

Other Ed Trust-Midwest positions on Gov. Snyder’s proposals:

• Snyder:  Giving bonuses to schools based on district performance.

Arellano: “We urge his administration to re-think this approach. Students would be punished for their districts’ low performance under such a system, especially in our low-income communities. Snyder should replicate what other leading states are doing, which is to reward schools with bonuses based on individual school performance.”

• Snyder: Lifting the cap on charter schools in some areas. 

Arellano: “We all know our charter schools in places like Detroit are performing just as tragically and poorly, on average, as our traditional public schools. Only the highest-quality operators should be allowed to open schools or expand.  The criteria for such selection should be made public.  Parents and students deserve honest information.” 

• Snyder: Requiring one year of growth for one year of instruction.

Arellano: “The bar must be set higher. African American and Hispanic children across the state are behind in reading, math and other basic skills. Schools need to help these students catch up—and it’s the state’s job to ensure they do so.”

• Snyder: Improving all of our schools through greater accountability.

Arellano: “We support accountability and high standards.  However, accountability alone does not improve schools. We need to hear more from the Snyder administration  about its plans to improve all of our schools, especially our low-performers.  These schools have had very little state support—and often have been restricted from improving.  Our minority and poor children need better schools right now.”

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