Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Tenure Bills: They're About Testing More Than Tenure

I just received this action alert from Michigan Parents for Schools. As usual, it's a clear explainer of how the tenure bills would work--and I've bolded and typed in red the parts I think are especially problematic. I hope you will join Michigan Parents for Schools in taking action. I know that my representative (Jeff Irwin) is opposed to these bills, but it's also true that legislators like to hear from you when you agree with them, and not just when you disagree with them. So please do share your opinion with your legislators! And by the way--MIPFS makes it easy to take action. Just scroll down to the last line, "Take Action Now," and follow the links to their legislative action center, where you can send a personalized e-letter to your legislators.

Tenure isn't the real issue; meaningful evaluation is what's at stake
 Dear friends,
Because you're a supporter of public education, I know you've heard from us about the "tenure bills" now before the Senate - and I'm sure you've heard from a lot of other groups, too. This is the first time we've felt we had to go in a different direction than some of our allies, and I wanted to explain personally why we're asking you to oppose these bills.

[Read our action alert here!]

People who support public schools can be split on this issue, so it helps to understand what the issues really are. Lots of folks who support these bills are focused on the need to reform teacher tenure. They want to make it less cumbersome to remove teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom. And that's perfectly reasonable, as long as there are protections to make it fair.

But that's not what these bills are really about. These bills are about setting up a state-driven teacher evaluation system that relies heavily on standardized testing, gives very little leeway for local districts to develop their own systems, and provides absolutely no funds to make sure evaluations can be done right. A lot of the text seems to have been written by national "reform" groups who have been spending big money in our state drumming up support for these bills. To top it all off, the details of the evaluation system were bolted on to these bills moments before the Senate Education Committee sent them to the full Senate. They were lifted entirely from a separate bill in the House that has barely had a single hearing. The "days of testimony" people talk about never addressed this evaluation system, because it wasn't in the bills at the time!

At MIPFS, we DO support strong and collaborative evaluation systems that are designed to help teachers improve their practice and focus on evaluating the full range of their responsibilities. Adding even more "bubble tests" and calling it "accountability" just won't cut it. There are real, live, functioning systems that work - the Peer Assistance and Review systems used in many districts around the country are a good example.

These bills won't get us there.

  • I've written elsewhere about the problems with using standardized tests to judge individual teachers. [Read the article here.] These bills enshrine their importance.
  • Good evaluations, and helping teachers grow as practitioners, takes skilled people and time. And that means money. Where will that come from?
  • Systems that work need buy-in from all sides, but teachers would be locked out of the process because they will be forbidden from bargaining any of these issues. That is not a recipe for success. We need local collaboration, not more state mandates.
Finally, we're worried that the bills will end up encouraging administrators to judge teachers by how expensive they are, not how well they educate our children. We've talked with administrators who see these changes as a way to cope with shrinking budgets. But these good folks have been in the trenches so long that they are more worried about how to cut their budgets than about asking why the budgets should get cut every year. So we're back to school funding, and how it does not work for Michigan children or communities.

Please take a moment to review our arguments for quality evaluations and against these bills. Then, contact your Senator to ask them to work with all of us to make quality evaluations possible, not just write into law the half-baked ideas of some outside, big money "reform" groups. We need to do what's right for our children! Take action now!

Thanks for reading,

Steve Norton
Executive Director

1 comment:

  1. Ruth, thanks for reprinting this. We did get a good response to our appeal, though supporters of public schools seemed split on these bills - probably because the focus was on tenure rather than the dramatic shift the bills represented on teacher evaluation.

    We weren't able to get the bills changed substantially in the Senate, and they are already on their way to the Governor. The issue now will be at the local level, trying to figure out how to do evaluation right while complying with the requirements of the law. It will be important to offer up a quality alternative, before the "temporary commission" created by the law promulgates a template as ham-fisted as the legislation itself.