News Story

Detroit's Reform District Doesn't Have One Great Teacher According to Evaluations

Education Achievement Authority has 99 percent of teachers rated as 'effective'

Six Detroit high schools perform so poorly that they have been placed in a form of state administrative receivership, and earned an “F” grade from a school rating system that takes into account the poor economic status of their students.

Yet almost across the board these schools' teachers were assessed by their administrators as “effective” using the prescribed terminology. Out of 232 teachers, just three were deemed “minimally” effective or “ineffective,” while 229 were given the second best “effective” rating. And not a single teacher was perceived as sufficiently outstanding to be deemed “highly effective.”

The schools are among 15 under the oversight of a state bureau called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA). They also received "F" grades on the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s high school report card released in the fall of 2014. The report card factors in the socioeconomic status of a school's student body to determine how much value it is adding regardless of where their students start academically.

Teacher assessments that appear to overestimate teacher effectiveness are not unusual, although such consistency does draw attention. What comes as more of a surprise is the district not finding a single standout teacher.

“You mean to tell me of a group of 232 people there isn’t a single person who is a rock-star teacher?” asked Audrey Spalding, education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “No way, right? There is somebody who is a rock-star teacher. But they aren’t doing the job of telling them what their performance rating really is.”

EAA Chancellor Veronica Conforme said the office has moved away from the evaluation system used in 2013-14, and toward a system that is more expansive in its criteria.

Conforme said when she took over in June 2014 she saw flaws in how the EAA evaluated teachers and has spent most of this past school year making reforms to that system.

The system in 2013-14 was based mostly on evaluations by principals and teacher portfolios, she said. The new system will include teachers' contributions and student progress on tests.

“That’s why you are getting these types of measurements that puts everyone in one category,” Conforme said.

Conforme said having all teachers lumped together in one category isn’t helpful.

“We need accurate and informative evaluations in order to give teachers honest and constructive feedback to improve their performance,” Conforme said.

She described her year at EAA as engaging teachers and school leaders in redesigning the evaluation process for next year. It is intended to set a new standard and create more of a bell curve distribution in terms of how teachers are grouped throughout the four performance categories.

“That’s not what we are seeing here (2013-14 evaluations) and it is problematic,” she said.

The Education Achievement Authority was created in 2012 with goal of turning around academically troubled schools. Currently, it operates 15 schools, all located in Detroit. The students in the EAA attend 40 more days of school than the conventional public school.

There are dozens of public schools that have rated their teachers in the same manner as the EAA.

In 2013-14, Detroit Public Schools rated 79 percent of its 3,208 teachers as “highly effective” despite being one of the worst academic school systems in the country.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.