Why Do These Top-Ranked Schools Have Zero Top-Ranked Teachers?

Acclaimed schools report no 'highly effective' teachers

Central Academy, a charter school in Ann Arbor, was rated by The Center for Michigan’s Bridge magazine as the top school in the state. Ashley Community Schools, a district some 40 miles north of Lansing, placed fourth. Yet, in 2014-15, neither Central Academy nor Ashley Community schools rated any of their teachers as “highly effective,” the highest rating available to teachers.

In fact, both the public charter school and the school district grouped all their teachers (30 and 26, respectively) in the same category — “effective” — which is only the second-highest rating.

“Several of our teachers have received ‘Highly Effective’ in the past,” Ashley Superintendent Tim Hughes said in an email. “The standard is very high for such a rating. My staff are highly qualified and do great things for kids, but the rubric for measuring their effectiveness doesn’t account for just plain good teaching.”

Central Academy and Ashley were not alone in claiming that they didn’t have a single “highly effective” teacher among their ranks in the 2014-15 school year.

There were 167 charters and school districts out of a total of 895 statewide that didn’t give a single teacher the top rating.

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools had 1,012 teachers and not one was rated as highly effective. Lake Orion school district had 464 teachers; all were rated “effective."

East Grand Rapids had 181 teachers and not one was rated as highly effective.

In recent months, some teachers-union officials have claimed that teachers are demoralized, citing compensation and education reform laws enacted over the past few years. But if low teacher morale is a problem, the absence of a meaningful system for distinguishing outstanding teachers from ineffective ones might be playing a role.

The current rating system has been in place since the 2011-12 school year. The law that created it left key details of a comprehensive and uniform system undefined. A bill passed earlier this year pushes back deadlines for a final version even further while still not creating a uniform state system.

The examples of schools and districts with no differentiation in their entire teacher workforce are evidence that the current system is not working. This has real world consequences thanks to other reforms enacted in 2011, such as one prohibiting school districts from making layoff decisions on the basis of seniority, a practice that can lead to highly effective teachers being let go while ineffective ones are retained. This law is meaningless if all the teachers are officially judged to be of equal quality.

And under a 2009 law, schools are supposed to have some type of merit pay system in place, but the law has been widely ignored. And if all teachers are lumped together in the same category then merit pay would have little meaning.

“I think the current (evaluation) system puts a damper on morale because there is no differentiation between rock star performers and everyone else,” said Gary Naeyaert, the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project. “They think that highlighting a superstar on the staff is somehow a disincentive for people to perform. I think it is rubbish. The people who are rock star performers resent that less-than-average performers are put on par with them and all are viewed the same in terms of performance. In no other area of society is everyone in the company treated the same without regards to performance.”

Karey Reed, the curriculum director at Global Educational Excellence, which is the charter authorizer of Central Academy, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

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.