A few years ago, the National Assessment of Educational Progress - referred to as "the nation's report card" - rated the Detroit public school district as the nation's worst urban school district. Yet, that district’s administrators determined that more than four out of five of its teachers were "highly effective," the best rating a Michigan educator can receive.

However, over the past three years the proportion of Detroit teachers getting “highly effective” performance evaluations has been cut nearly in half.

In the 2014-2015 school year 81 percent of Detroit teachers - 2,388 out of 2,943 individuals – were deemed “highly effective.” By the 2016-2017 school year this had fallen to 43 percent, or 1,093 out of 2,533 teachers.

The drop doesn’t necessarily mean the city’s public school teachers have become less effective though, according to Mackinac Center for Public Policy education analyst Ben DeGrow.

“Detroit’s teacher evaluation system is producing results that appear more grounded in reality. Even so, despite earlier reforms, Michigan’s public school systems still have a ways to go to come up with an accurate portrait of overall teacher performance,” DeGrow said.

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The Mackinac Center publishes a report card for individual schools that adjusts their performance for the socio-economic status of the student body. According to the state, 78 percent of the Detroit students in 2016-17 were considered "economically disadvantaged." That means they qualified for free or reduced lunch programs.

The percentage of Detroit teachers given the next-highest “effective” rating or above remained virtually the same during the past three school years, bouncing between 96 and 97 percent. During this time, less than 3 percent of Detroit teachers have been evaluated as “minimally effective” or “ineffective.”

"The drastic change over a three year period is less reflective of the quality of teachers in Detroit and more reflective of the way in which the rating was determined over the years," a spokesperson from the Detroit Public Schools Community District said in an email. "Like most districts in Michigan, Detroit Public Schools Community District has complied with multiple changes in legislation and dealt with instability between recent state evaluation requirements, thus making it difficult to compare annual teacher effectiveness from previous years."

There still appears to be gap between teacher ratings and student performance, however. While 97 percent of Detroit teachers were rated “effective” and above in 2016-2017, on state assessment tests just 16.1 percent of the district’s eighth-grade students scored proficient in English Language Arts, 6.8 percent were proficient in math, and 6.9 percent were proficient in social studies.

The 2016-17 Detroit teacher effectiveness ratings are closer to statewide averages than they were two years earlier.

During the 2014-2015 school year 42 percent of Michigan public school teachers statewide - 39,475 out of 94,972 individuals were rated “highly effective.” In 2015-16 the figure was 39 percent, or 36,464 out of 94,011 teachers. In 2016-17 39 percent of Michigan teachers received this highest ranking, 36,464 out of 94,011 individuals. Similar to Detroit, 98 percent of teachers statewide were rated as “effective” or better for all three years.

Detroit is not the only school district to have a much higher percentage of its teachers evaluated as “highly effective” than the statewide average.

Utica Community School District, the second largest school district in the state, evaluated 82 percent (1,325 out of 1,609) of its teachers “highly effective” for 2014-2015. The following year the figure was 82 percent (1,276 out of 1,557 teachers), and in 2016-2017 Utica deemed 99 percent of its instructors to be “effective,” and the remaining 1 percent - 21 of 1,513 individuals - as “highly effective.” No Utica teacher was deemed “minimally effective” or “ineffective” that year.

Teacher effectiveness evaluations are given by school district administrators each year and published by the Michigan Department of Education. In previous years, teachers who earned the rating of “effective” or above in Detroit’s school district were eligible for financial rewards.


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Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. It's growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years. But, worried about competition, the public school district refused to sell. For years, district and local government officials in Detroit had worked to block public charter schools. They pushed legislation at the Michigan Capitol to hinder them, refused to sell to them, transferred surplus buildings from the district to the city government and imposed deed restrictions on property sales to private developers. All of it was aimed to hinder or even prevent charter school choice outside the confines of the Detroit school district.

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