News Story

Michigan population council: Nobody to blame for poor-performing schools

Michigan schools ‘built for bygone era,’ advisory board warns

One of the Growing Michigan Together Council’s December recommendations to increase the state’s population is to address the increasing challenges in the declining education system.

The council’s report states that teachers are not at fault for poor student performance, but it also recommends more teacher interventions to help students. Michigan lawmakers enacted laws that weaken teacher evaluations shortly before the report came out. The new laws allow school districts to reduce the frequency of teacher evaluations from annual to biennial or triennial for teachers not in a probationary period who received three effective ratings in a row.

The report states:

Michigan’s relatively weak performance educationally is not the fault of its students or parents, and it’s certainly not the fault of its teachers. Michigan has a systemic problem. Namely, we have an education system built for a bygone era that lacks coherence.

The report goes on to recommend spending more money and reining in the “autonomy and flexibility” of colleges as ways to fix Michigan’s failing education system. There are numerous studies that show teachers and parents play a significant role in students’ long-term academic outcomes.

Edutopia cites C. Kirabo Jackson, an economics professor at Northwestern University.

Looking at data on over 570,000 students in North Carolina, Jackson found that ninth-grade teachers who improved their students’ noncognitive skills — which include motivation and the ability to adapt to new situations, as well as self-regulation — had important impacts on those students. They were more likely to have higher attendance and grades and to graduate than their peers. They were also less likely to be suspended and to be held back a grade. These benefits persisted throughout high school.

Although the council states that teachers are not to blame for poor student achievement, it goes on to recommend interventions for teachers that include disrupting students’ schedules.

“Getting there requires new designs for schooling, which may include structuring the school day to give teachers opportunities to work together, learn to improve their own practice, and consider how to best organize teaching and learning across their school,” the report states on page 38. “Our school environments are not currently set up for teachers’ ongoing learning and development.”

In 2024, Michigan will begin a five-year project to spend $50 million on mentorship programs for teachers, counselors and administrators. The Michigan Department of Education has identified lack of mentorship programs as a weakness that caused employees to flee the school system. 

The Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals supports the watered-down teacher evaluations enacted last year. The association highlights the new laws on its website that.

“This change should create a significant workload reduction for building administrators,” the association says.

“The report emphasizes the weak performance of Michigan’s schools but denies the critical role that teachers play,” Molly Macek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told CapCon. “Yet it recommends restructuring the school day to create more time for teacher learning. Unfortunately, administrators will be spending less time measuring how this extra teacher learning time impacts student achievement, because a new law watered down the teacher evaluation process.”

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.