News Story

Whitmer Approves Further Delay In Watered-Down Teacher Ratings

Public school establishment resists accountability

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 122 earlier this month, which postpones yet again a move to increase the importance of student academic growth in annual teacher ratings. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Kenneth Horn, delays until the end of the 2019-20 school year a requirement that 40 percent of each teacher’s rating be based on how well students in their classrooms progress, as measured by state test results.

Under current law, student progress on state tests counts for 25 percent of a teacher’s effectiveness rating. The balance is based on observation and other subjective factors determined by school districts. The student growth provision was adopted in a law enacted in 2011, which required at least 50 percent of a teacher’s rating to be based on it by 2015. This was delayed and watered down to the current 40 percent share by a teacher tenure reform law passed in 2015. With the most recently signed law, the move to increase the weight of student growth in teacher evaluations will be pushed back another year.

More rigorous teacher effectiveness ratings have been opposed — and delaying their use has been supported — by teachers unions, principals, school boards, administrators and the Michigan Department of Education.

Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, praised the delay in a press release. “Thanks to broad bipartisan support in the state House and Senate, SB 122 will provide Michigan with a window of time to fix our broken teacher evaluation system — changing it from a punitive process to one that works for students and educators.”

GOP Rep. Pamela Hornberger chairs the House Education committee, and she indicated in a statement that she wasn’t buying this or other reasons given for delaying the change. She also expressed impatience with the failure of the state Education Department to implement the provision. “This law has been in place for 5 years,” Hornberger wrote. “How much more time does the department need before it is implemented with fidelity?”

She added, “All of the adults involved in our State’s education process have advocates and lobbyists fighting for what they want. When will adults decide it’s time to be accountable to the students and families of our state? It is time way past the time to start putting students first.”

Education Trust-Midwest, a group that is usually aligned with the public school establishment on spending issues, dissented on this issue. In written testimony submitted to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness, the organization’s Brian Gutman characterized Senate Bill 122 as “lessening the use of data,” and a mistake that “ultimately holds educators less accountable for student learning.”

Ben DeGrow, the director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, agreed.

“Evaluations that are fair, rigorous and meaningful are in the best interest of students, capable professionals and the taxpayers who fund their work,” DeGrow wrote in an email. “But there’s more than that going on with the arguments for a delay. For one thing, this goes to show that union-generated fears about giving school principals too much say over teachers’ job performance are misguided and overblown. Since evaluations are now closely tied to tenure and job protections, a change to make evaluations less subjective should be seen as a fairer approach.”