For those of you who don't know, Michigan legislators passed major "reforms" in the teacher tenure law on June 30, 2011. It hasn't been signed into law yet, but Republican Governor Rick Snyder is sure to do so.
This four bill package that was passed increases the length of time it takes to be granted tenure in Michigan from four years to five. It also allows for a probationary teacher to be let go at any time for any reason. It also changes the language regarding firing a tenured teacher for a "reasonable and just cause" to one that is not "arbitrary and capricious." Basically, a teacher is guilty until proven innocent instead of the other way around. "Not arbitrary and capricious" is the lowest standard, but the legislators argued that it was the middle standard, with "reasonable and just cause" being the highest standard. These legislators claim that most employees are "at will," which really is no standard at all.
Also in this bill package is a "mutual consent" rule which requires that both the principal and the teacher agree on the placement of the teacher. You may feel that this is not a big deal, but picture the following scenario: I have been teaching 12th grade English for 10 years and all of a sudden my principal wants me to teach 6th grade English. I am certified and qualified to do so, but will I excel at it? If I don't agree, I can be placed on unpaid leave until I do. So now, principals can place teachers in areas where they are certified, but maybe not best suited to be teaching. The students' test scores will count as part of that teacher's evaluation (more on that later), so if a principal wants to evaluate out a teacher, all he/she needs to do now is to place him/her into a position where he/she is likely to to struggle.
Next is the teacher evaluation piece. The legislators didn't really want to hammer out a complicated evaluation system in this bill, so they just came up with the idea of creating a governor's council to decide the particulars. What they DO want, however, is an increasing percentage of student test data to be used as part of a teacher's evaluation. By the year 2015, 49% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student test data (what they call student "growth" data). Nothing like putting the cart before the horse! Really, I'm sure that legislators have been told that they really don't need to worry about a teacher evaluation system because there are already so many out there to choose. My biggest fear is that they will choose a really bad one such as Michelle Rhee's IMPACT. Here's an analysis from someone objective about that one. Another system that has been used here in Michigan is the Oscoda System. It is a merit pay system that also uses student test data as a portion of a teacher's evaluation. In this document, the administration actually admits that money is not a good motivator at all times for teachers.
I contacted via e-mail the head of the Michigan House Education Committee, Representative Paul Scott, about the evaluation system. I was under the impression (mistakenly) that the Education Committee was going to work on some of the particulars of it over the summer. I received a response back from one of his staff members (I'm sure Rep. Scott was really busy) that advised me that the governor's council has not even been named yet, but when it is, maybe the information I have would be better served if I shared it with them instead of Rep. Scott. So, the head of the House Education Committee doesn't really want any teacher input.
The last part of this legislative package, but certainly not the least, is the bill that the MEA objected to the most. It limits collective bargaining topics. NO longer may unions negotiate
policies governing teacher placement or personnel decisions. An employer's performance evaluation system. Decisions about a policy for discharging or disciplining employees subject to the tenure law, and the discharge or discipline of an individual employee. Classroom observation decisions. A performance-based method of compensation. Decisions about parental notification of ineffective teachers.
Basically this strips the teachers of most of their collective bargaining rights. Unions can still negotiate wages and benefits (that is until the health care bill passes and teachers must pay more for their health care). This seems to be what the people of Michigan want, with the exception of the teachers. There has been a myth here that it is impossible to fire teachers and that the reason we have so many failing schools is because they are full of highly-paid, lazy, free-loading teachers and it is time to get rid of them. I read the comments on all the education articles. There's no love out there for teachers right now.
Political journalist for the Grand Rapids Press, Peter Luke wrote a column in Sunday's paper titled "Effective tenure reform requires political, professional competence." His article suggests that the MEA should not be upset with the new legislation because it was endorsed by our Democratic State Board of Education. He also says that other states have been doing similar things (apparently that makes it right). He says the legislation "adopts the national reform consensus that student performance depends on a quality teacher in the classroom." Again, just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it the best action to take. Republicans have wrapped this "reform" around the idea that it is what is best for children, something they detest when teachers say it. This is NOT reform at all, just another way for Republicans to control the show by taking away union power. In the end, it will NOT improve educational outcomes because it does not address the real problem of failing schools. Republicans aren't listening though because what we really need are some more social programs to help children in impoverished districts. No way, they won't go for that...