Michigan Education Reform- Did They Go Too Far, or Not Far Enough?

By | June 16, 2011

Recently, the State House in Michigan passed an education reform plan which would make it easier to fire under-performing teachers. In addition, it made the tenure process more difficult and reduced protections based on seniority. The bill is now headed to the senate, controlled by Republicans, and teachers’ unions are getting ready for a fight. “Those bills, frankly, are a travesty,” said Doug Pratt, spokesman for the Michigan Education Association “We are looking forward to working with the Senate to pass real tenure reform, not just attacks on educators and their bargaining rights and their ability to do their jobs.”
Those who support the bill see it differently, “We want to ensure that we have the best-quality teachers in the classroom to give our children the best opportunity for success,” said Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, who wrote one of the bills.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree that reform had to be undertaken, but disagreed on how far to go and what shape the reforms should take. Recently, Michigan school districts had been criticized for allowing bad teachers to move to other districts, or to buy them out, rather than fire them. Firing a teacher in Michigan had simply become too complicated or lengthy. For example, a firing could take over a year in some cases.
Although some Democrats voted for the legislation, many think the issue should be considered more delicately. They propose teacher evaluations and accountability by principals before tenure is addressed. They would also like more clarity in how an ineffective teacher is defined. I spoke with an educator in Michigan who had an interesting point on this. If the state uses test scores to determine the quality of a teacher, it would act as a disincentive for taking on the challenging students in a school. That is certainly something that needs to be considered.
She also suggested that another root cause of poor teachers isn’t being addressed, and that is teacher education at the college level. She suggested that teaching students need to have more classroom experience to ensure that they are going into the right field. As it is now, a teacher may graduate with such burdensome student loans that they have to be a teacher, even if they come to realize it’s not the right career path for him or her. If they’d learned this earlier on, it would make for a much easier transition into another field.
The lack of parental involvement is something else that needs to be considered. Due to a lack of involvement or family issues, many students are not performing as well as they could in school, and the teacher is not to blame for this. Parents must bear some responsibility for their child’s education.
We’ll be waiting with bated breath to see how the Michigan Senate votes!

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