How a senator stopped serious teacher evaluation reform in Michigan

By cori

On a warm day in Ann Arbor in August 2013, a small group of educators attended a cookout at the home of Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education.

For two years,the group had gathered at the behest of the Michigan Legislature to research teacher evaluation systems from around the nation, looking for ways to improve classroom teaching in Michigan. They'd just published an exhaustive report they believed would help turn around Michigan's flailing public schools, which had fallen to the bottom rung of schools nationally. With their work done, the group expected their recommendations would soon be made into state law. There were brownies, toasts and pats on the back.

"I remember saying we should get back together in a few months when the bill passes," David Vensel, principal of Jefferson High School in Monroe, said recently of the work of the group, known as the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness.

"Now, it's two years later."

Today, the group's cutting-edge efforts to improve teacher accountability, which seemed like a sure bet as recently as five months ago, have been essentially gutted. A central provision of their recommendations – to rid the state of its patchwork of local, often useless evaluation models in favor of rigorous statewide criteria – is gone from a new bill now before the House. Even some who support the watered-down bill privately admit it likely will do nothing to improve education for Michigan students.

The new bill, created and championed by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, would allow local school districts to continue to create their own standards for evaluating teachers, despite the recommendations of Ball's group, despite research showing the benefits of tougher, more consistent standards in other states, and despite a clear public mandate for increased teacher accountability.

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