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Good and bad seen in proposed educator evalution system



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August 21, 2013 - "There is nothing wrong with accountability when it's done right," said Dr. William Skilling, superintendent for Oxford Community Schools, referring to a new education evaluation proposal by the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE)

In order to provide "meaningful and targeted feedback to all educators in the state," the MCEE submitted proposal to Gov. Rick Snyder, legislature and the State Board of Education.

"Our recommendations reflect the council's commitment to Michigan's teachers and administrators as they work to develop their professional practice and advance children's learning," said MCEE Chair Deborah Loewenberg Ball, the dean of the University of Michigan School Of Education.

Until now, Michigan school leaders have had little objective information about educator's effectiveness. In 2012, the nonpartisan Center for Michigan polled Michigan residents and found 69 percent of people believe it is important or crucial to hold educators accountable for student learning

"Every child in Michigan deserves skillful teachers, not just some of the time but each and every year," Ball said, the dean of the University Of Michigan School Of Education in a press release. "And every teacher deserves the opportunity to develop and continue to refine his or her professional skill – to receive targeted feedback and professional learning opportunities to improve instruction. We believe a fair, transparent, and rigorous teacher evaluation system can help transform the culture of the teaching profession and benefit the state's 1.5 million schoolchildren."

Michigan's new system would base half of teacher evaluations on classroom practice and the other half on student growth as determined by scores on standardized tests, student learning objectives and other locally determined measures. Historically, Michigan's educator evaluation standards have not measured student growth.

However, the MCEE plan not only calls for teacher evaluations, but administrator evaluations as well, including superintendents, principals and assistant principals. The evaluations would come with a rating system of "professional," "provisional" or and give personalized feedback provide guidance for improvement by evaluators. Classroom evaluators would be trained through a consistent statewide program. Teachers and administrators rated ineffective for two consecutive years would face dismissal from their positions.

Unlike states such as Colorado and Indiana, Michigan would not tie teacher compensation to evaluations under the MCEE plan. According to Ball there is insufficient evidence to support pay for performance programs at this time. The MCEE also said individual educator ratings should not be subject to the state's open records law and must be treated as confidential personnel information.

The MCEE recommendations call for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years to be a two-year phase in period for implementation of the statewide model. The MCEE plan is for all Michigan school districts and charter schools to have evaluation systems become fully operational and aligned with the state system by the 2015-16 school year.

MCEE has proposed that the state use a competitive RFP process to select one of four piloted teacher observation tolls and one of two administrator evaluation tools. However, public schools districts and charter schools would not be mandated to use the state-selected tools. Some Michigan school districts and charters have already begun implementing evaluation systems for teachers and administrators as allowed by 2011 state law.

"I think with the instruments they have outlined for years that you can choose from, they are all really good instruments," Skilling said, who noted Oxford Schools have been using MCEE recommended evaluator tools both for teachers and administrators the past couple years. "In effect we're already meeting the new requirements even though they haven't been approved by the legislator."

He said through use of the programs they've seen success in "creating more enlightenment" not only to teachers, but administrators as to good teaching practices.

"We are doing a better job with giving more meaningful, very specific feedback to teachers," he added.

He used the example of a tool they used called "iObservation."

"When an administrator goes into the classroom with their iPad they're able to videotape the teacher while they're teaching and type in notes of feedback and before they walk out of the classroom it's posted such that a teacher can access it immediately," he said. "They can read the feedback, see themselves and see what the observer saw. In addition the principal is able to create links of reading materials that may support what he or she is providing the teacher in terms of the feedback."

In a general cursory overview, Skilling said the MCEE proposal is a "good model and philosophically moving in the right direction;" however, he does have concern and see "definite pitfalls" that he calls "unintentional consequences."

While it's not the intent of the MCEE to move toward merit base pay, Skilling believes the new proposal "lends itself to it," and he is fearful of what legislators will do with the proposal.

"Though that's not the intent (of the MCEE)," he said. "That's so often what happens because it's politicians who rule the day."

Skilling is concerned that legislators will use the 50 percent of teacher evaluation being on student growth as a "mechanism to create high stake evaluations and potentially put teacher against teacher" when merit pay is added in, especially if the student growth is determined by the scores on standardized tests, which will be the Common Core starting in 2015.

He also said tying the evaluator system to the Common Core will be "dummying down education and narrowly defining what education will be." How so? Skilling said, because 100 percent of accountability as school teachers and leaders would be based on student performance on common core, which does not measure the "fine arts."

"World language, engineering stem programs are no longer valued and complex problem solving across multiple disciplines in unpredictable situations in areas in which students are unfamiliar to create and invent is no longer valued," he added. "Yet we know all of those contribute greatly to holistic education of a young person and those things are critical for our kids to be prepared to compete in a global market, but they will go by the wayside because they are not valued."

"This is going to drive us into a moral and ethical dilemma, because if we focus only on the Common Core we will be setting our students up to be functionally unemployable," Skilling continued. "Our ethical responsibilities is to go above and beyond and broader than the common core, but unfortunately too many people will choose to only focus on the common core because that's all they're accountable for."

Skilling has been a strong voice of opposition to Common Core standards.

"I've been against Common Core because of all the added baggage that will come with it. The Common Core is taking away local control and state control over public education and relinquishing it to the national government," he explained. "The reason's they're willing to relinquish is because of money. It is a violation of the constitution of the United States for the national government to be imposing their will on the states when it pertains to education."

Skilling said education is a "political bouncing ball" used as leverage for the election of individuals.

"If you go back to the (President Ronald) Regan Administration you had 'Nation at Risk.' 'You had 'Goals 2000' with (President Bill) Clinton and 'No Child Left Behind,' under (President) George W. Bush," he said. "Now, you have 'Race to the Top' and 'Common Core' under (President Barack) Obama. What's going to happen with the next administration?"

Skilling fears what changes could possibly be made once legislators dive into the MCEE proposal.

"Maybe not," he said. "Maybe they'll adopt it as is, but even if they adopt it as is my concerns are no less."

For more information on the MCEE proposal visit www.mcede.org

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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