December 17, 2021

Ron French: 10 years of strict teacher evaluations haven’t boosted learning in Michigan

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Senior writer at The Bridge, Ron French looks at how Michigan has spent a decade on a failed teacher evaluation system.

In 2011, Michigan implemented a tough new teacher evaluation system in which educators’ annual job reviews were based partly on the standardized test scores of their students. The plan seemed straight-forward: Reward good teachers, weed out bad ones and Michigan’s moribund learning would improve.

A decade later, that experiment is generally considered a failure by educators, policymakers and researchers. Students aren’t learning more. Virtually all teachers continue to be rated effective or highly effective. Minority teachers, particularly men, left the classroom at higher rates than others because of low evaluation ratings. And teachers and administrators spend less time with students in order to fill out evaluation paperwork required by the law.

Sarah Lenhoff served on a committee that helped shape that law.

“I admit, I had hopes for teacher eval reform promoting improvement in teacher support and development and served on the advisory committee to inform Michigan’s law 10 yrs ago,” Lenhoff, associate professor of educational leadership at Wayne State University, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday morning.  “We know now that those efforts did not work. Evaluation is not a path toward better teaching & learning.”

Now, there’s a nascent effort to change the state’s teacher evaluation system, or at least pause it until schools return to normal after the pandemic.

The Michigan Department of Education is advocating to change the law. Research that a decade ago suggested teacher accountability could be a lever to improve learning, has given way to analysis showing the reform was a bust. And the Republican chair of the House Education Committee, Pamela Hornberger, a former teacher, says the evaluation law on the books is “pretty useless.”

“Does it improve learning? No,” Hornberger told Bridge Michigan, recalling her days as a teacher. “It was basically jumping through hoops. I didn’t see it as helpful in helping teachers do their jobs.”

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