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Amy Hagerstrom

Amy Hagerstrom

Expert Perspectives on Michigan Education

January 17, 2013

LANSING, Mich. — As the 2013 Michigan Legislature, including 26 freshman representatives who have to find their seats, the bathrooms and the snack shop at the State Capitol, returns, the question of how to reform Michigan’s public education system, including the funding formula, looms large. It is a critical debate to Michigan’s future and vitally important to Michigan families, children, teachers, and school administrators.

I recently had a chance to sit down with Andrew Henry and members of his team at Okemos-based Red Cedar Solutions Group to discuss their perspectives on the education issues likely before the 2013 Michigan Legislature. RCSG employs a team of education experts, including teachers and former school administrators, who act as “data coaches” for Michigan schools. I spoke with Henry as well as two of RCSG’s data coaches, whose responses will be featured in subsequent columns.

Although the conversation ranged from issues with the current funding formula, schools’ and the state’s role in providing more technology-based solutions, and the changing public education delivery paradigm, they all agreed the importance of professional development and support for teachers is a hot topic and likely to be a prominent feature in future public policy discussions both nationally and here in Michigan. In fact, in 2011, the Michigan Legislature passed legislation creating the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness. The council, comprised of education experts, is charged with the challenging task of standardizing teacher evaluation in Michigan.

Henry, for one, believes that as policymakers continue considering teacher evaluation as part of the big picture for improving Michigan’s education system, the narrative on teacher evaluation should be “less stick and more carrot” — focusing more on ways to provide teachers with the resources they need to understand the trajectory of their own professional growth and the effectiveness of the things they’re doing in their classrooms.

“The debate on teacher evaluation is about teachers — it’s about their ability to see if they’re making improvements or not — if they’re making a difference in their classrooms,” said Henry. “My experience with teachers is that they are self-reflective, but we don’t currently support them with the tools they need to professionalize themselves the way other professions such as lawyers and doctors can.”

Henry said that while it’s one thing to talk about teacher evaluation, it’s quite another thing to develop a solution that offers teacher and administrators a view into the effectiveness of their teacher practice. He said tools like that simply don’t exist yet, and that developing them should be a goal for schools and policymakers.

“There is no way to get thousands of people into teachers’ classrooms across this country to do teacher evaluation. It just doesn’t scale,” Henry said. “However, we can build technology-based systems for teachers to examine their practice on an ongoing basis. The reality for teachers here and nationally is that they don’t currently have a lot of support in order to measure their own effectiveness at what they’re doing.”

Henry said policymakers must understand the complexities in the debate about education outcomes, particularly teacher evaluation.

“Teachers are in a place where they feel like they can’t win. They’re under intense scrutiny. And while other professions are changing by deploying technology-based support so they can make what they do more efficient and more effective, public education isn’t keeping up,” he said. “In education, we aren’t giving teachers the tools they need. Think about tools as simple as Lexus Nexus for attorneys or for sales and marketing professionals. We don’t have the equivalent of that for teachers and we should.”

When I asked Henry what his message to Governor Snyder might be before the State of the State, where it’s anticipated education issues such as reforming the School Aid Act of 1979 will be featured prominently, he said, “I’d say we need to work to create an environment where policymakers, educators, and the teachers’ unions are all moving in the same direction on these conversations about how we better meet Michigan students’ needs. Without one leg of that stool we’re at the status quo, which no one says is good.”

Amy Hagerstrom is a strategic communications professional and owner of Azure Strategies. She has spent the past 16 years working on behalf of candidates and organizations in the areas of public and media relations, political fundraising, and issue advocacy. She is also currently working on a PhD at Michigan State University in mass communication and teaches public relations writing to MSU undergraduates.

January 17, 2013 · Filed under Hagerstrom

37 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chuck Fellows // Jan 18, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Andrew Henry and his group are attempting to address a critical issue, treating teachers as professionals. It also sounds like the group is poised to spend a lot of money on a “technology” based system to measure something. Won’t work. been there, done that – a waste of time money and effort. If the supplier of the “technology” is so confident their solution will produce clearly defined and understandable outcomes have them provide a performance bond (insurance) so the educators can recover their investment in the event of failure.

    Mr. Henry asserts that the tools for teachers to view their effectiveness don’t exist. That we can’t put thousands of people in classrooms to “do” evaluations. These tools do exist and are in use within successful organizations worldwide and the thousands of people are already there. First Mr. Henry’s group needs to get rid of the carrot and stick mentality (paradigm) altogether. That single mental model is preventing them from seeing the tools that already exist.

    Within the educational community the Finnish School System teachers do view their effectiveness as professionals – every day. How they got there is described in “Finnish Lessons” by Sahlberg and in the several videos produced by the AFT from their visits to Finland.

    Effective organizations in the private sector have developed methods and processes that permit the viewing of personal effectiveness on a regular basis. W. L. Gore uses the waterline analogy for decision making and collaboration. The work of Edwards W. Deming is a cookbook on how to create meaningful self assessment and organizational effectiveness. The principles of Lean Thinking emphasize the significance of the people that do the work in charting a path to producing effective outcomes. Right here in Michigan the Herman Miller Furniture company has created an effective corporate culture that produces high quality outcomes.

    As someone experienced in evaluating the effort of other human beings from the plant floor to corporate suites I was given an incredibly effective process for evaluation. Its called observation and sharing that observation on a regular basis – in many cases daily.

    Many leaders operate under the false assumption that they are responsible to get the work done. No, that is the responsibility of the people that actually do the work. Leaders nurture the environment within which work gets done by others – the “evaluatees”.

    What our leaders in the legislature and academia don’t comprehend is that their most important function is the assessment of the efforts of those that do the work. That it is something that must be done every day (not quarterly or annually) and requires that they trust those that do the work. I have shared the how to get this done with my elected representative (its really not very hard to do and is incredibly inexpensive) but he does not have the experience or knowledge to comprehend what he has been given. How could he, he has never had to do it.

    Our leaders and the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness are locked in a paradigm of what we have always done and are condemned to repeat these ineffective patterns of behavior, albeit with new labels and slick (and expensive) presentations.

    The “thousands” of people required to do this work are already in place within our system of education. They are the people that actually do the work, the teachers, students and administrative staff closest to the classroom.

    So instead of listening to expensive consultants and experts, pick up a book and read, watch a video or two and understand that we can be responsible for each others behaviors by dedicating just fifteen minutes a day to structured reflection with some lined paper, a number two pencil and the courage to share.

  • 2 Donna Anuskiewicz // Jan 18, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you, Mr. Fellows. As a retired teacher, I find that you make a lot of sense. Too often legislators and administrators look for a one-size-fits-all silver bullet. Such a thing doesn’t exist, and you understand that.
    Thank you for pointing out that models of excellence, Finnish schools, for example, do exist, and information about them is readily available.
    In my last years of teaching, I saw the onerous burden of evaluating all teachers every year placed on administrators. Certainly some teachers need annual evaluation–new teachers, teachers on probation. Others should be evaluated less often. Your last sentence is wise advice, and I hope that many use it. The best professional development of my long career came from books, articles from a wide variety of sources, and conversations with my colleagues and those who mentored me.
    Again, thank you for such a thoughtful article.
    Donna Anuskiewicz

  • 3 Ireene // Jan 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Many thanks for the previous comments. I’m sure our elected officials will view them as unconstructive. Had 4 kids who went thru the public school system…me too, and the most learning was from the teachers who were enthused and caring. And after raising children, I have only high regard for any adult who will spend hours interacting with children. I have found the derogatory tone used to demonize instructors is immature, and certainly lacks in any ability to conceptualize what daily life in a classroom can be. I find the “outsourcing” of our education to be a less than ideal solution, and it only demonstrates the lack of political vision.

  • 4 Michele Strasz // Feb 2, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    My neighbor is a 1st grade teacher in a small impoverished town in Mid-Michigan. She has 28 students in her classroom with multiple disabilities, children whose parents are in prison, on drugs, children who have never picked up a book until they entered the school doors, nor learned how to tie their shoes. How are you going to evaluate her for doing the job of “parent” to 28 little ones who need guidance, comfort, and support to just sit still and listen to a story let alone master all the testing skills we expect? Is what we are proposing in education reform really at the heart of the problem- that parents have no role models or support to parent and prepare their children to be ready for school? Early childhood programs are where we should be investing our limited education dollars not new ipads for kindergartners!

  • 5 Rebecca Rocho // Feb 22, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Michele, I very much appreciate your comments about our parents’ roles; I also agree that our Pre-K efforts are critical but the family crisis is still at the heart of the matter . . . what does society do about that – children who will never know their father, mother’s absent due to work demands, children living amid drugs, alcohol, abuse . . . what do we do as a society to help our children succeed in school when life is such a crisis??

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