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 Saleforce.com 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.”