Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will this "reform" really improve education?

This is a letter to the editor that I am considering sending to papers in Michigan. Your feedback would be appreciated.


Dear Editor:

I am tired of reading how the new tenure legislation recently signed by Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder "makes it easier to fire bad teachers." A more accurate description would be that the law potentially makes it easier to fire ANY teacher since what is meant by "bad teaching" is not well-defined. Consequently, the protection of effective, experienced teachers has been severely compromised by this new law, and it will have a detrimental effect on education in Michigan.

The argument is that the old tenure law protected bad teachers. Here we have the false assumption that led to the flawed logic behind this supposed "reform" effort. Originally, tenure protected teachers, all teachers, from being removed without justification. This did not prevent bad teachers from being removed; it just meant administrators had to be diligent in documenting abuse.

Were there bad teachers who gamed the system and made it difficult for administrators to remove them? Certainly, but that is the nature of a system meant to protect teachers and predicated on their presumed innocent. Closing loopholes that bad teachers used to game the system would be a reasonable response. What the new law seems to do instead is react in a way that goes beyond the problem of bad teachers.

The new tenure law certainly makes it easier for administrators to get rid of bad teachers. It also makes it easier to get rid of the experienced teacher who is high on the pay scale. It also makes it easier to get rid of the teacher committed to using promising practices that an administrator does not agree with. It also makes it easier to get rid of the teacher who holds kids accountable for their actions even though it ruffles the feathers of the kids' parents.

If you trust administrators, then there is nothing to worry about. I talk to a lot of teachers, however, who are concerned. They say they will hesitate to volunteer to teach in a high-needs classroom because their evaluation may depend on these students' test score. They describe how they will be more reluctant to address bad behavior because student and parent evaluation may play a role in determining their effectiveness. They explain that they will no longer take risks on new techniques and technologies because there seems to be little room for error. This does not sound like educational reform to me.

Whether or not these issues come to pass (the evaluation piece is still up in the air), the reality is that teachers feel attacked by such overreaching measures as the new tenure law. The message appears to be that teachers now have to take the education of their students seriously - as if they didn't before. Under such circumstances, the likelihood of educational innovation seems small.


  1. Well said. Throughout my teaching career I've been blessed with amazing administrators who were fair and supportive. They had high expectations for me and my colleagues but always made success possible. If I wan't doing something right they had ways to help me improve. I believe those leaders will follow the spirit of this law and their districts will benefit from it. However, my gut feeling is that this law (and the others that have been passed recently) are merely union busting in the name of ed reform. And those who want to simply cut costs will be able to hide behind the letter of the law.

  2. Dan,
    I agree, most administrators (like most teachers) are amazing and will continue to focus on ways to improve teaching and learning. Unfortunately, this new law can be exploited for issues unrelated to teacher effectiveness. It is this fear that will cause teachers to be less willing to move forward - innovate - educationally.

  3. I think you echo what many teachers feel and think but don't necessarily feel comfortable communicating at their schools. I've benefited from having exceptional administrators in the past, but I could see how this new law could play a subjective role in deciding teacher effectiveness.