MI Legislature Limits Teacher Tenure

Published August 3, 2011

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has signed four bills outlining new regulations for teacher tenure, suspension, demotion, and collective bargaining rights.

Bills 4625, 4626, 4627, and 4628, now Public Acts 100-103, apply standardized evaluation methods to measure instructor effectiveness and add more requirements for achieving and maintaining tenure. 

“I truly felt there needs to be accountability,” said state Rep. Bill Rogers (R-Genoa), one of the sponsors of the package of bills. “What we’re going to ultimately have is something more consistent throughout the entire state and entire system. Some teachers are being evaluated, others aren’t, and it’s all under different factors under the different schools. We’re adding consistency.”

Teachers will now have probationary status during their first five years of employment, up from four. During probation, a local controlling board will evaluate and rate the teacher’s effectiveness. After three consecutive “effective” ratings and completing four years at a school, the teacher will have successfully completed the probationary period and achieve tenure.

Administrators must create an individualized development plan with each teacher and provide teachers a written performance evaluation each school year. Teachers found “ineffective” will receive a written explanation, which schools must also send to parents of students assigned to an ineffective teacher’s classroom. 

National Trend
Michigan thus joins a growing number of states that have recently enacted laws increasing teacher accountability—but its reforms are relatively limited.  

“It’s not the same action that Wisconsin or Indiana took, which limits bargaining to wages and benefits,” said Michael Van Beek, director of education studies at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center. “This keeps a lot of the things the union can bargain over. And the tenure reforms are not getting rid of tenure, removing it altogether, which some states are looking at. It’s just changing the dynamic.”

Michigan’s new laws do stop the “last in, first out” seniority policy that gave precedence to longer-lasting teachers during layoffs or regular turnover. Snyder signed the bills July 19. The new laws will also tighten poor state tests for better student performance information to tie to teacher evaluations. 

“The problem with the testing system that we have in the state is very simple: the standards are far too low,” Van Beek said. “A student who is proficient by Michigan standards is probably not proficient by national standards. The education establishment has created a very low bar, and they’re increasing that and making it more difficult for students to get to proficiency.”

Michigan Educational Assessment Program data released in 2010 found that less than half of Michigan’s fourth and seventh grade students rated proficient or above in writing.

Outrage over Bargaining Curbs
Although most Republicans and some Democrats backed the bill package, some lobbyists expressed outrage that collective bargaining over tenure and evaluation decisions is ending.

Allowing union to reject the new standards would have completely uprooted the package, Van Beek said.

“In the past, when legislators passed reforms, much of what happened in a school district was [still] dictated by union contracts,” Van Beek said. “Even though the legislature might want to improve the way schools operate, many times those intentions and wishes are ignored when a union goes to bargain a new contract. Many [unions] are handcuffing school districts from making some of these good policy decisions when it comes to staff.”

Michigan Parents for Schools, an organization opposing the reforms, wrote to Senate Education Committee Chair Phil Pavlov (R-Saint Clair), expressing concerns teacher ratings rely too heavily on standardized testing and increase the administrative burden on economically strained districts. 

“Their biggest concern was putting a quantity, identifying a specific minimum benchmark in student evaluation,” said Andy Solon, Pavlov’s legislative director. “If we didn’t identify a specific benchmark, it was open to interpretation at the local level. The other piece was the change in the teacher tenure standard. We really moved away from the burdens and the barriers to districts in identifying which teachers should be in the classroom.”

Altering Michigan’s testing system is necessary to ensure teachers are accurately evaluated, Solon said, and to help them improve.

“Good teachers, great teachers are not even concerned [about] this,” Rogers said. “It’s not even going to affect them.”