The Craig Fahle Show

Pavlov Back to School 2013 Editorial: The Most Important Issue

As students head back to school, WDET asked some of Michigan's most influential experts and policy makers to answer the question: What is the most critical issue facing education in Michigan and how can it be solved? Here is an editorial from State Senator Phil Pavlov about his most important education issue:

The past couple of years have seen big changes to Michigan’s state government, with no area receiving more attention than our public education system.

For many years, Lansing did everything possible to shield schools from feeling Michigan’s economic woes, but ultimately everyone has been impacted by a decade of population, employment and revenue losses. To help schools manage their finances, Republicans in Lansing passed major cost-saving measures in 2011 and 2012. At the same time, we focused on quality academics across the entire system, with a number of accountability and transparency reforms.

Of all the work accomplished, none was more valuable to foster effective teaching and school leadership than the overhaul of Michigan’s teacher evaluation and tenure laws. As part of those reforms, the Legislature formed the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness (MCEE), a temporary, independent commission of education experts chaired by the University of Michigan’s Deborah Loewenberg Ball. The MCEE spent nearly two years developing recommendations for a fair and meaningful educator evaluation model, and issued its final report last month.

Why does Michigan need a model evaluation system?

The quality of teachers and school administrators is so crucial to children’s educational achievement that it’s essential our schools – all of them – have effective tools to recognize and reward the best educators and identify and support those who are struggling.

Not enough Michigan students are achieving at high levels, and many others are failing to reach even minimum proficiency levels in basic subjects like reading and math. To prepare our children for life and work in the 21st Century, we must ensure that our schools are honestly evaluating educators – from principals down to first-year teachers – and informing parents about their performance.

It’s also the right thing to do for educators, to elevate their profession and help them continually advance. Teachers, like other professionals, want to excel at their craft. Most of them chose teaching because of a noble desire to work with children and help them develop their unique talents and skills.

Reliable, meaningful feedback that helps teachers improve is good for them and good for students. Likewise, practices that encourage administrators to support their teachers with sound observation and appropriate professional development are good for the whole school.

Some school districts have already implemented successful evaluation methods, but others may need help. A 2013 report by the non-profit Education Trust-Midwest calls high-quality systems a “rarity” in Michigan, and highlights Grand Blanc High School, near Flint. That school’s principal, Jennifer Hammond, sits on the MCEE, and believes robust evaluations are “transforming the culture” at her school. She credits teachers who bought into the process, became more collaborative, and now want even more feedback. This success is exactly what a statewide model can help all districts achieve.

This month, as students head back to school, the Legislature will begin considering the MCEE recommendations, examining other states’ best practices, and crafting a model for Michigan. One that is rigorous, but also fair and constructive. Not too costly or complicated, but clear, transparent and workable. Not a burdensome mandate, but a model for districts that are serious about improving the quality of education for students.

I am committed to this important effort, which will so greatly benefit Michigan students for years to come.

State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, is chair of the Senate Education Committee and represents Michigan’s 25th District in Lansing.

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