Ann Arbor school officials not sure how teacher tenure reform bills will affect district
Ann Arbor school officials said Wednesday the district isn't exactly sure how the package of teacher tenure reform bills passed by Michigan's Legislature last week will affect school policies.
The four bills are still awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature to become law. Among the reforms in place in the bills are extending the period it takes to receive tenure from 4 to 5 years and ending the practice commonly known as “last in, first out,” which sees the teachers with the lowest amount of seniority become the first to be laid off.
The legislation also calls for student growth on an annual basis to become a bigger part of the teacher evaluation process, which may mean some changes for Ann Arbor schools.
The district just finished the first year of a pilot evaluation program for teachers, and David Comsa, assistant superintendent for human resources and legal services, said the district is still looking at the bills to see if any changes must be made.
“We’re still reviewing the legislation to see what impact it would have and when it would take place,” Comsa said.
Teacher tenure reform has been a major talking point for Republican officials around the country and was one of Snyder’s main themes in his education address in April. The votes on the reform bills have been varied among local legislators.
The uncertainty around how the bills will actually impact school districts is similar to a number of other education initiatives that have taken place since Snyder took office. For example, school districts have the ability to earn $100 per pupil in incentivized funding for meeting four of five "best practices," but have not been told what they specifically must do in order to gain the money.
Although AAPS officials haven't figured out how the bills will change the teacher evaluation process in Ann Arbor and what it might mean for the district, the head of the Ann Arbor Education Association thinks the reform bills mean bad days are ahead for public education.
AAEA president Brit Satchwell said the teacher tenure reform bills could turn educators into “Teachertrons.” He said the bills emphasize standardized test scores as the primary indicator of student or teacher success, a move that could ultimately dilute the profession.
“The more they rely on the tests, the more you’ll see teaching to the test,” Satchwell said. “Really, what you’re doing is taking a generation of kids and instead of teaching them how to think, you’re making them dot collectors instead of dot connectors.”
Union leaders and district officials have been collaborating recently on improving the district’s evaluation model and the new bills may put all of that work into question, Satchwell said.
He said he’s reviewed the legislation to this point and said certain sections, like firing a teacher after three straight years of being deemed “ineffective,” are not nearly specific enough.
Satchwell said he knows of a lot of districts trying to sort their way through the legislation that were “caught in the headlights” and there aren’t a lot of people who know exactly how the teaching profession will be affected by the reforms.
“All (of the work to get tenure) was undone. Nearly century of work was undone in one day by amateurs rushing the cockpit,” Satchwell said. “What they’ve done is hugely counterproductive.”