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Posted on Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Ann Arbor school officials not sure how teacher tenure reform bills will affect district

By Kyle Feldscher

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.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 2:49 a.m.

"Teachertrons" out of one side of his mouth and "the district can earn 100 dollars per student for meeting 4 out 5 "best practices" but have not "been told" how to do it". So we don't have any educators who can figure out "what to do" they must be told but when they are told they fear being turned into "teachertrons"? I thought an education provided the means to think for yourself but apparently "educators" don't have this ability, or is it the unions that are "dumbing down" the teaching profession? Here's a thought for "educators" how a little initiative and show your union leaders how smart you really are.


Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 2:51 a.m.

"show" a little initiative......

Tony Livingston

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 6:05 p.m.

Has anyone read the article in the Free Press about the rampant cheating that goes on with the standardized tests? Teachers and administrators alike have been caught.....lots of them. One of the reasons cited is using standardized tests as a measure of teacher competence.

J. A. Pieper

Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 12:10 a.m.

And if the public believes it does not happen in AAPS, they have their head in the sand.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 5:35 p.m.

I frequently support Governor Snyder and understand the need for spending less money on education as I have no trust in the ability of the local administrators who spend that money. On the issue of teacher evaluation, I have no hesitation to call this initiative as irresponsible, irrational, and illogical. Most of our students are not old enough, they are not mature or wise enough to participate in the simple event called elections when people choose their representatives who govern us. The students cannot be trusted to give their votes and they cannot choose the candidates listed on the ballot paper. To the same extent, I cannot trust the same students to speak about the professional performance of any given teacher. The student can not participate in such evaluation in either direct or indirect manner. A student may have some preference for a teacher and may vote upon if the objective is that of finding a popular teacher among a set of given teachers. Teacher evaluation must be done in the classroom where the teacher performs. Such evaluation must be done by other Staff members who are qualified to teach and are in the business of teaching, and understand the learning process. We can always bring teachers from other School Districts to eliminate the possiblity of subjectivism.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 5:56 p.m.

Right now students performance is the only item that the students actually contribute to the evaluation. But knowing how my own children rate their teachers and how those same teachers are referred to by their peers, I think the students could do a stunning job at providing feedback on teachers and their ability to teach. Would I want student evaluations to be the basis of keeping teachers? No, I would not. Right now the evaluation system in most of the state is subjective, the principal either likes the teacher or not. A more formal system, similar to what AAPS started is needed. However, some level of did the teacher actually impart knowledge and engender learning should be a key part of the evaluation. After all teachers are there to teach, not to babysit.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 4:27 p.m.

This is a tough one - Will a new law that allows schools to fire incompetent teachers improve the quality of the education received by our students? Oh - this is so hard to answer, let me think about this some more... Anyone who thinks that this new law is a bad thing would clearly have benefited from its passage.


Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 5:50 p.m.

elise - Read my post again. in the last 5 years approximately 10 teachers per year. Note the per year. I took work to find the numbers, they are not posted out on any website. 65 cases were heard, in the last 5 years according to the person in Lansing I talked to, of that 40% were re-instated. That works out to less than 10 per year in my book. If you don't know about that teacher lounge incident, I will not rehash it here. Needless to say, it was not something I would want a teacher of my children subject to.


Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 11:03 a.m.

DonBee- The process is only long and hard if the principal doesn't document thoroughly before the teacher is tenured. Let's face it, you can tell quickly which new teachers have what it takes (desire AND drive) and which don't. It is a principal's job to pick up on this and follow through with the proper procedures to release this individual. Yep, I will agree, much more difficult if a principal hasn't done his/her job before giving someone tenure. Just curious, where did you get your fact that only 10 teachers were fired in the whole state during the past 5 years? I have to say, I watched a teacher a year get removed from the system at my kid's school when a particular principal was there and it was because she did her job. "Perfect job of selecting teachers"...of course not...we are dealing with human beings after all. Actually, I am not aware of the teacher in the teacher's lounge. Oh and I would also like to thank you for always trying to engage in civil conversations on the topic of education. I might not always agree with you but I appreciate that you try to be rational and fair in your responses. :)


Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 2:02 a.m.

elise - Yes and in the last 5 years approximately 10 teachers per year were fired in the whole state of Michigan after the tenure review board got done with it. The process is so long and hard that most don't bother to try. 550+ districts in the state and this is the number of fired teachers. I suspect you will tell me this is because schools do a perfect job of selecting teachers or that the administration is too lazy to follow the process. There was a situation in AAPS with a teacher in a teacher's lounge. It made the front page of the papers, even though the teacher ended up in jail, the union continued to fight to keep that teacher. I am sure you know the details. Tenure was meant for university professors so they had the freedom to take unconventional stands on issues and do research that was unpopular. It has become a shield that is used to keep everyone who gets it in a job, regardless of their capability.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 11:31 p.m.

Heres the thing Plubius, we already have a law that allow incompetent teachers to be fired, it is called the tenure process. If an administrator is doing his/her job, and doing a thorough eval. on a teacher who doesn't have tenure, the teacher can be released. End of problem! This can be done in three years....just like Snyder's "new" law that really doesn't change a thing if administrators continue to operate in the same way.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:47 p.m.

Gov. Snyder's plan is influenced by the privatization goals of foundations like The Gates Foundation and The Broad Foundation. Citizens should familiarize themselves with their goals. Public education as we've known it may become a thing of the past with the influences of these groups. Arne Duncan has also been influenced by Broad.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:24 p.m.

If this is the wave of the future, then you are going to have to rotate teachers through different schools and school districts. Comparing a teachers performance from a school or district where the majority of the parents and guardians are in the lowest tax bracket, to one where the majority of the parents or guardians are in the higher take bracket, is inherently unfair. Also, how do you take in to account for the kind of student that I used to be, one who purposefully chose not to apply themselves no matter what the teacher did or said?

J. A. Pieper

Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 12:08 a.m.

Treetown, well said! My son was one of these students, quite bright, but somewhat oppositional, not always wanting to do what the teacher expected. He admits this now also, but to hold teachers responsible?


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

Okay here's a thought: how to evaluate progress with the most needy children in the district: children to have profound physical, cognitive and communication challenges, children with autism, or students who are medically fragile and who are unable to show progress on a yearly basis, in fact, their medical condition is such that they are declining. One of the biggest money wasting projects is that these students have to take an alternative MEAP. Yes, even a deaf-blind student with no hand use and questionable cognitive ability must show some way to access this test. Ha! Special ed teachers scramble to administer these tests which are no way valid. (Administrators need to have students participate to show "adequate yearly progress" and get a good "grade evaluation of their school" yes, some students might be exempt but not all!) How to you show adequate yearly progress with these students? I say we're already doing this by adhering to the goals and objectives of the Individual Education Plan already in progress. This is one example that hasn't been dealt with. Also, we're the ONLY state in the country to educate these students until they are 26. Do these students really need to be in the educational system until 26? No other states fund education until this age with this population. My point is that students are variable. I mentioned the most extreme example (low incidence disabilities and many are at High Point, here at the Washtenaw County ISD or in self-contained classroom in the AAPS district.) Standardized tests might work if we had standardized students. Parents send us students who are hungry, SICK, who do not respect hard work, who haven't been talked to or read to, who have major behavior issues (and this is NOT limited to special needs students) and then say to teachers: fix this! Ha! I agree with Scott, in four or five years it'll be a disaster.

J. A. Pieper

Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 12:06 a.m.

AAMom, the interesting behind the scenes issues with our special need students is something the public might not know - the special education staff at the building level are spending so much time completing paperwork and having meetings that they rarely have time to work directly with the stuednts they are supposed to be there for; because the students are receiving special ed services, they don't always have the ability to inform their parents they never see this special teacher. But the district has tons of paperwork documenting what their plans are for students, while hoping they can do well on the alternate "MEAP."


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

Why is this only being mandated at the k12 level and why not in state funded higher education as well? Why doesn't this affect ALL school employees including administrators and office professionals and for that matter state employees? The state of Michigan is all about first in-last out.

Basic Bob

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

Just because they pass reform bills, don't think that the pressure to retain experienced teachers will let up. Schools will continue the same techniques of seniority based layoffs because it is simple, easy, and legal. Any bad teacher over 40 will have a case for age discrimination, and enough will win or settle to make it unpleasant for the board. All those experienced and well-paid teachers are a selling point to people deciding where to send their kids. Energetic and engaged teachers could also attract students. Unless you are a horrible and insecure teacher or union president. Or you depend on those folks for reelection. Only the districts who have absolutely no choice will take advantage of the changes in the law, and they will do just fine.

Susie Q

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.

In the past 115-20 years we have seen "Lansing" become more and more involved in the heretofore locally controlled public education system. Proposal A shifted the funding source to statewide sales tax revenues instead of locally controlled millage elections; the prohibition of an individual district from raising taxes to fund their district; the prohibition of beginning school prior to Labor Day (to support Michigan tourism-what does that have to do with education); county-wide calendars; state-wide standardized testing; mandates of when that testing can occur; when and how teacher evaluation can occur; restrictions of collective-bargaining that actually ties the hands of school district attempting to develop creative ways to settle a contract. The Republican Party used to stand for local control, states-rights, etc. I guess they only want local control on the issues that THEY want locally controlled. Some of the changes over the past 20 years may actually turn out to be useful/helpful. But I am astonished by the presumption of the legislators in Lansing (who have little or no experience in the educational field ) who seem to think they have all the answers and are so willing to throw out years of practice just because they can.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:53 p.m.

Susie Q - Local Districts and ISDs can raise additional local funds, Sinking Fund (AAPS has one), Bond Funds (AAPS has this), Special Education Millage (ISD has it), Enhancement millage (this one failed the voter test). Then there are fees (e.g. pay to play) that can be levied. As to calendar, the only thing that Lansing has is a "don't start earlier than and a total number of instruction hours (The law on the number of school days no longer exists). As to funding - Proposition A was probably passed 6 to 8 months before the NAACP and others would have filed a lawsuit against the state for discrimination in the way schools were funded. Given the outcome of those suits in other states, Michigan would have lost without Proposition A or some similar funding equalization law.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

I'm very skeptical of the teacher tenure reform bills. I'm particularly disappointed that Snyder's group and the Michigan legislature have chosen to push forward with these changes without going the necessary distance to specifically define in detail how evaluations will be performed. Any ambiguity in this situation will likely become a disaster. Most troubling is the amount of time that it is going to take to accurately evaluate teachers. I'm not convinced that the principals will have the time or training to do it properly. The district wide management of the principals has also been inadequate. I don't see any money being available to help make the evaluations effective by adding support staff. Relying on the tests to judge performance by students as a reflection on teacher ability is unlikely to have good results. Anyone who believes that the teachers won't spend a significant amount of time teaching to the tests is fooling themselves. That will absolutely happen. Furthermore, I believe that there are too many variables in the students, such as parental life, innate ability, etc., that will drive their performance more than any effect generated by a teacher. Overall, I think that this system is set up for failure. Too much time will be spent on evaluations. Evaluations involving testing of students will likely be inaccurate. The result will be an expensive distraction from the most important thing: helping the students learn.


Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 9:08 p.m.

@snapshot - I'm simply being realistic with regard to the time requirement. Perhaps you haven't worked in an environment with annual performance reviews and a large HR group. Quite simply, the school system has a large budget. This makes it an excellent target for wrongful termination lawsuits. To prevent such lawsuits from being successful, there had better be a substantial amount of documentation supporting the annual evaluations. All of the documentation and appropriate evaluations take time to prepare and complete. The documentation and evaluations will also need to be reviewed by someone within HR to make sure that things are being done properly and can support a termination if performance is inadequate. I've worked in this type of environment and properly documenting and evaluating my staff of 12 took over half of my time. I'd love to hear your suggestions for how all of the current workload will get completed when it is supplemented with these additional tasks. If you think that it will be completed with fairy dust and smiles, well... you'll probably be paying a lot more in taxes as soon as the lawsuits are being filed.


Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 4:06 a.m.

A2 is already setting it up for failure, "concerned about the time it takes to evaluate a teacher with no money for support staff" Here's a suggestion, work or get fired A2. Susie Q is complaining about Lansing ignoring the schools which means "they didn't give us the money we wanted" and Prop A which was implemented because a "local" district let their school district become insolvent.......good job locals. Many others are bringing in "age discrimination" conspiracy theories, special education, student sabatoge" everything they can to "not obey the law or make it work" what a crew.

J. A. Pieper

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 11:57 p.m.

A2Reality your comment about district wide management of the principals has also been inadequate is so true, and I see this as an AAPS employee. Principals do not always take the time to document the inadequacies of staff who are not performing, and this is a reason why we have some teachers who would have been better off in another career. But WHO in administration is HONESTLY evaluating the building level administrators? To eliminate the achievement gap the AAPS has a goal of hiring all minority administrators, as this will help reach this goal. Meanwhile, what is going on in some buildings is beyond comprehension, and nothing seems to happen to these principals. Think about recent principals in the news, and consider the building administrator that kicked and punches a student, and nothing happened. Consider the administrator that had a parent on the school system insurance, and nothing happened related to consequences. Unless reforms are instituted in how building level administrators are evaluated and held responsible, it is difficult to see how these inadequate front line administrators are going to demonstrate the capabilities to evaluate teachers.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

DonBee - You raise an excellent point about the specifics not being appropriate verbiage within the law. At this point, I haven't seen any specifics in ANY location. This language would have been appropriate for the letter from Snyder where the overall plan was introduced, or in an accompanying document separate to, but alongside, the law. Without the specifics, the law and overall effort is meaningless and doomed for failure. The specifics should also be standard and uniform throughout the state. Ideally, I would like to see the evaluation system detailed and some funding provided in support of this involved evaluation system that is being mandated.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 3:49 p.m.

A2Reality - While I can agree that more specifics might be needed - they should not be in the law, because if they are, then it takes a law to change them. Think about the Financial Reform Act or the Health Care Reform Act - in both cases hundreds of people are working on the rules to implement these laws. If the rules had been in the laws the laws would have taken years more to craft and been tens of thousands of pages long.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

Maybe, but truth be told, there are teachers who should leave the system, for everyone's benefit, and the administration has trouble getting rid of them. The idea that principals will be doing the evaluations leaves teachers in a bad position, especially in AAPS, where the principals are overempowered already. There is a potential for abuse.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

I have three kids, all have had excellent experiences with public education! They've had social, emotional, physical and academic support and challenges. Enough already! What has this governor done to help teachers or education. Those who can TEACH, those who can't pass laws for teachers!


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 12:55 p.m.

"like firing a teacher after three straight years of being deemed "ineffective," are not nearly specific enough." That's a joke. In the real world if you have 3 bad WEEKS you will probably get fired. I don't see the Ann Arbor Schools doing enough to get the extra $100.00 per student. I really think they are more willing to pass on that from the State but they will sure be there asking for more milage money.

Tony Livingston

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 6 p.m.

Are you kidding? There are incompetent people in every workplace. Most of them go on for years.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 12:50 p.m.

The most important changes for AAPS in the bills are: 1) Annual teacher evaluations - right now if you have tenure, you only have to be evaluated every 3 years. 2) Tenure changes to 5 years - with the musical principal game that AAPS seems to play, this may give the principal who is coming in more than 1 year to work with a new teacher 3) No more seniority based layoff - this should mean that building principals and the administration have more say in who stays when more layoffs happen The evaluation criteria that AAPS has been developing, if they really think it is great, should be offered to the State Board of Education as a model for the new evaluation process. But, no instead of talking about being ahead of the curve and having something to contribute to the state as a whole, the tone is "we don't know". Pro-Active is better than waiting. As to Brit's statements, he always has been able to turn a great phrase and create soundbites. He should work summers at the Purple Rose.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 10:56 p.m.

Visha- So you are telling me the principal at Dicken allowed you to be part of the evaluation of his/her teachers?? And....due to your involvement in this process you were able to see that evals. at that school are a "popularity contest"? Really?


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 10:40 p.m.



Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 10:21 p.m.

How can our public schools know how things will change when our Mr. Snyder and his people haven't even established a set of criteria for measuring what they have put in place? You would think the guidelines would have been established before the laws were passed, go figure. Visha...a "popularity contest"...what school have you participated in the principal's eval. of his/her teachers. Please refrain from throwing out statements that are not factual, unless of course you are just trying to get people unnecessarily riled up. If that is the case, how does that help a constructive conversation on the subject?


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 2:42 p.m.

Completely agree with your post and the last line is lol. Speaking of musical principals, will there be any changes on their evaluations? I think in some schools it is more of a popularity contest in regards to how the principal evaluates staff.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 12:29 p.m.

What should go hand-in-hand with this is a plan to properly evaluate teacher performance. How is that metric going to be assessed? How do other school districts accomplish this? The article states that "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..." If anything, these efforts should accellerate because this type of model is going to be needed asap.


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

" the head of the Ann Arbor Education Association thinks the reform bills mean bad days are ahead for public education." And better days are ahead for the students that won't have to put up with lousy teachers ! "AAEA president Brit Satchwell said the teacher tenure reform bills could turn educators into "Teachertrons." Ridiculous ! ""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" Heaven forbid that anyone outside education knows what the heck they are doing, a rather narcissist statement for certain. Good Day

Jeff Gaynor

Fri, Jul 8, 2011 : 4:02 a.m.

"Heaven forbid that anyone outside education knows what the heck they are doing" Good point - next time you're sick, why go to a doctor?

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 12:40 p.m.

As usual, more FUD - Fear, Uncertainty and Dread - and protection of the failing status quo from the unions. Good Night and Good Grief


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

Teachertron - the newest app from the Michigan Dept of Education. Hundreds of standardized test questions available. What are we doing?


Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 11:28 a.m.

I hope four or five years from now when teaching is a disaster people remember that this caused it....