Detroit Ideas offered for improving teacher tenure, evaluations

By David Runk

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Ideas announced Tuesday to boost the quality of teachers, including speeding up tenure cases and developing evaluation standards, are the latest in a series of recent proposals aimed at rethinking Michigan's teacher tenure system.

The American Federation of Teachers' Michigan chapter reviewed tenure cases from the last decade and found that they take an average of nine to 10 months to handle. The union said the time could be cut by 40 percent, in part by turning some duties over to neutral fact finders.

"If the teacher should be dismissed, let the teacher get on with their lives," said AFT Michigan President David Hecker.

Teachers in their first four years generally can be dismissed at the discretion of school officials, and tenure cases are heard by an administrative law judge. AFT Michigan said allowing neutral fact finders to conduct some hearings could improve the process and wouldn't hurt teachers' right to a fair hearing.

Streamlining the process to discharge ineffective tenured teachers is among the priorities this year for the Michigan Education Association, the largest teachers' union in Michigan. Last month, the State Board of Education sent recommendations to Gov. Rick Snyder that would change the tenure system in part by placing more emphasis on proficiency rather than the number of years spent teaching.

Educational change is expected to take center stage next month when Snyder unveils what he has said will be a "special message" on education. Legislative debate is currently focused on the $45.9 billion budget plan that the Republican governor released last month.

"The governor is appreciative of the ideas and input," Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel told The Associated Press in an e-mail message. "He's exploring and looking at a wide variety of issues, including teacher tenure, for incorporation into his special message on education in April."

Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, introduced a bill last month that would repeal Michigan's teacher tenure law. Rogers said the proposal would allow administrators to remove ineffective teachers while existing labor law would protect teachers from being targeted for unfair dismissal.

"I think it's been misused by both sides," Rogers said the tenure law.

Rogers said he introduced the bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Education, since efforts last year to change the tenure system failed to make progress.

Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, proposed a bill that focuses on improving teacher evaluations, pegging at least half of a review to student growth and achievement. The bill would allow for teachers rated ineffective for two consecutive years to lose tenure but also to earn back tenure.

"Get the evaluation correct so we know who is an effective and ... ineffective teacher," Melton said. His bill also is in the Education Committee. No action has been taken on either bill.

Brad Biladeau of the Michigan Association of School Administrators said his organization doesn't support the idea of eliminating tenure. But he said the threshold for dismissing a tenured teacher probably is too high, and the process is too costly.

"We feel that we need to review fair dismissal procedures that come with tenure," Biladeau said.

While teachers unions say some changes are needed, AFT Michigan and the Michigan Education Association also don't want the tenure law scrapped. They argue that it's the tenure process -- not the concept of tenure -- that needs an overhaul.

"Nobody wants to take away the due process rights of workers," Michigan Education Association spokesman Doug Pratt said. "That's not something you're going to see popular support for."

In addition to its ideas for improving the tenure system, AFT Michigan said school districts and teachers need to work together to improve evaluations. Hecker, the union's president, said many school districts rely on arbitrary and superficial measures, while some fail to complete evaluations.

To help, the union has developed a guide to help teachers and local districts develop better evaluation systems.

Published: Thu, Mar 3, 2011

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