Michigan teachers demoralized, union survey says

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

A first-time combined survey by the state’s two teachers unions reveals widespread disappointment, demoralization and discontent among their members.

The results were consistent from Detroit to Grand Rapids and the Upper Peninsula.

The presidents of AFT Michigan and the Michigan Education Association say it is the first time, to their knowledge, that a joint survey of this magnitude has been attempted. And the turnaround time for responses, they say — one week — was extraordinary.

“Nothing surprised us, but I wish I had been surprised,” AFT Michigan president David Hecker said Monday during a conference call with reporters. “This just shows how pervasive the issues are, or how longstanding because they are consistent throughout the state of Michigan.”

Hecker said some of those issues include dissatisfaction with standardized testing and with the new statewide teacher evaluations.

Those evaluations are required under a state law passed by the Michigan Legislature in 2011 that makes it easier to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.

“The teacher evaluations are their version of the Hunger Games,” said Hecker. “They are inconsistent at the very best and it’s more about punishing teachers than improving their teaching abilities.”

He said 7 percent thought the changes to the evaluations had a positive effect, while 60 percent said the changes had a negative impact on their teaching.

“This reflects the state of extreme fear,” said Hecker. “We need to refocus from punishment and fear to improvement and excellence.”

He also said safety and building issues also drew numerous complaints.

“Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they worked in buildings with unstable heating and cooling,” Hecker said. “Thirty-nine percent said they’re dealing with damaged walls, 35 percent said poor air quality, 32 percent complained of rodents and insects, while 34 percent said poor water quality is an issue.”

Both Hecker and MEA president Steven B. Cook say the survey results demonstrate the need for major change in Lansing.

“The key takeaway is there is widespread discontent among public school employees and if lawmakers don’t act quickly to address broken funding, then changes need to occur,” said Hecker. “There is a universal feeling that public school employees are not respected when policies are being crafted by policymakers.”

The Michigan Association of School Superintendents did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cook said the general election in November is an opportunity for voters to change control of the state House, which is controlled by Republicans.

“We would like more legislators to care what educators think — that’s been our theme,” he said. “We would like to see the political makeup of the House change and see Speaker (Tim) Greimel instead of House Democratic Leader Greimel.”

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