Editorial: Stop revolving door of school reform

The Detroit News
In this Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 photo, third graders read as they sit on Hokki Stools in a classroom at Best Elementary, in Houston.

Maybe it’s term limits. Or maybe it’s the lack of leadership of Michigan’s K-12 school system. Regardless, with so many players pulling schools in so many directions, education reform here will never move forward under the current framework.

The latest example is the Legislature meddling again with teacher evaluations. Republicans in the House and Senate have introduced bills to lower the impact of student performance on teachers’ grades, to 25 percent (the current level) from 40 percent. The higher rate was supposed to kick in this school year.

More:Michigan Senate votes to delay teacher evaluation rules

Business leaders, as well as the Education Trust-Midwest, have made strong cases for keeping the tougher evaluation benchmark.

But it’s not stopping lawmakers from meddling with a perfectly fine evaluation system that was years in the making — and before it even fully takes effect.

This constant flux is at the heart of Michigan’s education woes. No measure ever sticks around long enough to make a difference or even get properly implemented. That’s due in large part to a lack of accountability at the top.

As we’ve pointed out before, Michigan is one of only a few states to remove control of education from the governor. The governor can’t appoint State Board of Education members, or choose the state superintendent. That means the governor also has no control over the Michigan Department of Education.

This bifurcated model means lawmakers, department officials and the governor all have differing views of where school reform should go. And it’s going nowhere.

Here’s a little history on teacher evaluations. GOP lawmakers made significant changes to the teacher tenure law in 2011, making it harder for teachers to earn the protections of tenure, and easier to lose.

Teachers unions hated the tenure changes and strongly advocated that evaluations be tied to tenure reform so that the process would be “fair.” Lawmakers at that time agreed. For the next two years, as part of the tenure law, a council on teacher effectiveness crafted a model evaluation system that would help teachers improve their craft. The effort was lead by then-University of Michigan School of Education dean Deborah Loewenberg Ball — a top expert in the field of teacher evaluations.

The evaluation model became law finally in 2015. At that time, teachers unions said they were pleased with the end product.

Now they aren’t, and union leaders are complaining about how unhelpful the evaluations are for teachers and the harm of tougher evaluation standards.

This is all about undermining evaluations, which are essential to enforcing the tenure provisions. And both are a huge piece of school accountability.

Other legislative reforms, including the recent A-F school grading system and the 2016 third grade reading law, have either been ignored by the Education Department or implemented poorly around the state.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told our Editorial Board this week that she understands the shortfalls of the state’s education governance. She also said accountability measures should accompany additional funding.

The best way to tackle both would be to change the state’s constitution to allow for the governor to have more say in education. Until then, don’t expect Michigan’s schools to improve.