Michigan Education Association

PreviousDear Gov. Snyder: Our ideas to help Michigan

 

The Honorable Governor Rick Snyder,

I was extremely disappointed that the legislature chose to continue to beat up on teachers with its attempt to pass legislation on teacher tenure. A favorite target is the “bad teacher” and the favorite remedies are eliminating tenure, standardized tests, a common scripted national or state curriculum, merit pay, and charter schools to   “solve the problem.” Here are some facts. First of all, national education critics who help construct these ideas now admit they are a failure (Stop the Madness by Diane Ravitch).

The renowned, Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward Public Schools was recently released. It found that a record number—77 percent—of parents gave the school attended by their oldest child an A or B(Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward Public Schools). In Michigan, “95 percent of all public school districts made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB),” according to the Michigan Department of Education. “More schools received A's on their report cards. Over the past three years, the number of schools receiving A's increased from 1,526 (41 percent in 2007-08) to 1,842 (50 percent in 2009-10)” (AYP Michigan 2010). Exactly, where are the bad teachers? Does this sound like a crisis in education? Don’t let the facts get in the way of a perfectly easy target and “simple” solutions. Exactly what is a bad teacher? “After 3 years, 1/3 of new teachers leave the field; after 5 years, almost half of those new teachers have left (Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years Working Conditions, Low Salaries cited
  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/08/AR2006050801344.html ). This just happened in my district; we lost a new math teacher after just 45 days in the profession. In Michigan , an administrator has four years to determine that a teacher is not good enough to retain. Which bad teachers would be left after that? Incidentally, “ Michigan ranks second on the percentage of core academic classes taught by highly qualified teachers (96.4%) ( http://blogpublic.lib.msu.edu/index.php/2009/01/15/michigan-ranks-second-in-percentage-of-h?blog=5 ).
Using merit pay to encourage better teachers doesn’t work either. The largest study at this point, conducted by Vanderbilt University concluded, “Financial incentives made no difference” (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/09/21/05pay_ep.h30.html?tkn=MOPFlfDGHBI61u3I53eEfMnDm651FAaLJ/JV ).

Realistically, why would I, as an award winning teacher, assist a younger colleague to become a better teacher if it meant that we were competing with one another? But, isn’t competition a silver bullet? (By the way, I do help young staff learn and manage this profession because I have morals that push me to be the best that I can be and to help the next generation of teachers help our students become better. I have been a mentor teacher in my district for more than ten years and have been a supervising teacher for MSU intern teachers).

Speaking of competition, wasn’t that the function of Charter schools? Charter schools, another silver bullet, are a failure as well. A recent report by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan discovered that “Charter MEAP scores are below the Michigan Average” (2010-citizens research council report on charters).This reflects national data published by the prestigious Stanford University: “nearly half of charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools ”(Credo Study by Stanford University).

Sometimes teachers have to make unpopular decisions with administrators, parents, fellow teachers and the community, which is why tenure exists. “Seventy-one percent of Americans say they have trust and confidence in teachers, with public school parents registering even greater confidence at 78%.” Apparently they don’t see tenure as a problem in their districts (Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward Public Schools). But, they do see funding as the biggest problem facing public schools for the last decade; they also see overcrowding, lack of discipline and government interference as a big problem (Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward Public Schools).

Instead of focusing on these issues, politicians need someone to blame to take the heat off of themselves. So let’s blame the teachers and their unions. According to Diane Ravitch, “No one, to my knowledge, has demonstrated a clear, indisputable correlation between teacher unionism and academic achievement, either negative or positive. The Southern states, where teachers’ unions have historically been either weak or nonexistent, have always had the poorest student performance on national examinations. Massachusetts , the state with the highest academic performance, has long had strong teacher unions. The difference in performance is probably due to economics, not to unionization. Where there are affluent communities, student performance tends to be higher, whether or not their teachers belong to unions” (Stop the Madness by Diane Ravitch). Oh yeah, but I thought school funding doesn’t affect school and student performance? Or so we are told by politicians and “school reformers”.

Furthermore, Ravitch states, “To be sure, it is not easy to fire a tenured teacher, but it can be done so long as there is due process in hearing the teacher’s side of the story. But the issue should not take years to resolve. When it comes to decisions about terminating a teacher, unions want to be part of the decision-making process. It is not in the interest of their members to have incompetent teachers in their midst, passing along poorly educated students to the next teacher. Since unions are not going to disappear, district officials should collaborate with them to develop a fair and expeditious process for removing incompetent teachers, rather than using the union as a scapegoat for low performance or for conditions in the school and society that are beyond the teachers’ control.” (Stop the Madness by Diane Ravitch).

Recently, a propaganda-filled movie was released called Waiting for Superman, which was an emotional film that shows simple solutions to the plight of public schools. Well, I am waiting for superman, too. Lower my class sizes, give me quality professional development and time to assimilate it. Give me quality time to collaborate with my colleagues. Give me the support of administrators, parents and the community. Stop bashing my profession so I can focus on my work and instead of responding to your simple minded solutions and so I can focus on my students instead of defending myself and my colleagues from these attacks. Finally, give me the modernized facilities and funding that I need to do my job. It must be nice for the director of Waiting for Superman, Bill Gates and others, to shower money and cherry pick their causes and promote them. I will continue to fight for a quality education for every student I find in front of me, not the ones I select. I don’t have time to wait for my superman because he has not shown up in twenty- six years. So while I wait, how about staying out of my way and letting me teach!

PS—this will never be printed in the paper because it is too many words for people to read. The legislature will pass this legislation soon either in Lame Duck session- they don’t call it that for no good reason,- or when the new legislature assumes their “mandate.” Don’t let the facts get in your way of politics as usual.

John Moran
Social Studies Teacher
Charlotte , MI

 

Dear Governor–Elect Snyder,

Congratulations on your election to this most-important office.  I write to you with serious concerns about one of Michigan’s major campaign issues, the future of public education in our fair state.  I have been a public school teacher for more than 17 years and am the father of three children, all of whom will be educated in our public schools.  I love teaching more than any job I have ever held but I am worried about the direction we are moving.  My concerns are two-fold.

First, I am deeply disturbed about what I see as a consistent, manufactured sense of crisis in our educational system.  The media, interested entirely in increasing “viewership”, and various political reactionaries, interested primarily in elected office, continue creating the utterly inaccurate perception that our teachers are less qualified and that our schools are less successful than during some mythical hey-day of previous generations.  The fact is that today’s teachers are far more educated and far more qualified than they have ever been.  In my own department, nearly all have earned master’s degrees, making us better educated than those who taught us and vastly better educated than the average Michigander.  Our public schools graduate more students with greater socioeconomic disparity, more diverse ethnic backgrounds, more learning disabilities, and more family structures than at any time in our history.  While a small number of schools districts may be “failing”, wouldn’t it be better for Michigan to be touting our successes rather than harping on our small number of failures, thereby improving our national image and attracting new businesses and residents.  We need to talk up our system rather than incessantly denigrating it.

Second, I believe that state government is making a serious mistake in continually degrading the quality of the teaching profession itself.  In relentlessly cutting teacher pay and eroding teacher benefits we are making teaching less and less appealing to young people who are making critical decisions about their occupational prospects. Were I younger and deciding where to market my degrees and skill set today, I would certainly not become a Michigan teacher.   The writing on the wall, plain to anyone, is that teaching will be less lucrative, less rewarding, and far less prestigious than ever and that someone with a quality university education and a desire to build a life for themselves and their families should not even consider teaching an option.  This degradation makes me concerned about the quality of people who will be teachers in the future and is creating a downward spiral of ever-diminishing educational returns, boding poorly for the generations to follow.  If we want better people in teaching, we will have to make the job more appealing, not less appealing.  This is an obvious and factual principle of the way the way job markets operate.

If we continue as a State to focus on only our failures and on short-term budgetary considerations we will not achieve what everyone claims to want, a better state economy with better teachers leading to more prosperity for all.  My hope is that now that you have achieved your goal of public service you will think and act in the long-term in a way that our recent leaders have struggled to thank and act.  I wish you good fortune and wisdom in your new job.

Sincerely,
Nelson Scott Sherburne
Livonia Public Schools

 

My hopes and dreams for Michigan as you take office is that you stand by your words to "reinvent Michigan" as your top priory. To shape Michigan and challenge all citizens to provide for a future in Michigan would mean that you "must" improve public education. Citizens "must" be educated to participate as working, contributing citizens in this state. I hope you will end penalizing citizens who have chosen to be teachers as a way to fix the state budget. What will happen when Michigan has run their "tax paying" citizens from Michigan? Who will be educated to obtain jobs, and spend money in Michigan's economy?

Felons also, need to be put back to work; they should be paying into the tax rather than being recipients of! Michigan cannot afford to have any more money striped from public education but needs a pouring in of funds.

My fears are that you will continue on the path stripping Michigan citizens of the rights of the best public education, by stripping the education budget and penalizing citizens for making the choice to reside and work in Michigan as teachers.

What ideas do you have that might help public education and Michigan? My ideas to help public education would be to pass laws that require districts that have high failure rates to lower class sizes to be in line with research that states the best practices for educating students i.e. small classes of 18 or less; require young people that have trouble with the law to achieve mandatory academic levels to complete sentencing guidelines.

Thank you for your time and attention to my concerns.

Sincerely,

Pamela Seales
Grand Rapids, MI

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Updated: February 11, 2011