By JONATHAN GANCI
Capital News Service
LANSING– Public school teachers may soon see changes, or even an outright repeal, of tenure.
A bill by Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, seeks to eliminate the law that makes it difficult for districts to fire experienced teachers.
Under current law, teachers undergo a four-year probationary period at the beginning of their careers. After which they receive tenure.
Critics of tenure say that it allows unqualified or misbehaving teachers to keep employment, undermining the quality of education. Districts seeking to fire a tenured teacher must go through a lengthy process that costs tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, which deters schools from dismissing teachers.
“We need to put the accountability to effectively educate our children back onto Michigan’s teachers,” Rogers said. “The lack of accountability in the classroom harms students for years, and Michigan’s children deserve better than that.”
Mark Dombroski, superintendent of Cheboygan Public Schools, said his district has successfully fired under-performing teachers but he estimates that it cost the district anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 in each case.
However, Dombroski opposes a repeal of tenure since it would leave teachers “with no protection” from a changing administration that may not see eye to eye with certain teachers.
“Things that teachers don’t have control over could impact whether a teacher gets a good evaluation. Without having some protection or a program in place that gives them protection, teachers can’t make changes” in the way they teach Dombroski said.
David Hecker, president of the Michigan affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, agreed that repeal would leave his members vulnerable by eliminating their right to due process in evaluations of misconduct or poor performance.
Hecker said that districts have the right to fire teachers found misbehaving or underperforming, but only after properly reviewing each case.
“We want good teachers in the classroom,” Hecker said. “We don’t want bad teachers in the classroom, and like every other occupation there are some people that just shouldn’t be doing it.”
Critics also argue that repeal would deter teachers from working in the state, making other states with tenure protection more appealing.
However, Rogers said that quality teachers shouldn’t worry.
“The good teachers aren’t going to be affected by it whatsoever,” Rogers said. “If they’re doing a good job, this won’t even faze them.”
The State Board of Education has suggested revisions in the law to Gov. Rick Snyder, stopping short of repeal.
One suggestion by the board is to base tenure on proficiency level instead years of teaching. According to the board, proficiency should be determined using “multiple measures” with at least 40 percent based on student’s academic growth.
Additional pushes have been made to current tenure procedures.
For example, Rep. Tim Melton, D-Auburn Hills, introduced a bill that mirrored the board’s recommendation, requiring tenure to be based on an evaluation of teacher effectiveness.
But Cheboygan’s Dombroski cautioned against evaluating teachers entirely on effectiveness or student performance since they work with a wide range of students.
Student performance can be part of the process because teachers should give all students “ an opportunity to excel at the best of their ability,” Dombroski said. But other factors include outside services students receive and family income.
For example, Dombroski said some students in northern Michigan lack high-speed Internet access at home, which puts their teachers on an unfair playing field when it comes to academic performance.
“So much of the students’ success is outside of school,” Dombroski said. “Granted, we have a huge part in students’ success, but we aren’t there to give them support from childbirth to school readiness and then at home.”
According to Hecker, the union president, changes in the tenure law should include student performance, but urged other measures like peer-evaluation for a better, well-rounded perspective of the educator.
Hecker said if the state decides to base tenure partially on student performance, evaluations should be done on a local level, rather than statewide.
“This way you have an evaluation system that fits that school district and what that school district does,” Hecker said.
Rogers said he’s still willing to hear suggestions from all sides of the issue.
“If they want to come to the table and give us compelling evidence that modification would be a better course, I’m all ears,” Rogers said.
According to Rogers, either repeal or modification is urgently needed.
“It will enhance students’ ability to get good-quality teachers,” Rogers said. “If we lose a whole classroom or a couple of students we haven’t done our job.”
The tenure bills are pending in the House Education Committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.