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Teacher Evaluation Law in Michigan: A Case Study

To further my interest in the legislative changes to teacher evaluation laws nationally, I partnered with Wayne State University researcher, Ben Pogodzinski, to investigate how teacher evaluation reform in Michigan affected labor relations in this strong union state through a survey of local district superintendents and human resource directors.

The Michigan legislature revised its educator evaluation system in two consecutive years: 2010 and 2011. The law now requires districts to adopt and implement a "rigorous, transparent, and fair performance evaluation system" that includes annual evaluations of teachers' job performance, to inform decisions regarding employee effectiveness, retention, promotion, firing, and the granting of tenure. These evaluation systems must include student growth data as a "significant factor" (Mich. Comp. Laws Sec. 380.1249). Student achievement growth will account for 50% of a teacher's evaluation by 2015 (Mich. Comp. Laws Sec. 38.81). 

While these types of changes to state teacher evaluation law were common around the country, the Michigan Legislature added a prohibition against collective bargaining on this topic (Mich. Comp. Laws Sec. 423.215(3)). This change was significant because the teacher employment relationship at the vast majority of Michigan's public schools are governed by collective bargaining.

Through our survey, we found that teacher unions continued to play an informal role in shaping teacher evaluation policy in about half of the districts relating to issues such as how student acheivement data would be used in the evaluation process, how classroom observations were structured, and teacher goal setting and attainment. This limited union involvement through channels other than collective bargaining may have contributed to administrators' positive reports about the labor climate in the state despite the significiant change in teacher labor policy.