The ongoing budget battle between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and GOP legislative leaders has taken up much of the oxygen in Lansing lately, but several other key issues are bubbling up to the surface at the Capitol.
MEA lobbyists expect members will need to engage on legislation that has been introduced or will soon appear related to Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements, teacher evaluation, and third grade reading mandates.
Michigan Merit Curriculum
Bills to change the Michigan Merit Curriculum have been introduced in both the House and Senate, including:
HB 4269, sponsored by Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Paw Paw), would allow computer coding to be considered a foreign language for purposes of fulfilling the two-credit world languages requirement for graduation. MEA opposes this legislation, as well as similar legislation, HB 4974, sponsored by Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores).
HB 4271, sponsored by Rep. Gary Howell (R-North Branch), would remove the Algebra II requirement from math courses students must pass to graduate and allow it to be replaced with a statistics or financial literacy class. MEA supports this legislation.
SB 600 and 601, sponsored by Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), would eliminate the Algebra II requirement to allow students more flexibility in that required math credit. In addition, the bills would eliminate some mandated credits to allow local districts more freedom in determining course offerings and to give students greater opportunities to enroll in programs of interest to them.
The bills would eliminate requirements for students to complete one credit of physical education and health, one credit of visual, performing and applied arts, and two credits of world languages—instead giving districts the ability to locally determine those four credit requirements.
MEA is analyzing this newly introduced legislation and has not yet taken a position.
This hot topic returns to the forefront because lawmakers last spring put off for one year a scheduled increase in how much students’ standardized test scores factor into teacher effectiveness ratings.
One bill getting some attention would prevent administrators from conducting an evaluation on a family member. HB 4208 would grant waivers from the rule for rural school districts without alternative evaluators.
At least one other bill on the subject is expected to be introduced, including a proposal to permanently reduce the percentage of student test scores tied to teachers’ effectiveness ratings.
Student test scores as a percentage of teacher evaluations were scheduled to increase from 25 percent to 40 percent at the end of last school year. Instead, the Legislature voted to delay the increase until 2020 to allow for more time to consider options.
MEA lobbyists are continuing to push for test scores to account for a lower percentage of teacher evaluations. Many experts question the accuracy of measuring teacher effectiveness based on students’ performance on a bubble test.
More and more states are backing away from stringent requirements for documenting student growth as part of teachers’ scores in formal evaluations, scores which play an increasing role in teacher layoffs and recalls.
The increase in student test scores from 25 percent to 40 percent of teachers’ evaluation scores was scheduled to happen as the result of an evaluation overhaul passed in 2015 which many educators consider punitive and damaging to teaching and learning.
Other possible fixes to the broken evaluation system are being considered by Launch Michigan, a diverse group of leaders in education, business and philanthropy formed to seek common-ground solutions to education issues. MEA President Paula Herbart is a co-chair of the group.
More than 65 percent of 17,000 school employees responding to Launch Michigan’s 2019 Statewide Educator Survey last winter reported that changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system had not improved teaching and learning.
Third grade reading
This is the year that the most controversial mandate of the state’s three-year-old third grade reading law takes effect: student retention based on M-STEP scores.
Gov. Whitmer and others have said they would like to scrap the retention mandate, which research shows can be harmful to youngsters and disproportionately affects students of color and children from high-poverty communities.
Specific legislation isn’t moving in the Legislature right now, but MEA lobbyists have been pressing for fixes to the law based on concerns expressed by K-3 educators across the state who say over-testing and burdensome paperwork rob classrooms of teaching and learning time.
Meanwhile, the state has not fully funded the law to provide meaningful supports alongside the mandates: smaller class sizes, high-quality reading materials, and adequate literacy coaches and interventionists.
Because students will be held back beginning next fall, based on spring 2020 M-STEP scores, the issue is drawing significant media attention – which should intensify if legislation is introduced. Last week the non-profit, non-partisan Bridge magazine launched a series that will follow four MEA member third-grade teachers through one school year.
Stay tuned on all of these important legislative fronts.