Michigan schools at the starting line
The whole idea of the federal Race to the Top program, which could bring hundreds of millions in new education funding to Michigan, was to get states to stretch.
Stretch the conventional restrictions on charter schools. Stretch the typical ideas about who can be a teacher, or how teachers can be evaluated. Stretch the notions of who should be able to call it quits on school.
The good news is that Michigan will stretch with other states, thanks to recent, last-minute legislative action. Michigan lawmak ers may have spent most of the year frittering away their chances to reform the state’s finances, but their quick, collaborative work on Race to the Top showed how much can be accomplished when they’re properly motivated.
Now school districts themselves have to embrace the new legislation and stretch themselves to meet the challenge.
That could be toughest with regard to collective bargaining agreements, which must reflect new attitudes toward nontradition al teachers and historically taboo subjects such as merit pay and peer review.
Districts must make the changes just to apply, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll get any of the federal money even if they do.
But local administrators need to sell teachers, in particular, on the idea that these changes are good for Michigan’s schools and, especially, for its kids. That’s what makes them a good idea. Not the money.
Teachers will perform better if their contracts reward merit and indulge intervention for those who are struggling. They’ll do more for children if their reviews are aligned with student outcomes.
Michigan has lagged behind other states in this regard and has some catching up to do if districts here want to really compete for Race to the Top dollars. Union recalcitrance here has been stron ger than in other parts of the country.
But the Michigan Education Association ought to turn its con cerns about change into vigilance in the name of making the state as competitive as it can be. The only thing accomplished by resis tance now would be a loss for the state — both in terms of the federal cash being made available and the great possibilities opened up by the Legislature’s actions.