I was intrigued by a column in the June 14 Daily News by Sandy Main. She discussed what was required in the late 1800s to become a teacher. All anyone interested in teaching had to do was to score high enough on a teachers’ examination.
While the knowledge needed to teach was different than what is deemed necessary in the 21st century, the test was not simple. Many teachers only had an eighth grade education themselves, but the questions asked on the exam they took to be qualified to teach were very challenging.
Today we struggle with defining what should be taught and what education students need to be successful in an ever changing world. This has created issues for students. The legislature has attempted to create one size fits all defined requirements. Students are not always able to take all of the classes that match their interest or career goals.
I am pleased to report that this problem has been addressed in Lansing. House Bills 4465 and 4466 are on their way to the governor’s desk for his signature. According to the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), they would add flexibility in the personal curriculum for all students and significant flexibility for those enrolled in certain career tech classes or programs. These students would see greater flexibility in math, science, social sciences and foreign language. Some of the flexibility is through the personal curriculum and some through substitution of classes. In addition, schools would see additional requirements regarding how personal curriculum requests are handled and how parents are notified of the existence of the personal curriculum option.
Hopefully the Governor will sign these bills. Although they will not help students this fall, they will start helping some in the second semester of next year and be fully implemented for the fall of 2015. More information will be available once the bills become law.
MASB also reports that the House has passed Senate Bill 817 that addresses another issue we have been watching. This bill would delay the implementation of teacher and administrator performance evaluations and the assignment of effectiveness ratings until the 2015-2016 school year. Other bills are still under consideration and will not be acted upon until at least September.
The concern is not that teachers and administrators would be evaluated, but that evaluations are done in a way that is meaningful. The process is very time consuming. The school aid budget agreement does include some funding for teacher and administrator evaluations. This was included to cover costs of training and purchasing an evaluation tool if the bills are signed into law this year.
The public schools have been under fire for nearly 30 years. Some of the criticism has been justified. Some comes from other agendas, namely eliminating public schools. But whatever the purpose, the attacks have caused frustration for educators. Working constantly under criticism and constant change has caused some to simply give up on the profession. But there are hopeful signs, too.
I was privileged to participate in the hiring of a replacement for Diane Brissette who is currently the assistant superintendent. This is an important position and Mrs. Brissette leaves big shoes to fill.
The process used by Greenville Schools is long and time consuming. But it is the right way to do things. Many people were involved in developing a profile of the person needed, matching the qualifications of the candidates to that profile and finally carefully interviewing the candidates. The Board of Education does not do this hiring although one or more members often are part of the process. The people most directly impacted give input and have a voice in the decision.
This practice is true in many other decisions in this district and in many other districts. The input of educators is respected. Without needing to leave the classroom for administrative positions, teachers are becoming leaders in the education process.
We have come a long way since the time described in Sandy Main’s column. Our children and youth have many challenges, but also many more opportunities than their parents and grandparents.
Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.