Michigan teachers sound off to television audience

Seth Petty, an elementary teacher in Ann Arbor Public Schools, told NBC News that school funding cuts have hampered efforts to improve education.

Detroit-area TV viewers and a nationwide web audience heard from Michigan teachers Saturday night, as NBC’s “Education Nation” broadcast a live “Teacher Town Hall” at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Throughout the 90-minute program, numerous panelists and audience members sounded off on a variety of important education issues facing Michigan, including teacher evaluation, parental involvement, technology, the Common Core State Standards and education funding.

Tom Brenner, president of the Novi Education Association and a teacher at Novi High School, said over-testing due to state and federal requirements is diminishing education and causing the U.S. to fall behind other countries.

“When you teach classes and you’re focused on testing them, testing them, getting them ready for standardized testing, we’re stifling creativity,” Brenner said.

The overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing in determining teacher performance and classifying them causes more harm than good, numerous experts said. Instead, we need a “system of providing really concrete, useful feedback to teachers,” said Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the University of Michigan’s College of Education and chairwoman of the Michigan Council on Educator Effectiveness.

“Being classified doesn’t help you improve your work, but getting feedback on what parts of it are going well and what parts you could learn more about could be very useful,” Ball said.

Kimberly Kyff, a teacher at the Roberto Clemente Learning Academy in Detroit Public Schools and the 2006-07 Michigan Teacher of the Year, said: “The best feedback in terms of my work has come from my colleagues, when we work together and we talk.”

Noncy Fields of Willow Run Elementary Learning Center echoed Ball and Kyff’s sentiment.

“We are doing the best that we can,” Fields said. “If there’s something that I could be doing better, bring it to me and I will do it.”

Good feedback will be especially important as Michigan educators begin fully implementing the Common Core State Standards, according to the panelists.

According to a poll of the approximately 300 teachers gathered at Saturday’s event, 64 percent said they’ve started using Common Core, 18 percent said they’ve been trained in Common Core but have yet to implement it, and 18 percent said they haven’t received any training on the standards.

Jarrett Rice, a teacher at MacArthur K-8 University Academy in Southfield Public Schools, said teachers will need more help with implementing the “very challenging” Common Core standards.

“The lesson I just taught last week was a four-and-a-half hour lesson, including the assessment,” Rice said. “It was a very extensive lesson.”

Throughout most of the program, teachers, hosts and panelists discussed education reform and ways to improve outcomes for Michigan students. It was up to Seth Petty, a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Ann Arbor Public Schools, to bring some perspective on the discussion.

“The elephant in the room is the fact that in the state of Michigan, we’ve cut $470 per pupil in spending, and then we’re adding more onto the plate continuously,” Petty said to loud cheers from the audience.

“We all want to see our kids excel,” Petty said. “We all want to see our kids perform at a level of being college-ready. But we also have to acknowledge that when you take that amount of money, and then you continue to add on additional initiatives, we’re not really setting up teachers to be successful — or our children.”