A big week for education in Maine

A big week for education in Maine

May 14, 2010 Posted by Steve Bowen - 1 Comment

I don’t imagine most people even realized it, but there were two big developments this week in the world of K-12 education in Maine.

The first, and bigger of the two, was the agreement by the LD 1799 stakeholder group to approve the use of student performance data in teacher evaluation systems which use the so-called Danielson Framework. There are evidently quiet a few districts in Maine that use some variation of this model already, and the stakeholder group’s green light means that these districts can now begin work, if they wish, to integrate student achievement data into those models. Of course, the stakeholder group’s actions also mean Maine can move ahead with its Race to the Top application, as well as take part in the federal TIF grant program, which provides funds for districts interested in developing performance-based evaluation and pay systems.

Considering the extent to which the stakeholder group struggled in its early meetings, that is was able to pull off the approval of a model is something of a miracle.  A lot of credit has to go to Acting Commissioner Angela Faherty, who weathered this first test of her commissionership relatively well, and the MEA’s Mark Gray, who, along with MEA President Chris Galgay, grabbed the reins of the panel at this week’s meeting and led it to take a big first step toward modernizing the way we measure educator excellence in Maine. The MEA still intends to use its position on the panel to block the local development of evaluation systems of which it does not approve, but the union’s action this week represents an almost total reversal of  its earlier argument that student achievement should have no role in teacher evaluations. They have come a long way, and, as they surely realize, there is no going back.

The second bit of big news this week was the triumph of budget validation. For years, The Maine Heritage Policy Center has been advancing the idea of using the ballot box to bring more accountability to government at all levels. The 2006 Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) initiative the Center authored would have required voter approval of school budgets that grew faster than a certain rate of increase.

Voters were told by TABOR opponents that such a provision would be catastrophic to Maine’s schools.

The ballot initiative did fail, but lawmakers in Augusta put a TABOR-like provision in place for school budgets anyway, one that required voter approval for ALL school budgets, whether they grew or not.  The so-called Budget Validation process has been in place in most school districts for three years and, as required by law, is itself being put on the ballot by local school districts this year.

The result?

At least on Tuesday of this week, when the  process went before voters  in some of Maine’s biggest school districts, it remains very popular. In fact, it will remain in place in every one of the school districts whose vote was tracked by observers this week.

So, using student data in teacher and principal evaluations, which we support, is moving forward, and the budget validation process, which we also support, is being endorsed by voters in school districts all over the state.

If only there was some way we could have had charter school legislation enacted this week, we would have hit the trifecta!

In all, a great week for school reform in Maine.