Inside Maine’s Race to the Top application, Part 10

Inside Maine’s Race to the Top application, Part 10

July 2, 2010 Posted by Steve Bowen - No Comments

On Wednesday, I expressed the hope that some stronger sections are coming in the state’s Race to the Top application, and after looking at sections D(4) and D(5), one of which was relatively weak and one of which was relatively strong, I remain concerned that the state’s application isn’t going to get the job done.

Section D(4) has to do with improving teacher and administrator preparation programs, and like too many sections before it, it is so light on details that one wonders why they even bothered. The section begins with the very bold statement that “Maine is presently in the process of transforming PreK-20 education.” Okay, that sounds pretty impressive, so what are we doing on teacher and administrator preparation that is transformational?  Well, according to the Department, “many” of the state’s educator preparation programs have “agreed to a Statement of Purpose” to “transition to a system based on Maine’s 10 Initial Teacher Certification Standards linked to NCATE/TEAC/ISSLC standards, and Maine’s content standards and using in [sic] a true standards-based assessment system.”

Um, alright.  But what does any of that mean?

There is no way to know. No further details are included. The “Statement of Purpose” does not seem to have been included in the application appendix, and neither, as far as I can tell, are “Maine’s 10 Initial Teacher Certification Standards,” though they were easy enough to find using Google.

This section continues with more fact-free filler: “The move of many of Maine’s educator preparation programs to a standards-based system of assessing their students and graduates will contribute to the effectiveness of new educators. Using data on effectiveness, including student achievement and growth, successful educator preparation programs will be identified. Teachers and leaders in these programs will have their internship placements with other effective teachers and leaders. In addition, the state’s higher education specialist in the Department is working with college deans to discuss changes to their programs. These changes will enhance their effectiveness in preparing educators to teach and lead in support of innovative schools and in support of 21st century skills and knowledge.

Ugh. The sinking feeling I mentioned Wednesday just got more sunk.

The following section, though, which has to do with improving professional development opportunities for teachers and principals, is a bit better. The first part of this section is more filler about the state’s “clear priorities,” which are not described; and its “plan for professional development,” which is also not described. The second part of the section is much stronger, however, describing in a level of detail that is sorely needed elsewhere in the application the state’s plan for regional “Leadership Academies” for “current and aspiring leaders.”

These academies, the Department writes, will take the form of “a series of ongoing state-wide cohort-based leadership academies that support up to 30 sites each year to develop critical knowledge and skills needed for leading change and turning around underperforming schools.” Included in the content of these academies will be courses on standards-based instruction, accountability systems, teacher collaboration and support, the development of teacher mentoring systems, and so forth. The academies will also be used to support school turnaround efforts, assist in the implantation of new teacher evaluation systems, and for developing strategies to close achievement gaps – all of which are among the broader goals of the Race to the Top effort.

Regional professional development academies are not a new idea, they have been batted around in the state’s education policy circles for years, and facilitating their development was one of the goals of the district consolidation effort. Still, their inclusion here, along with detailed goals for them and a timeline for their implementation, brings to the application some welcome specificity. The academies are a good idea, which is something the entire application could use more of.

So where are we at this point? When I started looking at the Great Teachers and Leaders section of the application last week, I suggested that this one section of the application, which is worth more points than any other, might be where “the state’s proposal will be won or lost.” Maine also might have made up some ground in this section had it embraced some bold reform ideas in this area, which is clearly a top priority for the Obama Administration.

Unfortunately, the state came up short here. Yes, the Department is embracing a performance-based evaluation system for teachers, administrators, and educator preparation programs, and this is an important step forward for Maine. And yes, the leadership academies described above are indeed a good idea, and are well presented in the application.

The broader Great Teachers and Leaders section is full of holes, though. There is no real plan for alternative certification pathways for teachers and administrators. There is no real plan to work toward more equitable distribution of effective teachers and administrators through means such as alternative compensation models. There is no real plan to meaningfully improve professional development opportunities for teachers. Three sections out of the five in the Great Teacher and Leaders part of the application, in other words, really need more work, and even though the development of the MPAS and the Leadership Academies are big steps forward, they are offset by half-steps elsewhere.

The next section of the application, regarding “Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools,” begins on page 103 of the 136-page application narrative. Time and space are beginning to run short if the state hopes to hit a home run in the last couple of sections of its Race to the Top application.