Inside Maine’s Race to the Top application, Part 7

Inside Maine’s Race to the Top application, Part 7

June 23, 2010 Posted by Steve Bowen - No Comments

In a recent paper on Maine’s chances of winning a Race to the Top grant, I wrote that the “Great Teachers and Leaders” section of the RTT application was “real trouble for Maine.” “In fact,” I wrote, “it is hard to see how Maine would be eligible for more than a tiny fraction of the points available under this section, given its current policy with regard to teacher and administrator effectiveness, which is to have no policy.”

The real problem is, as I said back then, that this section of the application is worth more than any other single section – 138 points out of 500 toward the state’s final grade.  Maine’s embarrassing lack of charter schools, by contrast, will cost it no more than a couple of dozen points.

The Department seems have realized this, and has committed nearly 80 pages of the 211-page application document to the “Great Teachers and Leaders” criteria. It will take us some time to work our way through all this, but a lot is riding on what the Department proposes for this section of the application, which, in my mind, could be where the state’s proposal is won or lost.

The first part of this section deals with “providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals,” and Maine is in trouble almost immediately. As I noted in my earlier paper, Maine is, according to Education Week, one of only three states in the nation that does not have alternative pathways to teacher certification. The Department, to its credit, doesn’t make any attempt to spin this, stating matter-of-factly that “there are no alternative route teacher certification programs currently operating in Maine that meet the definition set forth in this RFP.”

The state’s proposed solution to this problem, is, like so much else we’ve encountered thus far, dismayingly ambiguous.  The Department appears to suggest that it has developed a “proposal” to expand “high quality pathways” to certification and goes on to describe “four criteria” this plan should address.

But then it never actually proposes anything.

The plan should “serve the statewide need for effective teachers,” the Department writes, should be “delivered to the schools and communities where prospective teachers reside,” and “can be rooted in a performance based assessment system.” Yet there is no plan. There is not even, from what I can tell, a plan to develop a plan. The Department seems to know, vaguely, what it wants in an alternative certification approach, but identifies no actual concrete process to get there.

The state’s failure to put together some kind of solid proposal on this issue is difficult to comprehend. This part of the Great Teachers and Leaders section is worth 21 points, certainly worthy of spending some time working on, especially when this is an issue about which there is virtually no controversy. The Department does go on to state that the state Board of Education “has passed a resolution to open the regulations governing and defining alternative routes to certification programs” for the purpose of “updating and revising” them, but why couldn’t that have been done by now? We’ve known about this massive, multimillion dollar federal grant program for more than a year, so why don’t we have more to show for it?

So much for an easy 21 points.

The next part of this section is a 58-point monster – worth more than any other single part in the application – and it has to do with “improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance.” The Department appears to have risen to the occasion, devoting a dozen pages to this part alone. We’ll see tomorrow whether they have been able to make up some ground here, ground that, to my way of seeing it, was needlessly lost here and in other sections of the application.