Inside Maine’s Race to the Top application, Part 9

Inside Maine’s Race to the Top application, Part 9

June 30, 2010 Posted by Steve Bowen - No Comments

Part D(3) of the state’s Race to the Top application is related to “ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals,” by which the Obama administration means ensuring “that students in high-poverty and/or high-minority schools have equitable access to highly effective teachers and principals and are not served by ineffective teachers and principals at higher rates than other students.”

This is trouble for Maine in two ways. First, we don’t do a particularly good job at establishing who is effective and who is not, since student outcome data is seldom, if ever, used to determine the effectiveness of teachers and principals. Second, hiring decisions are made on a district-by-district basis. Individual districts undoubtedly work hard to hire the best people they can, but the fact is that some districts can offer better pay and working conditions than others, with the effect that some districts have plenty of job applicants from which to choose top teachers and principals, while other districts are at a competitive disadvantage.

So how does the state plan to deal with this issue?

In what is becoming a troublingly regular feature of the state’s RTT application, the Department’s response is long on platitudes and short on specifics.  The state’s application claims that something called the “Maine State Teacher Quality Equity Action Plan” has already been developed, and indeed does exist and is available online.  The “action” plan, which is a relatively thoughtful one, calls for the state to pursue strategies such as offering financial incentives for teachers to take positions in high need schools, improving mentoring and retention practices, and taking steps to “improve working conditions.”  Unfortunately, though the state includes the plan in the RTT application’s appendix, they put none of the details of the plan in the application narrative itself. It seems like it would have been easy to insert a quick summary of the plan into this section of the application, but that was not done.

The Department goes on to suggest that the to-be-developed Multi-faceted Professional Accountability System, described in section D(2) of the application, will include elements “to promote equitable distribution of effective and experienced teachers and leaders.” Again, the state includes few actual details of these elements, other than to suggest that they will include a “career advancement component” and perhaps “performance compensation for teachers and principals.”

As a side note, I am personally intrigued by the Department’s mention in this section of the state stipend for teachers with National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification. They make it sound as though the stipend was part of some grand plan to improve teacher quality across the state. In fact, it was four years ago that I, as a member of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, pushed for a state-level NBPTS stipend to be included in a 2006 state budget bill. There was never a separate bill to put the stipend into place, we negotiated it into the budget document in order to introduce into Maine some kind of performance-based pay program. In fact, as I argued on the House floor on April 27, 2006, we did quite a bit to improve teacher quality that Session, including increasing support for the state’s Educators for Maine college loan program.  The Department, though, had no hand in any of it, and neither did the MEA.

So, though we didn’t know it at the time, of course, I and my former colleagues in the 122nd Legislature may have helped our chances of winning a Race to the Top grant.

Our chances of winning are slim, though, if the state’s application doesn’t at some point become far more intriguing than it has been so far. The feeling I am beginning to get from this thing is that it was pieced together by people who were instructed to do so, but whose hearts were not really in it. There are glimpses every once in awhile of some vision, some thoughtfulness, and some passion for reform, but these glimpses are awfully fleeting. Too much of the application is just too pedestrian and uninspired, to be honest about it.

I continue to hope that as we move forward some stronger sections await, but I am beginning to get something of a sinking feeling…