Baldacci Administration releases embarrassingly weak Race to the Top legislation


The administration says three new bills will improve our chances of winning Race to the Top funding. We politely disagree. Our press release:

Tank Critical of Proposed Race
to the Top

 Administration’s School
Reform Bills Fail to Innovate Maine Schools


Portland-based think tank said today that school reform legislation proposed by
the Baldacci administration isn’t even close to the kind of bold innovation
demanded by the U.S. Department of Education’s multibillion-dollar Race to the
Top grant program.


“There are few words to
describe how disappointing these proposals are,” said Stephen Bowen, who
directs the Center for Education Excellence at The Maine Heritage Policy
. “Other states have taken bold steps in response to
President Obama’s call for real education reform.  What the Baldacci administration
has proposed is embarrassingly weak.”


Under the guidelines of the Race
to the Top grant, Maine could receive up to $70 million in federal funding to
help foster educational innovation and reform. The grant program is
competitive, however. “We have to show Washington that Maine is a prudent
place to invest school reform dollars if we have any hope of winning a
grant,” said Bowen. “That means we need to be more ambitious, more
creative, and more innovative than the states we’re up against. The governor’s
proposals achieve none of these things.”


The Baldacci administration has
proposed three separate bills which it claims will make Maine more competitive
for Race to the Top funding:


LD 1799 allows
the use of student assessment data in teacher evaluations.  Rather than
let local school districts develop new teacher evaluation systems of their own,
the bill requires use of evaluation models developed by the state Department of
Education. “This is yet another example of the administration’s top-down
approach to reform,” said Bowen. “It is designed to put the
bureaucrats in Augusta and their allies in the education establishment in the
driver’s seat.”


LD 1800 allows
Maine to adopt academic standards common with those of other states, a change
designed to answer the Obama administration’s call for national standards for
academic achievement. “The bill changes only one line of state law and
even that one line says the state ‘may’ adopt common standards, but does not
require it,” said Bowen. “This sends Washington a message that Maine
lacks commitment to reform.”


LD 1801
establishes what the administration calls “innovative schools.” 
The one page bill allows existing school districts to create “an
innovative autonomous public school,” but not a public charter school.
“These supposedly autonomous schools will be run by the very same people
who run our schools today and must abide by virtually all existing state law
governing public schools.  This bill fails to create autonomous schools in
any way,” Bowen said.


According to the Baldacci
administration, “innovative” schools must have “a system for
accountability for student achievement that exceeds but is not in conflict with”
the state’s existing accountability system.  This means such schools must
operate two assessment systems – one of their own and the state’s testing
program.  “It is also important to note that only those assessment
systems related to student achievement get special consideration under the law.
Teachers and administrators in such schools are no more accountable under this
bill than they were before, and not nearly as accountable as they would be
under a charter school model,” Bowen explained.


While the so-called autonomous
schools proposed in LD 1801 may have discretion with regard to things like
staffing and school calendars, such changes must not conflict with state
law.  “That means all the teachers in these schools must be certified
just as they are today, despite a lack of evidence that teacher certification
correlates with student achievement, and the same rules and regulations
burdening schools today remain in place,” said Bowen. “How can anyone
look at this bill and say with a straight face that these schools will be
autonomous or innovative?”


“Compared to other states’
reforms, this package of legislation is unimaginably inadequate,” said
Bowen. “Michigan changed state law to increase the number of charter
schools and strengthen accountability measures for persistently failing
schools. California law was changed to provide school choice rights to parents
with children in underperforming schools. Massachusetts adopted statutory
changes that make it easier for school administrators to remove ineffective
teachers. 39 states now have charter schools, yet the Baldacci administration
thinks a one page bill allowing ‘innovative schools’ will win us a Race to the
Top grant.”


“The research Steve has done
makes clear that the Obama administration set the school reform bar very
high,” said Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage
Policy Center. “We were hopeful the governor would rise to the challenge,
follow the lead of those states that have adopted meaningful reforms and
advance a bold agenda to dramatically improve Maine’s schools. Instead, he took
orders from the education establishment and proposed one of the weakest school
reform packages proposed in the country. This is a huge disappointment for
Maine students, and a national embarrassment.”
To read Bowen’s recent paper
on Maine’s chances of winning a Race to the Top grant, CLICK HERE.