Education Committee to debate Race to the Top legislation tomorrow


On Tuesday, the Education committee will conduct work sessions on LD’s
1799, 1800, and 1801, all three of which were put forward by the
Baldacci Administration in an attempt to improve Maine’s chances of
winning a federal Race to the Top grant.

There were few surprises at the public hearing last Thursday.

1799, which would allow data from the state’s assessment system to be
used in teacher evaluations, was opposed by the Maine Education
Association, but supported, though with some reluctance, by the
associations representing Maine’s principals, superintendents and
school boards.

Chris Galgay, the MEA president, was quoted as
saying that “there is little or no evidence that tying student test
scores to
teacher evaluations is an accurate or useful way to measure teacher
effectiveness.” That assertion was challenged by Rep. Nelson, who
wondered out loud whether there was any legitimate way to judge the
effectiveness of teachers other than by assessing whether they actually taught or not. Mr. Galgay did not have a good answer.

truth is, of course, that in the performance-based evaluation systems
now in place, student achievement data is but one of a number of
elements used to determine teacher effectiveness. In Denver’s ProComp system, for instance, teachers are evaluated on a whole host of indicators, only one of which is tied to scores on state tests.

opposition from the MEA, the bill will almost certainly pass. Without
it, Maine would not even be eligible for a Race to the Top grant, much
less be competitive with other states for one.

LD 1800, which
would allow the state to adopt learning standards in common with other
states, will likely pass as well. Maine could adopt whatever learning
standards it wished, whether they were in common with other states or
not, which means the bill is largely meaningless. There was no
opposition at the public hearing. 

Speaking of meaningless, LD
1801, which would allow the creation of “innovative” schools run by
existing school districts, deserves a unanimous “no” vote from the
committee (or, better yet, it should be amended into a bill allowing
charter schools). As testimony at the public hearing made clear, there
is nothing that schools would be allowed to do under LD 1801 that they
could not already do under existing law, so what is the point? I doubt
the U.S. Department of Education will be moved by the fact that Maine
is one of only 11 states without charter schools but DID pass a
meaningless piece of legislation allowing “innovative” schools that are
anything but.

If the committee really wants to improve Maine’s
chances of winning a Race to the Top grant, it should follow the advice
I laid out in a recent research report:
adopt charter schools, enact a slew of legislation related to teacher
and administrator quality, dramatically improve our data systems, and
enact legislation specifically targeted at chronically under-performing
schools. Throw in alternative processes for attaining teacher
certification and you’re there.

Unfortunately, none of that will happen. The education establishment
wants no reforms that threaten their monopoly power and the Baldacci
administration clearly has no interest in taking them on. The status
quo will prevail yet again, and Maine’s students will continue to be

Don’t believe me? The work sessions on these bills are tomorrow…