Some Say 'Race to the Top' Application at Odds With State Law


ANNAPOLIS (November 23, 2010)- A regulation that would base 50 percent of teacher evaluations on "student growth" in order to secure federal funds was rejected by a legislative committee because it "took away the flexibility" of local school systems and required feedback that "never happened," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George's.

Pinsky and other members of the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review are hoping for a revised version of the regulation proposed by the Maryland State Board of Education that is less specific and incorporates more input from local school systems.

The state board, however, has the power to push the current form of the regulation forward to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The committee's vote has raised concerns about the potential effect on the federal Race to the Top funds the state was awarded in August. The state's application for the federal funds called for making 50 percent of teacher evaluations dependent on student growth.

Maryland was awarded $250 million from the competitive Race to the Top program to help it carry out education reform. With the state hoping to implement these federal funds starting next year, Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said he expects a decision about the regulation will be made soon.

"My sense is the (Maryland State Board of Education) will move quickly," Reinhard said.

Despite the potential consequences to the federal funds, the committee voted against the regulation based on contradictions between it and past legislation, Pinsky and others said.

The Education Reform Act of 2010 differentiates between "general standards" for teacher evaluations, created by the state board, and more specific "criteria" which are to be determined by local school systems.

Pinsky, the Senate chair of the committee, said the new regulation dictated too directly what local systems had to do instead of allowing them to generate their own individual criteria.

"We're not going to do a top-down kind of thing," said Pinsky.

Adam Mendelson, director of communications for the Maryland State Education Association, agreed that the regulation's set percentage was too specific.

Reinhard said the state board's interpretation was that the regulation was not too specific, and that the criteria for student growth had not yet been detailed.

Another major concern is that the state board did not properly collaborate with local school systems to develop the regulation, a requirement in the Education Reform Act.

"It seemed like they were short-circuiting the process," said Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George's, and house chair of the committee.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a Northern Maryland Republican, said he was "not convinced" when listening to testimony from teachers unions and school system representatives that there was an opportunity for everyone to contribute to the process.

"It wasn't the 50 percent number that bothered me," Kittleman said. "It was the lack of participation from stakeholders."

Kittleman cited testimony from Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, who stood in opposition to the 50 percent regulation, as well as others the state board put forward.

Lesli Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said Weast's opposition is partly based on a lack of clarity concerning the criteria that would be included in the 50 percent determined by student growth.

The school system, she said, does not want to change what it considers a successful evaluation system. Montgomery County Public Schools gave the state's Race to the Top application "conditional approval," stating it wanted to continue using its current system.

"We weren't willing to give up the (evaluation system) we've been using," Maxwell said.

The regulation now goes back to the state board with the committee's vote and recommendations. Some worry that if the board makes substantial changes to the 50 percent requirement, the federal funds could be put in jeopardy.

"We are concerned," Reinhard said.

Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for the governor, emphasized O'Malley will protect the federal funds.

"Whatever happens next, the governor is certainly not going to do anything to jeopardize Race to the Top funds," Adamec said.

Pinsky, however, said he does think the funds are at risk and that the committee recommended the governor speak with the U.S. Department of Education about possible "minor changes."

"We have a law here that's way beyond Race to the Top," Pinsky said.

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