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County teachers union against Race to the Top application

May 24, 2010|By DAN DEARTH
,

o Washington County ahead on some of Obama's new education reforms

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Teachers Association has joined other teachers unions across the state to oppose the Maryland Department of Education's application for $250 million in federal funding from the Race to the Top initiative.

Denise Fry, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said the unions oppose the application because it violates Maryland law by proposing teachers' pay increases be based primarily on teacher evaluations, rather than on negotiated contracts.

"If the application is revised and it falls in line with state law, the WCTA will reconsider," Fry said. "We would like this to be a collaborative effort."

The Education Reform Act of 2010 -- an emergency measure the Maryland General Assembly passed this year -- says data on student progress shall be "a significant component" and "one of multiple measures" when evaluating certified teachers and principals.

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The act also says "no single criterion shall account for more than 35 percent of the total performance evaluation criteria."

Race to the Top is President Obama's $4.35 billion plan to reform public education by disbursing the money to states through a competitive grant process.

If the state's application is successful, Maryland stands to receive $250 million -- half of which would be given to local school systems.

The rest would be used for other program costs, such as building the data warehouse designed to track student performance and expanding professional development for struggling schools, said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Washington County Public Schools' share would be about $2.8 million, or $700,000 a year for four years.

The state has to send its 259-page application to the federal government by June 1 to be considered for the funding.

Under the state's plan, the evaluation process for teachers would be changed.

"Essentially, the evaluation process will look at teacher effectiveness for the first time on a statewide basis," Reinhard said. "Student scores and other work at the start of the year will be compared to the end of the year."

Fifty percent of teacher evaluations would be based on the progress students make in the classroom.

The remainder of the evaluation criteria would be developed by local school systems (20 percent) and by state (30 percent) officials, according to information on the Maryland State Department of Education website.

Washington County Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said school system officials would be willing to sit down with the teachers union to discuss the proposal.

She said evaluation is something a lot of teachers already do.

"The best teachers hold themselves accountable to student progress," she said. "Once teachers understand what it's all about, they'll jump on board."

Fry said the state application would require teachers to be evaluated every year. As it stands, teachers receive evaluations in the first and fourth years after they are certified.

She said increasing the number of evaluations would place a greater burden on certified administrators and supervisors, who are the only employees permitted to assess a teacher's performance. More administrators and supervisors might have to be hired to handle that work, Fry said.

"It would redefine the responsibilities of building administrators," she said.

Of the 41 states that have submitted Race to the Top applications, only Delaware and Tennessee have been approved so far.

Fry said both of those states had the support of their teachers unions.

Morgan said she believed the state's application was "reasonable."

"This isn't as alarming as people think," Morgan said. "A lot of good school systems are already doing those things."

School systems across the country currently are bound to follow the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind. Some critics say the program is flawed because it focuses too much on standardized testing and fails to provide adequate funding.

Morgan said Race to the Top would carry mandates, but the program would supply the money to help pay for them.

"This is about students," she said. "It isn't about adults."

Last month, the Washington County Board of Education voted 4-3 to endorse the state's application. The approval came with a 90-day evaluation period and an opt-out vote, as board members wanted to see the state's final application, according to board minutes and Morgan.

Board President Wayne Ridenour and board members Paul Bailey, Ruth Anne Callaham and W. Edward Forrest voted to endorse the application, according to school board minutes.

Board Vice President Justin Hartings and member Donna Brightman said they opposed the application because they feared too many federal mandates would be attached to the money. Board member William Staley also opposed the program.

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