O'Malley to push teacher changes

Proposal that would add year to tenure track might better position Md. for federal funds

  • The plan "places us in a much, much stronger position when it comes to Race to the Top," says state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
The plan "places us in a much, much stronger position when… (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara…)
February 14, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz | julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to add a year to the time it takes public school teachers to achieve tenure and to tie their performance evaluations to data on how well their students are doing, changes that Maryland education leaders say will better position the state to apply for as much as $250 million in federal money.

The governor's proposal, expected to be introduced to state lawmakers Monday, came after disagreements with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick over whether the state needed to make changes to win the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top funds.

Two months ago, O'Malley said Maryland, which boasts some of the country's top-ranked public schools, did not need to revise its laws to be successful in a program intended to reward states with the most forward-thinking education policies.

But Grasmick held fast to her belief that the state could not tap into the money without legislative changes and had been preparing to push her ideas without the governor's support, several lawmakers said.

Instead, over the past few weeks, school officials and aides to the governor have met privately with teachers union leaders, superintendents and local school board members to develop a plan that Grasmick said Friday makes her "very happy." The state's largest teachers union supports the governor's proposal.

"This places us in a much, much stronger position when it comes to Race to the Top," Grasmick said. "I'm very optimistic that we'll have a comprehensive proposal."

A draft of the governor's Education Reform Act of 2010 shows that it includes:

•Lengthening the teacher tenure track from two to three years.

•Requiring that schools provide mentors to new teachers who are in danger of not achieving tenure. School districts would provide added professional development.

•Making data on student growth a "significant component" of teacher evaluations.

•Providing incentive pay, if the state wins Race to the Top money, for high-performing teachers and administrators who move to the lowest-achieving public schools.

John D. Ratliff, O'Malley's policy director, said the package "helps us advance our own education agenda," though he said the governor continues to believe that Maryland could have been competitive for Race to the Top money without making legislative changes.

Maryland was one of 10 states to sit out the first round of competition for the federal money but will apply in June, Grasmick said.

Clara B. Floyd, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said her members and the American Federation of Teachers, which represents Baltimore teachers, agreed with the proposals largely because of the potential influx of federal money they might bring.

Floyd said the federal competition is "an incentive to do more."

"We probably would not have given [the proposed changes] the kind of attention that we have if not for the Race to the Top money," she said.

But the Democratic governor's plan must clear the Senate and House of Delegates, where some lawmakers said they are apprehensive about chasing after federal money by making legislative changes that might not be necessary.

"We've gotten all of these accolades, and our schools are showing such success, so do we change policies to go after money that we're not even guaranteed to get?" asked Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and a teachers union organizer for the past 15 years. "I think that's a fair question."

Pinsky, who serves on the Senate education panel that will vet the idea, said he has not yet seen the governor's plan but predicted that lawmakers would want to tweak it - if they are convinced of its overall value.

He said support from teachers unions, local school boards and superintendents would weigh into the lawmakers' decision, but "it's not a foregone conclusion" that the legislation will pass.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said the ideas Grasmick presented in an earlier briefing "have some controversial pieces." Overall, she said, Race to the Top "seems punitive" because Maryland should already be in a good position to gain some of the money.

Still, Conway said, "we'll work with what they give us."

Discuss this story and others in our talk forums Most recent local news talk forum topics:

More news talk forums: Local | Nation/World | Business | Health/Science | Computers/Technology
Note: In-story commenting has been temporarily disabled due to technical issues. We are working to correct the issue and will bring back this feature in the future. In the meantime, please use our talk forums to discuss stories.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.