O'Malley's school reform plan debated before Senate panel

March 04, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz julie and Liz Bowie

A leading business group and charter school advocates said Wednesday that the governor's education reforms, designed to help the state compete for $250 million in federal money, do not go far enough. Meanwhile, state officials are fighting to retain the support of teachers, some of whom say the proposal doesn't clearly explain what would be expected of them.

The Senate's education committee heard testimony from the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Maryland State Education Association and others as lawmakers began debating Gov. Martin O'Malley's Education Reform Act.

The reforms would extend by a year the time it takes teachers to achieve tenure, more closely connect student performance with teacher evaluations and provide extra pay for quality teachers willing to work in low-performing schools. The overall aim of the legislation is to improve Maryland's chances of winning a federal competition called Race to the Top.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who says changes are necessary for the competition, won the backing of an initially skeptical O'Malley. The Democratic governor said in December that he thought Maryland's school system, ranked first this year and last year by Education Week, was well-positioned.

But some wonder whether Maryland can win the money even if O'Malley's reforms pass. The U.S. Department of Education will announce today recipients of the first round of awards; Maryland did not enter but will in June for a second round.

Kisha Brown, legislative director of the Greater Baltimore Committee, testified that the business group supports the concept of the effort but that "this bill falls short of true reform."

"There are many elements of our education system that need serious improvement," Brown said. Among her suggestions were adding incentive pay for teachers in critical subject areas such as math and making the state more hospitable for charter schools. David Borinsky, president of the Maryland Charter School Network, said he does not believe the state can get Race to the Top money without making it easier for charter schools to obtain funding and giving them more independence from the state's policies.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat and chairwoman of the education committee, said she strongly supports charter schools but changes to them should be presented in a separate bill.

Teachers' support is somewhat tenuous, though leadership at the Maryland State Education Association, the largest group of teachers, originally agreed to back the O'Malley plan.

Teachers union presidents in Baltimore and Howard counties said they are particularly concerned about a proposal to require school systems to use student- testing data as a significant component in teacher evaluations. The idea has swept the nation, with dozens of states agreeing to the requirement to better position themselves for the federal money.

Ann De Lacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, said Clara Floyd, president of the MSEA, had come out on her own to support the legislation and does not represent the views of the local members.

De Lacy sees the administration bill as allowing federal control of local school systems. Frederick County's school board and teachers are opposed to the proposals. But the plan is supported by teachers and board members in Baltimore City, which stands to gain more than most other districts.

At the hearing, Diane Saquella, a lobbyist for the MSEA, said the group could support the O'Malley plan if lawmakers gave local boards control over how the teacher evaluations are developed.

The current proposal calls for the state school board to develop the evaluation procedure, but aides to the governor said they have heard those concerns and intend to amend the proposal to clarify the local boards' role.

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