Misconceptions about Md. education reform

May 25, 2010

There are a number of misconceptions regarding the Education Reform Act of 2010, signed this month by Gov. Martin O'Malley. It is time to correct some of the notions espoused in a recent op-ed ("A flawed '50% formula," May 4).

The governor and his staff, along with members of the General Assembly, State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Schools, developed legislation designed to help new teachers, improve school leadership and maintain Maryland public schools as the best in the nation. The legislation also has a secondary effect: It puts our state in a better position to receive one of the Obama Administration's competitive "Race to the Top" grants.

The Maryland General Assembly approved the Education Reform Act of 2010, which states that student growth be a "significant" part of the evaluation process for both teachers and students. We believe that our schools must be in the business of stimulating student progress and preparing young minds for college and careers. As with other education statutes, it was left to the Maryland State Board of Education to provide specificity through regulation. The state board's proposed regulation calls for student growth to count for 50 percent of the teacher and principal evaluation systems.

There is much misunderstanding, however, about the nature of the 50 percent standard. Thirty percent would be set by the state, while the remaining 20 percent of the student growth component would be negotiated and set at the local level. In addition, the remaining 50 percent of the teacher evaluation — the non-student growth component — would be determined at the local level. If the local school system and its bargaining unit cannot agree, then a default system of evaluation determined by the state would go into effect.

To work out the details of this evaluation system, State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick will appoint the Educator Effectiveness Work Group, a committee that will include teachers, principals, and a wide range of stakeholders. Teachers will hold the largest number of seats on the work group. Seven local school systems have already agreed to pilot the evaluation systems to help resolve issues that might arise, and lessons learned can be shared among the school systems. The final evaluation system would not go into effect statewide until the 2012-2013 school year.

This new evaluation system will help all of our schools to move forward. It builds on the excellent work going on in so many of our school systems to ensure a high quality education is available to all of our students.

President Obama has asked each of us to put students first in all that we do with public education. Maryland's new law and new regulations do just that.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley and Del. Sheila E. Hixson, Annapolis

Senator Kelley represents the 10th District in Baltimore County, and Delegate Hixson, the chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee, represents the 20th District in Montgomery County.

Correction: An earlier version of this letter provided the incorrect district number for Sen. Delores G. Kelley. The Sun regrets the error.

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