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Law Would Give Autonomy Back To Local Schools

The Maryland Department of Education denies that the local districts lost any power.

Maryland State House
Maryland State House

By Ethan Barton, CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

State and local officials disagreed over how to appropriately evaluate teachers and who should hold the power to make such decisions during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday.

A package of bills before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee would together delay the use of the new student achievement test, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and would allow local school systems, rather than the state, to decide how much, if at all, the test would count towards teacher evaluation.

“A one-size-fits-all model will not, and probably never will, work for a state as diverse as ours,” said Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, a sponsor of one of the bills.

The achievement test, which is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, will be pilot tested this spring, and will be completely administered next school year. Without further legislation, student scores on the test will be worth 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

The problem with this, according to King, is that the Maryland Department of Education forced the local school systems to adopt this evaluation method. Additionally, teachers would not yet be accustomed to the new curriculum.

“Locals need and are entitled to the autonomy the Education Reform Act offers them,” said Betty Weller, president of the teachers’ union, the Maryland State Education Association.

The state Education Reform Act, passed in 2010, allows local school systems to develop teacher evaluations, with the Maryland Department of Education’s plan only to be used if an agreement cannot be made between the local union and district.

“When the default model was developed, it was supposed to be a last resort,” said Sean Johnson, an assistant executive with the teacher’s union, in reference to the state’s teacher evaluation plan.

The state department, however, has forced districts to adopt its plan for teacher evaluations, according to Weller. It used the federal Race to the Top grant restrictions as a stranglehold, she said, adding that Maryland’s application for the $250 million grant was not reviewed by the General Assembly.

The Maryland Department of Education denies that the local districts lost any power.

“It’s a shared responsibility,” said Jack Smith, the department’s chief academic officer. “The goal is to work in collaboration.”

When Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, asked if the state department “forced” local systems to adopt the 20 percent evaluation method, state schools Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery never fully answered the question.

“A part of the waiver process of the Race to the Top process is that if we had state assessments in particular content areas, we had to use those,” Lowery said.

The Race to the Top requirements conclude at the end of September, according to Weller.

One topic both sides agreed upon was that personnel decisions based on student results on the achievement test need to be delayed until at least the 2016-2017 school year, in order to allow teachers to adjust to Common Core.

“Give our teachers a couple of years,” said Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Josh Starr. “We have to allow our teachers the opportunity to understand the standards.”

“We need at least two more years to get our resources together before we start talking about evaluations,” Lowery agreed.

Maryellen Brady February 21, 2014 at 08:54 AM
Our public education system is one of the most important aspects of our society. Jefferson said: public education is the key to maintaining democracy. Lest we forget that democracies are some of the most short lived forms of self governance throughout history. As Jefferson also said that the govt "WE THE PEOPLE"must be the bulwark against WANNABE KINGS. Common Core is an attempt at corporatization of our public school system. An idea to create a school system that turns out kids like cookie cutters. A perceived threat to the freedom to learn, stretch and experiment in a safe environment for our kids. I will never forget what the Chinese ambassador said about the AM school system: a great aspect of AM schools is that they allow kids to grow, imagine and create. In China, the school systems are so disciplined and structured that children are stifled. A Chinese student entering ART school in BALTIMORE, said she was so excited to be studying in America because in China "we learn to stay within the lines'" . In America, I can draw and paint beyond the lines and set my imagination free to create. TEACHING is a profession, it is a career and demands respect. MD has a proven success record in challenging our kids to be the best they can be, to be unafraid to imagine or make mistakes. We cannot lose that creative aspect of public education that makes AMERICA unique. We've made mistakes and children have suffered between: Phonetics & sight reading, open classrooms which cost us a bundle to repair, No child left behind. We cannot afford to lose focus on what a school system is really all about: recruiting the best to teach the best "our kids".
CrunchyMama March 03, 2014 at 12:53 PM
Anyone who thinks that local districts haven't lost any power must not then be aware that the Maryland Department of Education and Lillian Lowery, State Superintendent, have been pressuring schools to be sure that the MSA is administered this year, even though it tests a curriculum that is no longer taught, AND to force selected students/classes to undergo PARCC field testing (unpaid labor, anyone?). School systems are being pressured - forced, really - to kowtow to State policy, which is dictated by No Child Left Behind (Federal policy), and local schools and school districts have ZERO say in the matter. Where is my school system's power to make a decision that my children don't have to take tests that will not help their education in any way shape or form (teachers don't get back results they can use to fix problems!) but in fact are forced to either sit in the testing room and do NOTHING (if they refuse to take the tests, which they are doing unless we get leave to do otherwise) or stay home (which we have been told will NOT be excused). Where is the autonomy of my school system, Lillian Lowery? Where?!? You are a liar, plain and simple.

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