Maine’s Race to the Top Chances

Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” is well under way.  The Race to the Top is a national competition for a piece of the $4.35 billion in education stimulus funds. Ed Sec Duncan has stated that states which adopt reform strategies in the following four areas:

  • Adopting internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace.
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals.
  • Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices.
  • Turning around our lowest-performing schools.

Ed Sec Duncan did strongly suggested a few reforms that would help states rank higher in the Race to the Top.  Charter schools and teacher pay linked to student performance two reforms mentioned often by Duncan.  Having rejected charter schools, as Matthew Stone points out, puts Maine at a disadvantage in the Race.  “While he[Arne Duncan] hasn’t come right out and said we won’t get funding, the latest language is it will absolutely negatively impact our rating in the race to the top,” Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron said.  There will likely be another attempt at charters in 2010.

A promising development in Maine’s eligibility for Race to the Top funds was the passing of LD 1277.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Carol Weston (R-Montville), allows school districts to employ performance pay for everyone from superintendents all the way down the chain to teachers.  Districts can begin submitting their pay models for review by the Maine DOE in the summer of fall of 2010.

On the surface this seems like exactly the kind of reform that Ed Sec Duncan has been advocating.  However, there is a catch.  Duncan wishes performance pay to be linked to student performance, ie. assessments.  By law, we cannot do this in Maine.  @NancyEH brought a 26 year old statute to my attention.  20-A MRSA 6204 states the following on teacher evaluations: “The student assessment program is separate from local practices and procedures regarding supervision and evaluation of a teacher for retention by a school administrative unit.”

Now you see the dilemma.  According to this statute Maine cannot link any student assessments to teacher evaluations.  The language here could allow performance pay to exist and Maine to still be eligible for RttT funds.  Student assessment program could mean the MEA system, but this was the last year the MEA would be used.  Could the language be altered to allow the New England Common Assessment Program to be counted toward performance pay assessments?  Also, and perhaps most importantly, the statute refers to assessments being used in regards to teacher retention.  Again, it may be easy to play fast and loose with the language.  Does retention refer to bonuses or perks to keep teachers in a given district?  Does it mean you cannot link a teacher’s job security to their students’ performance?  How you spin that one word could make a big difference.

Hopefully the upcoming legislature will pick up on this possible road block.  If they catch it quickly and fix any language issues, then Maine will have one less thing to worry about when it comes to the Race to the Top funds.  If the U.S. DOE finds it after it is too late to alter then the race is lost.

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4 Responses

  1. I disagree with NancyEH’s assertion that performance-based pay cannot be done under current Maine law. I don’t know that you would use MEA/NECAP data in teacher evaluations anyway, since these tests are only conducted once a year, but even if you did, the statute she cites does not specifically forbid its use in pay systems.

    Furthermore, how teachers are to be paid is decided using collective bargaining. Section 965 of Title 26 of state statute explicitly states that:

    “It shall be the obligation of the public employer and the bargaining agent to bargain collectively. ‘Collective bargaining’ means, for the purposes of this chapter, their mutual obligation:

    C. To confer and negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, working conditions and contract grievance arbitration.”

    If a school board and teacher union agree to it, a performance-pay model of pretty much any design can be implemented in Maine. The “road block” to performance-based pay, therefore, is not state law, but ongoing resistance on the part of teacher unions.

    Incidentally, The New Teacher Project has written an interesting report in which they handicap each state’s chances of winning RTTT funding. As a consequence of state policy, especially with regard to charter schools, Maine is shown to be among the long shots for receiving funding:

    http://www.tntp.org/files/TNTP_Interpreting%20R2T_Aug09.pdf

    • Thanks for the excellent comment Steve. I wrote the article as neither a proponent nor opponent of performance-pay. I would like to see some form of performance based bonuses at some point, but I have done a little research on classroom disruption models and realize there are still many things to consider. Has anyone come up with a performance proposal yet that has been implemented in Maine? I have been told there was, but I am about to leave for the Jet Port and can’t think of where it was. My main concern with this article was how that particular statute would impact Maine’s performance pay law and RttT chances. I am glad to see that it wont be an issue.

      I agree that without charters we will be in some hot water in regards to RttT. Ed Sec Duncan has spoken rather plainly as to their important in the “Race”. I hope legislators have something tabled for this fall.

  2. […] Now is not the time to shorten the school year.  Without charter schools Maine is already at a disadvantage in Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top.  Even though Duncan has not expressly […]

  3. […] Now is not the time to shorten the school year.  Without charter schools Maine is already at a disadvantage in Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top.  Even though Duncan has not expressly […]

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