Sunday, January 18, 2015

Feds To Maine: Make Teacher Evals Worse (Or Else)

Maine joins the list of states that have received a spanking from the US Department of Education.

Maine came to the waiver party with the other last-minute slackers of the third wave, still working on passing a plan that they could submit for federal approval in the summer of 2013. The account of that work (including eleven months of negotiation with the USED) is a reminder of how completely state ed departments have become focused not on figuring out the best plan for students of their, but on achieving compliance with the federal USED.

Those negotiations had hit some snags as they came down to the wire. Internally, lawmakers could not agree how to handle the requirement that states base a significant portion of teacher evaluations on student test results.

It seemed that all that was settled, but according to Maine's NPR last week, the work has come undone. The waiver acceptance had included a promise by the Maine legislature to hammer out the details of a fed-acceptable teacher eval system. But after the work was completed last spring and sent off to the Us Department of Education, it came back (albeit slowly) with a big red F. Maine now faces the risk of joining Washington on the list of Naughty States That Didn't Do Exactly What USED Wanted.

"The federal government looked at those and said they don't meet the standard they expect," says Tom Desjardin, who says word of the U.S. Department of Education's misgivings about the state's approach came in a recent letter to former Maine Education Commissioner Jim Rier. Desjardin took over as acting commissioner in December.

Says Desjardin, when it comes to teacher eval, "The big rub is that the federal government wants student assessment scores to be a significant factor - 20, 25 percent."

Maine's evaluation system has the support of its teachers union. MEA president Lois Kilbey-Chesley says the Maine plan "represents what Maine wanted." She also expresses concern that the Maine plan has already begun implementation.

Pro-testing advocates were also happy with the Main plan

State Sen. Brian Langley, an Ellsworth Republican, chairs the Legislature's Education Committee. Langley says those who favor the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluation didn't want to lock districts into a 20 percent threshold either.

Granted, Langley wants to see a system where local districts can go higher than 20% if they wish, so clearly there's some disagreement in the state about the role of testing in teacher evaluation. But the point is that Maine worked out a system that its legislature got behind and which left some flexibility for local control by school districts.

It appears the Maine legislature will get back to the important job of making the US Department of Education happy, though some legislators aren't sure they're ready to get to work yet.

Democratic state Sen. Rebecca Millett, who serves with Langley on the Education Committee, says she finds parts of the U.S. Education Department's letter vague. Millett is asking Congresswoman Chellie Pingree to intervene and find out exactly what changes the federal government wants to see.

And so another state in the union gets to experience the inefficiency of a system in which the USED tries to control state education programs without looking too much like it's controlling state education programs. Maine has to scrap its work and rewrite it to better include a failed policy for teacher evaluation, because state autonomy is so last-century.

Update: Rep. Brian Hubbell has another view of what the letter from USED actually requires (h/t to reader Nancy Hudak).

Recently, the state has received a letter from the federal Department of Education seeking clarification about Maine’s implementation of the compromise amendment on the rules for teacher evaluations that I helped to negotiate last session.

The Maine Department of Education is concerned that this notice jeopardizes the state’s waiver from the onerous and outdated federal requirements of No Child Left Behind.  The Department’s immediate suggestion is to amend the rules to incorporate more uniform standardized assessments and remove the provisions for local flexibility.

But, after consultation with other state educators and staff from Senator King’s office, I believe that the USDoE concerns may be addressed more productively simply by clarifying Maine’s process and providing better explanation of Maine’s efforts to improve both proficiency-based learning and professional development for educators

So, in response to the USDoE letter, in collaboration with the Maine School Management organization and the new state Commissioner of Education, I hope to have a better proposal ready for federal consideration in the next week or two.

1 comment:

  1. And there was this charming news from downeast:

    "AUGUSTA, Maine — John Fitzsimmons, longtime president of Maine’s community college system, has resigned.

    The resignation comes after several days of pressure from Gov. Paul LePage, who criticized the community colleges president for being unavailable and too slow to enact the governor’s agenda on higher education. "

    Fitzsimmons resigned, after almost 25 years, despite the fact that LePage has no direct authority over his position because the governor threatened to cut funding to the community college system. Makes me think of the real mother in the story of Solomon.