Maryland's new education reform is only a start.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

MARYLAND OFFICIALS are putting a good face on education reform legislation enacted by the General Assembly. For the first time, teachers will be evaluated in part on test score data, and attempts will be made to lure good teachers to schools that need them the most. Nonetheless, it's distressing that union interests were able to water down these worthy initiatives. We hope that State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the State Board of Education are able to put real teeth in regulations implementing the policy.

As one of its last acts before adjourning Monday, the General Assembly approved legislation affecting teacher tenure and compensation in a bid to strengthen its application for federal Race to the Top dollars. The measure extends by a year the time a teacher must work before getting tenure, but opposition from teachers unions resulted in compromises that weakened reforms in how teachers are evaluated. Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), a union organizer for the Montgomery County Education Association, played a leading role in the conference that worked out the final bill, so it should be no surprise that the requirement that measurable student gains account for 50 percent of judging a teacher's performance was dropped. Unions also won a bigger role in developing the evaluations. Mr. Pinsky took exception in a recent letter on this page to our charge that he has a conflict of interest, but how else to describe a lawmaker shaping legislation that directly affects his employer?

The law empowers the State Board of Education to establish general standards for performance evaluations; re-inserting the 50 percent requirement would be a good place to start. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and his staff get credit for preventing an even worse bill from being enacted. For example, the governor insisted that a program to provide incentives to teachers and principals to teach in low-performing schools take effect whether or not Maryland wins Race to the Top funds. But in an effort to garner support from local school boards, superintendents and unions, the state bargained away too much.

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