Maryland teachers union objects to state's 'Race to the Top' draft proposal

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 9, 2010

Maryland's largest teachers union said Friday that it has "serious concerns" with the state's draft application for the "Race to the Top" competition, putting a roadblock in the state's bid to win $250 million in federal grants.

The Maryland State Education Association sent a letter to State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick detailing objections to the proposal, which would base 50 percent of each teacher's evaluation on student progress, overhaul statewide exams and offer extra pay to qualified teachers and principals who work in low-performing schools.

The union questions whether the proposal is within the bounds of the state's new education reform law. Union support is a factor in the competition.

"It is readily apparent to us that [the application] was created without regard to the newly enacted Education Reform Act," Clara Floyd, the union's president, said in the letter. The Maryland State Education Association represents more than 71,000 teachers.

A major point of contention is how much weight to give to student achievement in evaluating teacher performance. The new law says student growth should be a "significant" component of evaluations but limits any one factor to 35 percent of the total. Draft regulations proposed by Grasmick last month would make student progress worth half the evaluation but would limit test scores to 35 percent.

Grasmick has said she does not think the state will qualify for the money if student progress is worth less than half a teacher's evaluation.

There is debate on how important union support is for an application in the $4 billion competition, which awards grants to states that adopt education programs favored by the Obama administration. When Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced in March that Delaware and Tennessee had won the first round, he noted that both states' bids had backing from unions. But in recent days, Duncan has sought to clarify that union support is not more important than the strength of proposed reforms.

A spokesman for the State Department of Education said it welcomed union input, noting that Floyd and other union officials had been part of the steering committee that oversaw the drafting of the application.

Maryland is also trying to win the support of local school districts for its application. While Prince George's County and many smaller school systems have signed on, Montgomery County has held out. Its officials have said they do not want to jeopardize their own reforms.

The Baltimore Teachers Union, which is separate from Floyd's organization, supports the application, which must be submitted by June 1.

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