Race away from the top

Thursday, November 11, 2010; A28

IT'S HARD TO imagine that Maryland lawmakers would jeopardize $250 million in federal education dollars, particularly in these tight budget times. That, though, is what a special committee of the General Assembly has done in following the lead of its chairman, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's). The committee voted against regulations requiring teachers and principals to be judged by how effectively they promote student achievement. What makes the committee's action more disturbing is Mr. Pinsky's conflict as an employee of the teachers union that is fighting these sensible new rules.

A state legislative review panel Monday voted 12 to 3 against the plan of the Maryland State Board of Education to require that 50 percent of educators' evaluations be based on student progress - measured partly, but not solely, by test scores. The Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee reviews state agency regulations; according to Mr. Pinsky, the committee was concerned that the regulations don't comport with the law or the intent of lawmakers. Yet the legislature, in agreeing that student progress should be a significant factor in evaluations, left to the state education board the details of establishing a standard and developing the criteria to be used.

In securing Race to the Top dollars, Maryland promised that student progress would account for 50 percent of evaluations. Any state that significantly changes its plan - and watering down teacher evaluations is no minor matter - could lose all of its funds. We hope that the board, which now must decide whether to proceed without legislative support, sticks to its decision and that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) supports it.

We also hope that this latest - and most egregious - example of a lawmaker refusing to recuse himself from an issue where there is a conflict of interest prompts the General Assembly to do something about its lax ethics rules. Essentially the only thing required is disclosure and an assertion that the lawmaker can overcome any conflict. No doubt Mr. Pinsky brings valuable expertise to the discussion, as he argued to us. But that does not obviate the evident conflict when Mr. Pinsky, a union organizer for the Montgomery County Education Association, plays a leading role on an issue that directly affects his employer. It's time that legislative leaders overcome their romanticism about the wonders of citizen lawmakers and establish rules with integrity.

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