Maine on Track for Race to the Top funds

By Ramona du Houx

May 12th, 2010

A stakeholder group representing teachers, principals and other educators took action on Wednesday making it possible for Maine to complete its application for up to $75 million in federal education reform funds.

Dozens of school districts have already agreed to participate in Maine’s Race to the Top application with more expected by Friday’s deadline. The stakeholder group’s action – approving the first of several teacher and principal evaluation systems – removes the last barrier to Maine’s application. Gov. John Baldacci established the group by executive order to expedite the work.

The State’s Attorney General Janet Mills said the group’s action was necessary in order for her to sign off on Maine’s application that no barriers exist to linking student achievement data with teacher evaluations.

“We are gratified by the excellent work of the stakeholders group,” Acting Education Commissioner Angela Faherty said after the meeting. “Today’s action will allow us to pursue resources school districts can use to continue the work of strengthening teacher development and will allow our application to move forward.”

Maine’s Race to the Top application is due June 1. Most states are applying for a share of the more than $3 billion remaining in the competitive fund. Most of the money will flow to school districts that choose to participate in the application, which requires action on student assessment systems and improving school performance, and provides significant funding for voluntary initiatives such as developing standards-based education systems, and after-school and year-round learning opportunities. Districts are not required to participate in Maine’s application.

The evaluation system approved by the stakeholder group is based on one already in use by many Maine districts, with the addition of the student achievement data component. No district will be required to use the evaluation system. Any district that wants to include the use of state testing data in its evaluation system, however, will have to use one of the models approved by the stakeholder group.

The group will convene for more meetings later this year to review and approve additional models so that school districts will have options. All models must include more than just one piece of data and cannot rely on student achievement data alone. In addition, the data must take into account student “growth” – that is, progress in student achievement over the course of a year, not simply the level of achievement. This reflects and does not penalize teachers for the varied levels at which groups of students achieve.

Faherty thanked Mills and her staff, the 10 members of the stakeholders group, and the Governor’s Office staff for their collaborative work that made Wednesday’s action possible.

“We are on track,” said Faherty. “This is a tough national competition – one that we could not afford to sit out. We now turn to our partners in the local schools and seek their participation and support to make Maine’s application the strongest it can be. We have a great opportunity ahead of us to expand the excellent work already underway in so many of Maine’s schools.”