Committee approves system for evaluating Maine’s teachers

Posted March 21, 2012, at 5:23 p.m.
Last modified March 22, 2012, at 6:36 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved an amended bill that seeks to set up a uniform system for evaluating Maine’s public school teachers.

The bill, LD 1858, is part of a comprehensive education package introduced in February by Gov. Paul LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

LD 1858 creates an “effectiveness rating” system for teachers and administrators that includes markers for students’ progress. Any teacher who receives two consecutive years of “ineffective” scores by an independent evaluator could have his or her teaching contract canceled.

The proposal also requires school districts to implement professional development opportunities for those who score low in the rating system and sets more rigorous teaching qualifications.

The legislation received mixed reviews during a public hearing last week, but since has been amended to accommodate many of the concerns raised.

“Of all the education bills this session, this one has the potential to positively impact education more than any other,” Bowen said in a statement Wednesday. “The bill goes to the very heart of what we know has the greatest impact on learning: the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders. The best curriculum and learning materials in the world are of no use to us unless we have effective educators in our schools.”

The bill now goes to the House and Senate for consideration.

Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said the amendments to the bill made it much more palatable, particularly language that allows due process in the event a teacher is given poor reviews and terminated.

“Of course, we’d like more time to look into this, but they are on a time schedule that is different from ours,” Alfond said, referring to the LePage administration.

The Maine Education Association, which opposed the bill, worked with the education commissioner and the committee on the amendments, but union president Chris Galgay said he still doesn’t support it.

If passed by the Legislature, the system would be phased in between this fall and the 2014-15 school year. Between now and then, the Education Department and the Legislature would adopt rules for how the teacher evaluation system would work.

Alfond said he still has concerns about what a teacher evaluation system might cost. He said Colorado passed a similar law recently and has spent millions putting it into practice.

Even Bowen said he doesn’t know what it will cost.

“We haven’t done the digging into the cost yet because we need to get a piece of legislation passed first,” the commissioner said during last week’s public hearing.

As written, the cost of implementing the system would be included in the state’s essential programs and services funding model. Some said that amounts to an unfunded mandate for local communities.

There is a fiscal note attached to the bill, which means the Appropriations Committee will have to weigh in before final passage. If the financial concerns persist through the legislative process, the bill’s passage in the House and Senate could be in jeopardy.

LD 1858 is one of four bills put forth by Gov. LePage to change education in Maine.

Earlier this week, the Education Committee approved LD 1865, a bill that enhances career and technical education.

Two more bills that are part of the administration’s agenda will be debated on Thursday. One deals with expanding school choice; the other with allowing public funding for religious schools.

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