3/7/2015 Legislative report: Federal education waiver & teacher evaluations

March 7, 2015

Dear Friends and Neighbors in Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, and Lamoine,

As I have promised to communicate with you on positions that I take as your representative on controversial issues, I want to give you an update on the decision that Maine faces this week in relation to our regulations regarding teacher evaluations and our waiver from the unworkable federal requirements of the “No Child Left Behind” law.

You will recall that I worked hard during both sessions of the last legislature to enact a compromise in the evaluation rules which allows school districts greater authority in determining the measures of student learning which may be used to inform teacher evaluations.

At the beginning of this new legislative session, in reviewing Maine’s application to renew our federal education waiver, the US Department of Education asked Maine for clarification about these new regulations.

In consultation with the Maine School Management Association, the Maine Department of Education has worked closely with their federal counterparts to clarify how these regulations conform to Maine’s established statutory requirements that “measurements of student learning and growth must be a significant factor in the determination of the rating of an educator” and how these data can be used to inform individual professional development.

The negotiated package of statutory and rule changes is now in the hands of our Education Committee.  We held a public hearing on this bill on March 5 and expect to have a committee vote on the bill on March 11.

The legislature is under some pressure to act because if we do not enact changes which satisfy the federal requirements by the end of March, Maine will lose its federal waiver and once again be subject to the onerous, unworkable, and unachieveable requirements of the flawed federal law.

I think it is accurate to say that the Governor’s position on maintaining the federal waiver is ambivalent.  He certainly abhors any form of federal coercion.  Further, he has shown few concerns about Maine schools being unfairly labeled as failing by inaccurate measures.  Moreover, as a long-time proponent of parental “choice.” he might indeed relish the consequent imposition of statewide open enrollment away from schools labeled as ‘failing.’

As a long-time opponent of standardized tests as a measure of teacher effectiveness, the statewide teachers’ union also flirted with foregoing the federal waiver, weighing the experiences of a handful of other states such as Washington which have gone that route and lost control over the distribution of their federal education funding.

But the union and most other sober state-level education advocates have concluded that losing the waiver would be a bad bargain for Maine. Thursday’s testimony supported this.

Further, the teachers’ union concedes the necessity of acquiescing to the absolute federal requirement that Maine’s statewide assessments be at least a component of student learning measures.

So the decision before the committee on Wednesday will be whether simply to amend the statute to make clear the essential component of the state assessment and thereby ward off the imminent threat of the loss of the federal waiver or whether to adopt the full range of proposed regulatory clarifications and settle the whole issue by enacting a federally-approved evaluation plan.

The teachers’ union brought many to the hearing to testify that Maine should do the bare minimum to stem the immediate revocation and then to reconvene state-level working groups to negotiate the other matters needed to receive a federally-sanctioned plan.

My concern remains wholly upon weighing the balance of the relative disruption to the work being done across the state during this current school year by local stakeholders’ groups in developing appropriate evaluation systems against the uncertainty and delay we create if we postpone answering the full list of federal concerns.

Across Maine, this past year’s intense collaborative work in these local groups is now stalled pending the state’s direction.

At the hearing, searched repeatedly for which of the proposed regulatory clarifications would disrupt the plans being developed in the local evaluations groups.  None were specified in the prepared testimony and few offered any when I questioned them directly.

I have also presented another bill which extends by a year the period that schools will have to pilot these evaluations systems.  This US Department of Education has acknowledged the value of this pilot year and confirmed that this extension is not an impediment to Maine’s waiver.

Having made the case for this additional year of piloting, on balance, I believe that being as clear as possible about the ultimate regulatory expectations best honors the hard collaborative work that is now underway in school districts across the state.

So, this Wednesday I will be advocating for my committee to support the full package of regulatory clarifications.

As always, please write to me with your concerns: Brian.Hubbell@legislature.maine.gov

Best wishes,

Representative Brian Hubbell,
Maine House District 135
Bar Harbor, Lamoine, Mount Desert

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