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O'Malley has work to do on Race to the Top

Maryland's application for the federal Race to the Top education grant competition focuses on the right issue: the fact that while successful overall, Maryland still features persistent and damaging gaps in the achievement of poor and wealthy students, and between minority and white students. To bolster the application, the General Assembly approved measures that will extend the time it takes for teachers to achieve tenure and to link teacher evaluations to student performance. The governor should have pushed for more – our charter school law needs strengthening, and compromises made to get the tenure and evaluations legislation passed weaken those measures. But those deficiencies aren't going to change before Maryland turns in its application. What Gov. Martin O'Malley and other state leaders need to do now is to get all of Maryland's school districts and teachers unions behind the effort, and it looks like they have a lot of work to do.

Disturbingly, the greatest resistance to the reforms needed to compete in the Race to the Top – and to make our education system stronger – is coming from some of the state's wealthy, suburban counties. The funding from Race to the Top would disproportionately benefit poorer counties with the greatest educational needs, Baltimore City and Prince George's County in particular, and there is something perverse about places like Montgomery County being unwilling to embrace the reforms that will benefit them. What's more, even if the resources are concentrated on the districts that need them most, it is not as if the achievement gaps the state is trying to erase through its reforms only exist in places like Baltimore. The gaps also exist in Maryland's rich counties; there are fewer poor students there, so they don't drag down the averages, but they deserve a top quality education, too.

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The first round of federal awards of the education grants show that getting the support of all local districts and local unions is crucial. The U.S. Department of Education wants to make sure the reforms promised in winning states’ applications are actually carried out, and seeing that commitment up front proved critical. A place like Washington, D.C., where the schools are led by crusading reformer Michelle Rhee, was ranked at the bottom of the first round finalists in large part because of the lack of buy-in from the union. But the two states that won – Delaware and Tennessee – had near 100 percent support from local districts and unions. If Governor O’Malley can’t get that kind of support here, it may not even be worth the bother for Maryland to apply.

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