O'Malley should support Grasmick's reforms

Baltimore Sun

The federal government is correct to tie federal education dollars to meaningful school reforms ("Not No. 1 in reform," Dec. 22). Otherwise, huge amounts of money get spent and nothing changes. I saw this repeatedly in my 40 years in Maryland public education as a teacher, principal and central office executive director. Gov. Martin O'Malley has, in state schools superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, arguably the greatest educator in the country. She has led the climb of Maryland public schools to the top. She and the feds are right on target regarding two key changes the governor should be supporting.

Tying teacher evaluation and pay to student performance is a necessity for student achievement to improve. As it stands, teacher evaluation is union-influenced, qualitative and subjective. Personality, preference, extra-curricular teacher roles and other factors not at all related to student academic success can impact the evaluation more than pupil progress.

The process must be quantified. It would not be difficult to create expected annual progress measurements based on individual student ability and previous annual progress levels. These standards would be accurate for the child and fair to the teacher responsible for that progress. In essence, in opposing this, teachers unions promote the idea that teachers are not really responsible for the progress of children.

This is tantamount to claiming that only the players, not the manager of a baseball team, are responsible for its win-loss record and that managers would be evaluated on how they acted, cooperated and worked but never on their team's performance.

Teacher tenure is the second area in need of reform, and the two reforms go hand in hand. Good teachers are highly valued and need no artificial protections. Unions argue that personalities and other factors not related to teacher "performance" could lead to dismissal in the absence of tenure. However, if teacher evaluation and job security are based only on student progress, there is no need for tenure at all, and teachers cannot be dismissed for any reason other than poor performance.

Our governor has claimed that he opposes lengthening the time required to attain tenure because it would prolong the amount of time poor teachers can remain in the classroom. This is a highly inaccurate defense. Maryland law allows the dismissal of nontenured teachers with very little legal process. Tenured teachers, however, unless they commit a big sin such as gross insubordination or moral violation, have protections that make their dismissal a very difficult process usually requiring at least two years. Thus, exactly the opposite of the governor's claim is true.

Changes to teacher evaluation and tenure do not happen because so many superintendents and politicians are fearful of, or directly tied to, the political power of teachers unions. If this is the governor's incentive, he should not use inaccurate statements about tenure to camouflage it, or he may face the charge that his political ambitions exceed his desire to do what is best for the people of the state. Better yet, he should just let the best state superintendent in the U.S. of A. take charge and then give her all of the support she needs to "git 'er done!"Ron Boone, Timonium

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