The nation's largest teachers union is handing out its annual "America's Greatest Education Governor" award to Martin O'Malley this weekend.
While the Maryland Democrat's support of education reform measures — including a new requirement linking teacher evaluations to student test scores — has been unpopular among some local union leaders, the National Educaiton Association praised the governor for resisting cuts to education. Other states have laid off thousands of teachers and raised class sizes.
"It has been so easy for a lot of other governors to cut funding. He stood firm in making sure the resources to keep Maryland No. 1 were still there," said John Wilson, executive director of NEA, said in a telephone interview from New Orleans, where the union is meeting.
O'Malley will accept the award in New Orleans on Monday. The NEA represents 3.2 million teachers nationwide, including those in every school system in Maryland save Baltimore City.
O'Malley, who is seeking re-election, got an early endorsement from the Maryland State Education Association last October. But some local union leaders have been unhappy about the reforms that lengthen the time it takes to get tenure from two to three years. Another change requires student achievement data to be a "significant" factor in a teacher's evaluation.
"We have had to make some really difficult decisions. … In this case, the issue is how do we continue to reform our public schools? We ended with a good result, I think," said Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley campaign spokesman.
Andy Barth, a spokesman for O'Malley's likely Republican opponent, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., dismissed the significance of the recognition. "Martin O'Malley can have the union," Barth said. "Bob Ehrlich cares about the students, parents and teachers."
O'Malley is the third governor to receive the annual award. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Gov. Mike Easley of North Carolina also have won. Both are Democrats.