Education Funding

Md. Gets Scolding Over Race to Top

By Michele McNeil — January 15, 2013 1 min read
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Add Maryland to the list of Race to the Top states that have gotten into trouble with the U.S. Department of Education.

In a sternly worded letter from the Education Department to Maryland last month, federal officials placed several major conditions on $37.9 million of the state’s $250 million Race to the Top grant.

If the state fails to make good on conditions tied to its teacher-evaluation system, it risks losing that part of the grant.

“The department is concerned about the overall strategic planning, implementation, and evaluation of the state’s teacher- and principal-evaluation system, including the quality of the [school year] 2011-2012 seven-LEA pilot as well as communication with and supports provided to participating LEAs,” the letter says. (LEAs are local education agencies.)

The Dec. 6 letter approves several changes to Maryland’s Race to the Top plan. But it indicates that federal officials have major concerns about the capacity of school districts to implement these evaluations and the shift away from using test data as one component of educator evaluations at the high school level.

Letters like these are meant to send a warning signal both to state officials and to the public.

“They are making a relatively significant shift in their approach,” said Ann Whalen, who oversees Race to the Top implementation, in an interview. “As they put these changes into action, we will look to them to be thoughtful about how they execute their work.”

Maryland had to turn in by Jan. 7 a plan for how it is field-testing and evaluating its teacher-evaluation pilot.

And it met that deadline, said state schools Superintendent Lillian Lowery, the former Delaware chief who inherited Maryland’s plan when she became its chief in July. (She replaced longtime chief Nancy Grasmick.)

By the time Ms. Lowery assembled her Race to the Top team in October, the state was six to 10 months behind schedule. “We had to take a plan that was conceptual and put it in high gear to get it on track,” she said in an interview.

Now, the state is working quickly to field-test its teacher-evaluation plan and get outside experts on board to help evaluate how it’s working.

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as Md. Gets Scolding Over Race to Top

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