A plan to strengthen K-12 education, released earlier this week, sets many ambitious deadlines. By the end of the 2012 legislative session for example, Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen wants lawmakers to agree on tough expectations that Maine teachers must meet to be considered effective in the classroom.
He's also calling for statewide standards for evaluation programs, in large part, to guide local school districts, as they develop their own systems for grading their teachers performance. But figuring out exactly what a tough, but fair, teacher evaluation should look like isn't always easy.
It's a challenge that started to get more attention three years ago, when the federal government set up this competition called Race to the Top. States could vie for more than $4 billion in education money from the Recovery Act. But they had to submit applications, laying out in exacting detail their strategies for doing everything from turning around failing schools to improving classroom teaching through better training and evaluations.
Maine's application was rejected. "And the place where we got hammered in the scoring was around that teacher and leader piece," says Stephen Bowen, the state's Education Commissioner.
Winning states had some innovative ideas on training and evaluation. But many states, like Maine, were told they had a long way to go. Bowen says Race to the Top helped start a conversation. "States all over the country and the feds are looking at what works--effective classroom practices and using new types of evaluation systems and data systems," he says.