Maine Education Commissioner Steve Bowen in May presented welcome sentiments about school reform as it concerns teachers.

Seemingly responding to the bad-teacher rhetoric that has dominated the media in recent years, Bowen said, “There’s more to teacher effectiveness than pay-for-performance and dismissing those we deem least effective.”

By “cultivating an effective teaching corps,” he said, “we’re focusing on helping our teachers realize their full potential” (“Let’s Encourage Effective Teaching,” Sun Journal, May 9).

It turns out, however, that the LePage administration’s proposed education reform bill contains little more than a set of provisions devoted to the development of performance evaluation systems for the express purpose of dismissing teachers.

L.D. 1858, An Act to Ensure Effective Teaching and School Leadership, was released on March 8; the Legislature is scheduled to voted on it soon.

Anyone who has been following the news in the past few years and anyone who examines the bill (www.maine. gov/education/first/index.html) easily can read between the lines of the complex language and see that this bill is primarily intended to undermine the power of the Maine Teachers Association and erode collective bargaining rights by allowing school administrators to get around due process when firing teachers.

Let’s say, however, for the sake of argument, that the LePage administration is not concerned with undermining the teachers union and collective bargaining rights. Let’s say that “ensuring effective teaching” really does necessitate a radical change in the law concerning the dismissal of teachers. Maybe.

But doesn’t it also necessitate providing practicing teachers with the resources they need to be effective? The real intent of the bill becomes obvious when we look at what it leaves out.

It’s important to note that if a school is plagued with ineffective teachers, it is because principals have hired them, and superintendents and school boards have endorsed the hires.

Yet L.D. 1858 gives school administrators more power in hiring decisions, but does not specify any consequences to principals and superintendents who might routinely hire bad teachers.

It doesn’t need to. While it may be true that a few bad teachers have made it through all the requisite steps to the classroom, certainly they are not overrunning our schools like killer weeds, sucking up all the resources.

Principals, superintendents and school boards have not allowed so many bad teachers into their schools that the reform bill should appropriate substantial money and time to getting rid of these alleged blights and none toward nurturing the many dedicated, productive teachers who actually work in our schools.

If the LePage administration truly wanted to cultivate an effective teaching corps, as Bowen claimed in May, the focus of the reform bill would be on providing teachers with the resources they need to be effective, and on attracting new talent to the profession.

In spite of the increasing demands already placed on teachers, and the new demands that the performance evaluation system will impose, no provision in the bill seeks to provide teachers with adequate preparation time, or maintain reasonable class sizes, or give teachers a voice in professional development decisions. The bill does not mention equipping classrooms with cutting-edge technology nor increasing teacher pay, even for teachers who demonstrate effectiveness according to the new evaluation system.

Such provisions would go much further toward ensuring effective teaching than will provisions that facilitate firing people by stripping them of their right to due process. And the reason they are not in the reform bill is that the bill is not about “cultivating an effective teaching corps,” it is about destroying organized labor.

Regardless of what it is about, and regardless of one’s opinion about teachers unions, the effect of L.D. 1858, if passed by the Legislature, will be to:

* Instill fear in public school teachers, rather than help them “realize their full potential.”

* Direct administrators’ attention to the development of complicated sure-fire evaluation systems, rather than to the development of thriving school communities.

* Turn promising candidates away from a career in public education, rather than to attract them.

In turn, the effect of this degradation of public schools will be to pave the way for the LePage administration’s other reform bills, two of which have the potential to siphon enormous amounts of money and resources from our public school system.

A public hearing on L.D. 1858, An Act to Ensure Effective Teaching and School Leadership, will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Room 202 of the Cross State Office Building in Augusta.

Since the hearing has been scheduled for the middle of the school day, when most teachers will be hard at work in their classrooms, parents and other interested persons are asked attend the hearing and speak for the teachers.

Mary Paine is a teacher in Oakland and chief negotiator for RSU 18 Teachers Association.

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