Union action promotes strong ESSA-tied laws in Maryland

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Spurred by vigorous AFT activism, Maryland lawmakers this month defied a governor's veto and enacted laws that will help ensure the federal Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't devolve into wholesale dismantling of public schools or a rehash of the No Child Left Behind Act's "test-and-punish" reforms.

The Maryland Legislature overwhelmingly passed the Protect Our Schools Act, which gives specific guidelines to the state board of education when it comes to school intervention and accountability under ESSA. The new Maryland law mandates that academic indicators cannot exceed 65 percent of the overall score used to judge a school's performance. And it specifies that academic indicators must encompass a variety of key gauges: achievement, progress, graduation rates, English language proficiency and access to a well-rounded curriculum.

Participants at AFT Maryland lobby day

The law also mandates that accountability must include indicators of school quality, which cannot be less than 35 percent of a school's composite score. One of these quality indicators must be a climate survey, taken by teachers and parents, and two others must come from a selected list that includes class size; teacher caseload; strategies to battle chronic absenteeism; efforts to promote discipline and restorative practices; and opportunities for students to participate in Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, and career and technical education.

The law also establishes tight guardrails when it comes to school intervention. The state board, unlike local school boards, cannot convert an underperforming school into a charter school under the new law. Nor can the state board create a statewide charter district or a separate local charter district, contract with a private organization to take over schools, or offer vouchers and scholarships for students to attend private schools.

As important as the legislation itself is the political will shown by the Legislature in getting it enacted. After the bill was vetoed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan—his only veto of the session—both chambers of the Legislature voted to override him.

"The Protect Our Schools Act places specific guidelines on Maryland's education accountability and intervention plans, and provides protections to prevent Gov. Hogan from overruling local school boards in determining what should be the best strategy for turning around underperforming schools," says Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. AFT members in the state worked (some of them shown above during a lobby day) hard to secure passage of the bill; teachers testified in both chambers of the Legislature, staffed several phone banks and participated in email campaigns.

"We appreciate the delegates and state senators who rallied on behalf of the legislation and, by doing so, stopped Gov. Hogan and the state school board's agenda to implement school privatization plans favored by the Trump-DeVos administration," English says.

Separately, the Legislature also enacted a cap on school testing. It calls for unions and management in each school district to enter a "meet and confer" arrangement concerning the amount of time given to standardized tests in a school year. If the union and management cannot agree, the default set by the law is that no more than 2.2 percent of class time may be taken up by a standardized test. And the Legislature also killed a Hogan-backed bill that would have created a separate statewide charter school district and separate authorizer. It also would have dismantled union rights for any employee working in this proposed charter system.

[Mike Rose]