Discussion: Maine’s strategic plan for education

Education Evolvling logoEducation Commissioner Stephen Bowen released “Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First” on Jan. 17. The strategic plan articulates a series of priorities, objectives and action steps for moving Maine to an education system designed around the needs of the student.

What do you think about “Education Evolving?” What does the plan do well? How could it be improved? What is it missing? Is there too much of something?

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22 responses to “Discussion: Maine’s strategic plan for education

  1. I back Commissioner Bowen’s ‘Maine Strategic Plan’ and Gov. LePage’s ‘Putting Students First’ 110%. I am going to share my experience with the current laws and exceptions, here, because I am not sure where else to share them.

    Last year our family had to move from our current town in Sidney to Augusta. My child was in a great school district, and in order to keep him there we needed to get a Superintendents’ Agreement. I wrote a letter to both the Superintendent for RSU #18 and to the Superintendent in Augusta explaining why it would be in my son’s best interest for him to stay in that district. I am going to give you all a little idea of where we were coming from. My son had been diagnosed with ADHD when he was almost 7 and repeated the first grade this past year. He also has anxiety and ‘ticks’ (he revs like a car sometimes), which is actually a mild form of Tourette’s. These things tend to go hand in hand with ADHD. Personal matters forced us to move and unable to find another home in Sidney, we had to move to Augusta…less than 1/2 mile from the Sidney line, not that it really matters. Upon moving, we spoke to our son’s psychiatrist and his case manager who both shared the same concern: It would be very detrimental for him to switch schools considering his emotional and mental state also considering changes that were going on at home.

    Now, it clearly states in the “Superintendents’ Agreement” An Exception to the General Residency Rules, that two superintendents may approve the transfer of a student from one school district to another and that two conditions must first exist before an approval can be arranged. 1.) Both superintendents find that a transfer is in a students best interest and 2.) The student’s parent must approve unless the student is 18 or older. Obviously the latter of the two existed but we needed the superintendents to also agree that him staying at his school would be in his best interest. It was a strange thing that the superintendent of the school he was attending had no problem with him staying, but the superintendent of our new school district didn’t and responded to my request with a letter that said, “You may or may not be aware, the ________ School Dept has made a major shift in its approach to granting such agreements. We have taken a very strong position that Superintendents Agreements should only be granted in the most serious situations.” Well that just blew me away. Apparently my son, who was repeating the first grade, had doctors recommending him that he stay where he was to keep him from regressing and falling more behind in his academic, wasn’t considered to have a ‘serious enough situation.’

    I appealed the decision, and Comm. Bowen granted him to stay for the rest of the year. So let’s fast forward to this summer. My son (having ADHD and being in Title I reading) has been invited by his school (that he needed permission to stay at) to attend the Title I Summer Reading Program to keep him on track while school’s out. Unfortunately, in order for him to be able to attend we needed a Superintendents Approval for the 2012-2013 school year. Again, I wrote a letter explaining my son’s situation, how stability is a big factor and how we have been actively seeking (and still are) housing in Sidney so we can keep him at his school without needing permission. Oddly enough, one superintendent didn’t mind while the other responded with, “You may or may not be aware, etc. etc.”

    I guess it’s safe to assume that it’s in my son’s best interest to fall behind even more in reading and have him begin at a new school next year (trying to make new friends and getting used to new teachers) while we try to move back to Sidney just to have him switch back to the other school. UGH!! It’s very frustrating and I will be filing another appeal in hopes that he will be able to attend his Title I Summer Reading Program, hopefully before it finishes. I am not sure when the Legislature will be hearing these proposals and can only hope that they are approved.

  2. Is there an LD number for this School Choice Program? When can we expect it to reach the Legislature?

    • Thanks for the question, Tommi. At the moment, the School Choice legislation is still being drafted, so there’s no LD number. Once it’s released from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, it’s up to the Education Committee to schedule a public hearing.

  3. How will this new legislation affect the MPA’s (Maine Principals Association) policies and guidelines that prohibit student transfers to other districts for High School Athletics? Can a student change school districts for athletics citing school choice?

  4. Just curious. What is the plan for the 20% that continue not to meet standards due to the fact they have no ability to work on their learning. There are 20% of our students in each building through out the state of Maine and a I dare to say every state that have a group of student so emotionally or psychologically damaged that learning is not the priority. What is the plan for them and how has this system going to address their needs.
    Squarerootteach

    • GREAT QUESTION Francis!!! We have been asking this question at our school for over a year now….nobody seems to have the answer.

      Then there is the approximately 40% (conservative estimate) of the student body who will not meet standards by the end of the year because of poor study habits….lazy, poor attitude toward education….home life….etc. What will do with them? If we just pass them on to the next grade, the message sent to all students is that they do not have to meet standards to move on through the system and I fear the consequences of that precedent being set (starting at the end of this school year in our school because we have already implemented the new system but we still have grades 6, 7 and 8….not to mention, we have no system in place to track student progress through the standards other than individual teachers record keeping).

  5. Having read the report I find there is much of value in it. That said, I am concerned about the proposal for regional special education programs. We must remember LRE (least restrictive educational setting). Not only is this a legal requirement, it also happens to be best for children. Regional programs should be created only for our smallest, highest need population of students. Regional programs will not be viable in much of rural Maine. The vast majority of identified children should be educated in their home school district.
    Marcye Gray
    Norway

    • Marcye, thanks for your comment and concern about regional solutions for special education programs. The Commissioner envisions regional solutions for overseeing special education and, in some cases, for delivering special education services. In all cases, the Department would closely scrutinize any proposal to regionalize special education services with the foremost concern being that students entitled to special education services receive them in the setting that makes most sense for their specific situation.

  6. I have read the report and find it innovative and exciting for students. I would like to make sure that Adult Education is at the table in the decision making process of this as they are big stake holders in the plan, with high school diploma components as well as credit recovery.

  7. Stephen
    The Strategic Plan for Education is just what the Doctor ordered. My only criticism is with Plan is its not detailed enough, or am I missing something? The bullet points are fine, but they mask the reasoning behind them. There is also no specifics on how to get from point A to point B, let alone point Z. The magic is in the details.

    Each one of the bullet points could do with a page or two of explanation, giving the background, reasoning and a pathway for reaching each goal. For instance, who draws up the “mastery” tests for students who are self-learners, home-schoolers and others learning outside the box of a classroom? Does the “portfolio” come into play here? Do recommendations from peers, mentors and employers have an impact on graduation?

    I submitted the draft of a education plan last year at this time. In it, I outlined a number of the areas that I now see in the Maine Strategic Plan for Education. I now realize I was not alone, shouting in the dark. Some of the points I included were use of on-line course options, the need to enlighten teachers in how to incorporate on-line course content into their classrooms, while raising each teachers awareness of how the new technologies can improve their effectiveness in the classroom, allow them to reach students home on a snow day, sick, or who prefer to learn at home with a laptop, iPad, or other similar devise.

    I advocated throwing out “No Child Left Behind,” for it is leaving our most brilliant, creative and unique kids way behind, replacing it with “A School for Every Child.” We need to test them for who they are, then give them the learning experience that fits their learning style, interests and innate talents. I was delighted to see that graduation from high school may now be achieved without going to high school.

    The Strategic Plan for Education as outlined in the on-line document is a good table of content for a more extensive document. Is there one? I hope in the weeks to come, each of the points will be treated with a more detailed explanation resulting in a road map for getting where we all want to go . . . a better way to teach and betters ways to learn.

    If you need help, I’m ready to work . . .
    
David H. Lyman
    Founder and Former President, Rockport College

    • David, thanks for the comment. You’ll notice that the action steps in the strategic plan are varied. Some refer to documents that have already been written and outline detailed plans of action (the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge application, for example). Other action steps are, in essence, assignments for the relevant people to develop more detailed work plans in the coming months.

  8. I would like to commend the Commissioner and his team for a very clear and focused strategic plan. This will serve as a robust blueprint for educational reform. I am pleased with the bold goals particularly in the category of Great Teachers and Leaders.
    The focus on regionalization of support is essential. As this area is developed, it is my hope that the existing formal and informal regional professional development organizations will be recognized and engaged in the implementation of this support system.
    I would like to respectfully offer some constructive input.
    1. Rather than isolating students with special needs by placing these goals under Comprehensive School and Community Support, why not integrate these goals into the core principals that address the personalization and student-centered philosophy of the strategic plan? If the education system was transformed to one that is truly student-centered, then many of the identified problems with the special education population would be remedied.
    2. Highlighting and affirming the work that schools are doing with Response to Intervention is essential and embodies all of the principles of this plan – research-based, student centered, rich in assessment, and responsive to student needs.
    I look forward with great anticipation to the effects of this strategic plan and hope to support it. I am proud to be part of our Maine educational community.

    Barbara Moody
    Director of Teacher Education
    Husson University

  9. Community and family engagement is an area which has not been given the focus it demands. An article recently posted at http://www.cnn.com, entitled “What Teachers Really Want To Tell Parents” at long last, illuminates a root problem which will heavily impact any strategic education plan, put into place. The “Education Evolving” Plan has strong points, involved critical thinking, and deserves credit, as such. With such a plan, one must take into account the family support surrounding the students. The proposed changes to the delivery of education must somehow engage the parent community. Parents must be accountable, and they must be stakeholders, in order for these changes to have a measurable effect. Emphasizing student voice and choice is important; the gains in the classroom will be greater, however, if student families are on board, and are working in support of the teacher and school policies. I do recognize the difficulty involved in engaging the parents who will not participate in a positive way, insofar as supporting a child’s education, but I think this is an area that must be addressed in an innovative way, much the same way as “the plan” has been addressed.

    • Gail, thank you for your comment. Have you reviewed the “Comprehensive School and Community Supports” section of the strategic plan? Within that section, subsection 3 addresses “A commitment to community and family engagement” (see pages 27-28). What do you think of that section of the plan?

  10. The foundation of this plan seems to be based in the important aspects of standards-based learning as well as reaching the various interests of learners. How are those two aspects working together? Is there a plan to develop common, rigorous standards and proficiency levels for internships, vocational programs, etc.? Do those standards already exist at some local levels?

  11. Please explain how the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Education Services (listed in the plan as needing budget approval) is not going to involve additional financial resources. What is the estimated cost of the SLDS implementation and what do you anticipate will be the source of it’s funding?

    Also, please provide a list of schools that have moved away from grouping students by physical age, a step that I see as a foundation to making this new system work, not something that should be done separately or as an afterthought. I would also like a list of the early-adopting schools mentioned on page 7 of the plan so that I can arrange to visit and observe.

    Thank you,
    Robert Dow
    MSAD72 Science teacher

    • Robert, hope this will be helpful. Thanks for your interest in following up with schools.

      State aid for education is scheduled to increase by $19m next year. If the Legislature approves that amount, a portion of that can be dedicated to the Fund for the Efficient Delivery of Services, which will be entirely dedicated to supporting local schools. Note, too, that the FEDES will potentially be taking on responsibilities that are currently paid for by the districts themselves. So while there will be startup costs, the

      FEDES funding could eventually support some things that were local costs, such as transportation administration, oversight of special ed, whatever functions the locals choose to share regionally. The data system is well under way through a multi-million-dollar federal grant for that purpose.

      A number of schools are moving in the direction of a truly proficiency-based system, where grade levels are de-emphasized. None have fully eliminated grade levels yet in Maine that we’re aware of. Elementary and middle schools have begun to group kids by proficiency for reading and math, but not all subjects. High schools, of course, have long grouped kids by courses and not by age or grade level.

      Early adopting schools are in many different places on the continuum, from early conversations to well along the way. A partial list of schools doing this work would include:
      RSU 57 (Waterboro), RSU 15 (Gray-New Gloucester), RSU 2 (Hall-Dale and more), RSU 18 (Belgrade), Searsport HS, Poland Regional HS, Jackman, Casco Bay HS in Portland, MDI Schools.

  12. I support the department’s goals of improving the learning experiences for every child in the state of Maine. I was curious why Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) were not included in your plan. These two systems of delivering academic and behavioral support to ALL students aligns well with this plan. Furthermore, both have a strong evidence base grounded in research. Many other states have adopted these frameworks with impressive results (see for example Maryland, Illinois, Florida, Oregon, and North Carolina).

  13. Richard C. Larson

    Pleased with the proposed changes to allow students more input an their education; however, It was disappointing that you did not propose school choice. Note that students currently have school choice without school choice with Supt. agreements. Note that Supt. agreements do not allow the receiving school to receive as much revenue per student as tuition students pay. Supt. agreements only allow the receiving school to receive State subsidy. Note that Rose Gaffney (K-8 school in Machias) has an excellent school. However, only one teacher per K-8 grades would be needed rather than the current, two teachers, if only Machias resident students attended the school and not also tuition students and Supt. agreement students.. In addition, Supt. agreements increase the head-count and therefore, the tuition rate per student to charge towns who tuition their students to Rose Gaffney is reduced. The town of Machias and its taxpayers have to upfront all cost for all staff at Rose Gaffney.

    Richard Larson
    Machias, Maine

    • Richard, thanks for your comment. The Commissioner and Governor are very supportive of expanding school choice and are proposing legislation this year to do that. Note that page 23 of the strategic plan lays out as an action step: “Adopt statutory language expanding school choice options for Maine students.” The full details of this proposal are forthcoming, but, as noted in the plan, are due out soon.

  14. Katherine JH Warren

    I agree with and support 100% all of the components of this plan – it is a very well laid out approach to the work that needs to be done to advance student learning and attainment, and ultimately Maines future prosperity. I look forward to doing the work and supporting the kids. Thank you for your leadership.

    My question is this: where is the planning for managing the cost of education ? We have heard that Maines education spending should be sufficient to meet the needs of our learners and perhaps it is, but we know our local property tax payers are struggling. Educations hard, real, costs are in labor, insurance, infrastructure, special education mandates, energy costs . Where is the plan for examining these issues in an analytical, bi-partisan way that identifies what would be best for Maines future prosperity ? Surely there is much room for innovation there as well ? I am happy to be part of the discussion. I hope that we can approach this discussion with the dedication, commitment, passion & innovation we are applying to the instructional practice. I look forward to the work.

    Katherine JH Warren
    School Business Manager – MSAD8-Vinalhaven
    & MeASBO

  15. Robert Belanger

    I wish there was something like this when I grew up

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