Improving the state of education

The Governor devoted a good portion of his State of the State address on Tuesday evening to education, a reflection of the passion he has for the topic. As he said, he believes education saved his life.

He introduced three plans that have us here at the Maine DOE pretty excited—and working overtime. First is the Governor’s education conference, planned for March. We’ll share details in coming days as we lock down nationally-known speakers on topics important to our education agenda. Gov. LePage also unveiled his plan for a school performance grading system. This A-F grading will give parents and communities a quick overview of how their school is doing and hopefully generate discussion about how to progress. The grades will be based on publicly available data, multiple measures such as performance and growth, and grad rates for high schools. No, one grade doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s important to have some transparency and to catalyze discussion about how to improve all of our schools – regardless of where they are on the scale.

Last, the Governor talked about his plan to require high schools to pay for the remedial courses their students have to take when entering university or community college in Maine. It’s true that not all students will complete high school with the same level of achievement, but we should not be giving a diploma that says they have met the standards they need to be successful, if they haven’t. If we do, we are simply setting them up for failure.

A diploma should mean that students are ready for the next level of study or work, and it is unfair to give them a diploma and then expect them and their families to pay for them to re-learn material they should already have learned in high school. Let’s be honest with students and be sure that they complete high school with a diploma that shows they have met the standards we have all agreed are necessary to be successful in career, college and life.

13 responses to “Improving the state of education

  1. At some point I’d like to see someone look at the cut-off date for students entering kindergarten. With K students now doing first grade work, first graders doing what we used to do in second grade, etc., we have four-year-olds entering kindergarten when they simply are not ready. Unfortunately when a recommendation of retention is mentioned at this age level, many parents refuse. Many kids get Title I services or sped. services, and really if they had had another year to mature, many would not need the services. Starting kids when they are not ready for school is setting them up for failure. Let’s see, if we changed the cut-off date to June 30th, or better yet March 31st, it could make a huge difference. The governor would save in services at the lower level, and more success at the elementary level would more likely lead to high school graduates ready to be contributing members of society. That would save on that end.

    • Many states have cut-offs that are later than Maine. The best way for a student to mature is to challenge them, not to coddle them. We must expect more! By expecting more, children will do more. Other countries and states expect more. It is time for Maine to believe our children are very capable and get them on the road to a successful education as soon as possible.

  2. I am in total agreement with Jennifer. We learn through research that an A-F grade is a judgement that relies on inconsistent measures to calculate the different levels, A-F. I am in total agreement that schools communities are responsible for their performance. I disagree however that an overall score will lead to any form of productive, evidence-based discussion of performance and improvement. Instead of offering a judgment grade, identify criteria and provide feedback on if we have met that criteria. Once the evidence is in front of us on what we do well and what we need to improve, we can have a detailed discussion and make a specific plan for improvement.

    • Jennifer and Kevin got it right. Schools don’t need to be verbally castigated and defunded. They need to be supported, encouraged, and guided toward improvement. Teachers and administrators can do a better job, but so can state government, parents, students, and local communities. We need more cooperation and less confrontation.

  3. Grading schools by using multiple indicators can be very beneficial to a community and to a school. First, it can increase the engagement of parents and members of the community, as they learn and understand where the school is doing well and where the opportunities to improve are. A high level of parental engagement has been shown to be correlated with strong student outcomes. Secondly, the data will help the ME Dept of Ed determine where and how they can best support a school in its continuous improvement process. The goal for every school should be to graduate all students ready to succeed in college and/or a career.

  4. Some of Maine’s students have two strikes against them, but have very effective teachers. I wonder what one’s batting average would be in the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs and an 0 – 2 count. For argument’s sake, let’s say the hitter had the best “hitting coach” in the world for the past six years. I wonder what h/her batting average would be given this scenario? To judge this hitter’s overall performance given these “handicapping conditions” would be ludicrous. To judge a teacher, given the many variables and “handicapping conditions” of h/her students would be equally ludicrous. To measure the overall effectiveness of a school based on scores collected from the “students with special needs” subgroup is completely absurd. Using a broad brush to paint our schools is dangerous and ineffective.
    I love competition and how it can bring out the best in people – if the playing field is equal. I wonder if every Maine child who enters kindergarten comes from an equal playing field?

  5. Excellent point Jennifer. I find it highly ironic that our governor is advocating for a measure that blends all of our school indicators, which are already aggregated data, at a time when we FINALLY seem to have arrived at some consensus on the value of standards based assessment and the truth and strength to be found in specific indicators. As the old story goes, “students aren’t blueberries” and neither are schools. I believe firmly in transparancy and accountibility but we desperately need to stop trying to simplify whats wrong with public education. Its a complex issue and leading parents and communities to think that a “quick overview” is truly meaningful information is misleading indeed. All stakeholders, and that means taxpayers, need to step up and take responsibility for understanding the big picture as best they can. Too much of the fight over public education exists because most people don’t have an understanding about what schools are needing to get done in the course of a 2013 school day. It’s time they did.

  6. Richard C. Larson

    Governor LePage should not be criticized by so many for trying to improve the quality of K-12 education. Colleges seem to need students more than students need colleges; therefore, colleges are admitting students who need remedial education which should have been received at the high school level. What incentive do high school students have when they know they will be admitted into college with the opportunity of taking expensive remedial courses which are often covered by financial aid which is another expense to the taxpayer. The current remedial college courses also count for athletic and full-time college participation which should be looked at. Maybe public school-adult education should be employed at the college level to provide more inexpensive remedial education.

    Richard C. Larson–Retired Economics and Cost Accounting Instructor

  7. In a climate in which our govorner is giving a very clear message that he feels our schools are failing, what is the purpose of devoting the time and energy of any group to developing a “grading” system for schools. We have data. Why not look let the data inform decisions about who needs assistance and use that same time and energy to support schools in doing the job that I believe they want to do.

  8. I have been involved in education in Maine for over 40 years. In that time, I have seen a number of exchange students from other countries and have had the opportunity to discuss education with them. The thing that comes up time and time again is the emphasis in these countries on the responsibility of the student. It is my belief that we need to encourage our students to also take this responsibility. In our system, when a student fails, we blame the school and the teachers and assign very little or no responsibility to the student. While it is important to evaluate and demand high standards from our schools, we also need to demand the same from the students. Sometimes on the path to success, there are failures. By placing all of the blame on the system, in my opinion we harm the students.

  9. Grading the performance of schools on an A-F scale will be an extremely unfair measure. Student achievement and graduation rates are closely correlated to family income and the education level attained by parents – and these can vary greatly from community to community. Secondary school choice where one of those choices is a selective private school can also skew school performance. In Orrington, we currently have 108 students who attend Brewer HS (a public school that accepts all students) and 71 students who attend John Bapst HS (a selective private school). Out of 37 Orrington high school students who qualify for free/reduced price lunch, 37 attend Brewer and zero attend John Bapst. Out of 17 special education students, 17 attend Brewer and zero attend John Bapst. One would expect John Bapst to get a higher “grade” when compared with Brewer given the student demographics. Parents and students will look at these grades and take them as an absolute measure of school quality – that would be neither fair nor accurate. For Governor LePage and Commissioner Bowen to promote such a proposal makes me wonder what their true motives are.

    Glendon Rand – Chair Orrington School Committee

  10. Will the Governor’s education conference in March be open to the public?

  11. Ironic that the governor is going to grade schools on the A-F grading model, when so many schools across the state are moving towards standards-based grading of 1-4. Teachers are being told that standards-based grading is “inevitable” and the assumption has been that it is coming from the DOE. So, shouldn’t there be some consistency?

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