LePage talks education at governors’ confab

Maine Gov. Paul LePage participated in a panel focused on education policy on May 6 during a Republican Governors’ Association conference in Nashville, Tenn.

Moderated by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, the panel also included:

  • Bill Frist, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and chairman of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, and
  • Harvey Dean, chief executive officer of Pitsco Education, a Kansas company that produces classroom materials.

LePage planned to discuss the following talking points:

Initiatives

In Maine, we are reviewing a variety of initiatives. Our key efforts focus on several areas.

  • Adopting rigorous standards
  • Passing charter school legislation
  • Focusing on teacher effectiveness
  • Ensuring those teachers have the right tools to help students succeed.

Adopting rigorous standards. If we expect a lot of our students, they will meet those expectations. If we don’t, they will meet those, too. We support the Common Core standards. They are more rigorous and will allow us to share resources and expertise across states. We won’t have to reinvent the wheel, and we can streamline our efforts without giving up control of our own schools and curriculum.

Creating Charter School legislation. Giving schools more flexibility to attain those standards, including through the creation of charter school legislation. Maine is one of 10 states that do not allow charter schools; that is about to change.

Maine needs to pass a charter school law that allows schools to open where educational innovators find the right way to reach students who aren’t succeeding in the traditional setting.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 of our 9th graders does not graduate in four years.
  • We need an education system that holds students to high standards while also providing ALL students — including those who might not always perform well in the traditional environment — chances to be successful in school.
  • We do that by allowing students more power to decide on the environment in which they’ll attend school.
  • More students need to be able to enroll in career and technical education courses at our vocational schools, where they need to be able to enroll full-time without first dropping out of high school (that’s how the system is currently set up). Our career and technical centers offer those students who have trouble sitting still in a classroom an avenue to be successful while pursuing their passions.
  • Too many students in Maine are graduating from high school unprepared to take on college-level work and unprepared for 21st-century careers. A quarter of the students who enroll in the University of Maine System need remedial courses to catch them up. At Maine’s community colleges, it’s 37 percent.
  • Less than half of University of Maine System students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting.

Focusing on teacher effectiveness. The research repeatedly shows that those students assigned to effective teachers make noticeably more academic progress than those who are not. That’s why we need to work hard in Maine to make sure our students have access to some of the best teachers in the world.

Ensuring teachers have the right tools. We want to establish a comprehensive training pipeline here in Maine that better coordinates our teacher preparation programs, our certification and re-certification processes, evaluations systems and professional development in local schools. If we expect to hold our teachers accountable for their teaching, we also need to provide them the training and tools they need to teach well.

  • It’s reasonable to hold teachers accountable.  In Maine, a state that long resisted, we are on the path to using student achievement as a measure in teacher evaluations (but not the only measure). And the Legislature is moving to pass a law that extends the probationary period for teachers to three years from the current two. It seems only reasonable that before a teacher is given what seems like a lifetime pass, they ought to prove themselves in the classroom.

There’s more to teacher effectiveness than merit pay and dismissing those we deem least effective. Rather, by focusing on cultivating an effective teaching corps, we’re focusing on helping our teachers realize their full potential.

The Money Trail

  • We spend about $2 billion a year on K-12 education in Maine. We will be undergoing a thorough review of our Department of Education and our programs to see what works and what doesn’t. We are looking to robust data systems we have been developing to help us do that. The question is not so much, “can we spend less?” It’s, “can we spend smarter?” I think we can, and we are implementing the plan we need to do that.
  • In our biennial budget proposal, we have increased funding for K-12 education, and unlike most states, we have kept funding for higher education level.