Maine DOE as a resource, not a regulator

Author icon: Head shot of Commissioner Stephen Bowen

This blog entry was published in the September edition of The Maine Apprise, the newsletter of the Maine Principals’ Association.

As I toured schools across the state this past spring, I heard a lot from principals and assistant principals whose jobs are becoming more demanding by the day. We’re expecting our schools to prepare all students for college and careers in a constantly changing world. The expectations haven’t dropped even as funding has become tighter.

While resources are hard to come by, there are a few changes we can make at the Department of Education to provide more support to our schools. Here’s some of what I’ve heard in that vein, and some of what we’re working on as a result.

Principals said repeatedly as I visited their schools that they need access to the best and brightest candidates when they recruit teachers for their classrooms. Oftentimes, though, the results from our teacher preparation programs are mixed, with new teachers coming to the classroom without sufficient training in use of technology in instruction and other advents in Maine’s instructional practices. On top of that, the time and resources available for professional development are limited.

It will take much hard work to change this paradigm, but it’s essential that we do it. After all, when it comes to advancing student learning, the most important thing a school system can do is put an effective teacher in the classroom.

To that end, we at the Department are working to make a set of teacher evaluation models available to schools that they can use to provide helpful feedback to teachers about their craft and foster their professional growth.

We also have plans to work closely with Maine’s teacher preparation programs to orient ourselves toward the same goal: preparing teachers to teach in a world where we hold all students to high standards and allow them to take control of their learning.

When it comes to high standards, I heard from school leaders that they need more support from the Department of Education to implement the Common Core state standards for English and math in their classrooms.

The Department’s math and English specialists are working closely with teachers to equip them with the tools they need to begin teaching to the new academic expectations. We’re also working on a plan to provide even more support to advance this historic transition to a set of rigorous standards shared by more than 40 states.

I continue to hear that the Department of Education needs to serve as a resource to schools, not a compliance-driven regulator.

One way we can make the switch to being a resource is to lighten the bureaucratic load on our administrators so they can spend more of their time on educational leadership and less on data entry.

The Department has a few initiatives in the works to cut the red tape our districts encounter regularly, especially when it comes to filling out the countless forms required of them.

Members of the Department’s data team are working to simplify form submission by automating much of the process, and I’ve asked Department staff members to take a hard look at our reporting requirements to make sure we’re collecting only what we need.

It’s a busy time in education, and the Department of Education intends to be there to give our schools a hand.