Better engagement, better preparation

Author icon: Head shot of Commissioner Stephen BowenOn Monday, I joined Gov. Paul LePage, Midcoast-area school administrators, and representatives from that region’s higher education and business communities to discuss education as an economic imperative for Maine’s Midcoast.

The discussion at Rockland’s Strand Theatre was a productive one. Our educators spoke of ambitious plans to make learning an engaging experience for our students by connecting them with resources and experiences that interest them — whether they’re within the school building, at the local career and technical education center, at a nearby community college or at a university campus.

Employers said they need workers who are dependable and adaptable. They need to be able to work in teams, communicate clearly, think critically and learn new skills as needed. More need to be skilled in the trades.

The themes brought up in Rockland aligned well with work we’ve started recently at the Department of Education.

Last week, we began wrapping our minds around what needs to be done to secure a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act.

The prospect of abandoning an accountability system that stresses a narrow, test-driven curriculum and arbitrary targets for test performance is exciting.

We need to replace it with an accountability system that stresses continuous improvement and constructive feedback for our educators, and genuine learning for our students through a system that emphasizes critical thinking and higher-order skills over rote memorization and test preparation.

Also last week, we hosted the first meeting of the newly appointed task force focused on expanding early college and other postsecondary education opportunities for high school students. We know we have students who are interested in taking college classes while they’re still in high school. We know we have students who are anxious to start down particular career paths that require postsecondary training.

Allowing high school students to enroll in college classes in areas that interest them could prove a good way to keep those students engaged, on track and learning the skills they’ll need to be successful in college and in their careers.

As we apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind and figure out how to make early college available to more high school students, the focus will be on the needs of our students.

By focusing on students’ needs for meaningful, challenging learning experiences that prepare them for the rigors of college and careers, we can achieve the vision many called for in Rockland.

3 thoughts on “Better engagement, better preparation

  1. Dear Commissioner Bowen,
    Thank you for your frequent communications. I agree that a larger number and greater variety of learning experiences will be beneficial for Maine students. I would like to suggest that increasing opportunities for parents and business to engage with schools will improve student success and that schools currently lack resources to develop and support additional parent and community engagement opportunities. Just as students have a variety of learning styles, so do parents and businesses need a range of options that suit their individual capabilities and interests. Schools that want more parent engagement and more community involvement need to be able to spend some time and energy designing and experimenting with engagement opportunities to find what works in their communities and with the parents of their students.

    Ray Cook, Maine Parent Federation

  2. Let’s not forget to use the expertise of our state’s Arts educators. They have been engaging students and teaching to higher order thinking skills for years. The impact the arts in education have had on students has been overlooked for too long, and the past decade of intense AYP scrutiny has further distracted our educational leaders from supporting the arts as they should.

    Now there is a movement afoot in Maine, bringing our arts educators to a deeper level of teaching and learning through the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative. Opportunities for classroom teachers to team teach with arts teachers and professional development in using formative assessments need encouragement and support. The arts are a core academic subject in the No Child Left Behind law. It is high time that we bring the arts to the center of educational reform, with our art, music, drama and dance teachers at the table, and even leading the way.

  3. I’m very much interested in seeking the NCLB waiver and then seeking meaningful and practical ways to assess student performance at least on an annual basis. For the past several years the set of what I call “arbitrary numbers” that leads to AYP calculations, and for Maine derived solely from MEA/NECAP scores, has made little educational sense, relative to what classroom educators need to inform instruction. All of what you have addressed in the commentary also must be clearly connected to the Common Core so we assess in a common manner.
    John Hedman, Supt. U#122

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