GRAY – Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen is on the road again. But this time, instead of gathering information to develop a strategic plan as he did last spring, he’s sharing the results of that work.
Bowen visited schools and programs Friday as a way to showcase the Maine Department of Education’s strategic plan, developed with the input of hundreds of teachers, administrators, parents, students, taxpayers and others he met with on a “listening tour” last year. Bowen unveiled the plan in January, but said he hadn’t been able to share it yet due to the work of the legislative session, which officially ended this week.
“What we’re talking about here is how do we get the best return on our investment in education,” Bowen said. “We spend more money on K-12 education in Maine than any other program – we’ve got a vision and a strategic plan built on the best thinking of many, many people, and we think it’s going to help our kids graduate better prepared for success in college and in the work place. That’s good for them and it’s good for Maine’s economy.”
The visits highlighted aspects of the strategic plan, which shares a vision for education in Maine and details five “core priorities:” Effective, Learner-Centered Instruction; Great Teachers and Leaders; Multiple Pathways for Learner Achievement; Comprehensive School and Community Supports; and Coordinated and Effective State Support.
Bowen used his visits to highlight three sub-priorities: student voice and choice in the demonstration of learning; “anytime, anywhere” learning; and comprehensive integration of technology.
Bowen started the day at Fairview Elementary School in Auburn, where he sat in on a kindergarten class where students use iPads to learn about letters, forming words and reading, and also visited a sixth grade classroom where students used their Maine Learning Technology Initiative laptops to put together movies about Greek gods from footage they filmed and acted themselves. Mike Muir, Auburn’s “change specialist” said the use of technology supports Advantage 2014, the district’s literacy and math initiative. The district is the first in the country with iPads for all students in kindergarten and plans to expand the program to first grade next school year.
At Gray-New Gloucester Middle School, Kayleigh Bowen (no relation to the Commissioner) explained a matrix she used to track her progress on studying informational texts. It was an example of the kind of proficiency-based learning Bowen has been promoting as part of the strategic plan. “It’s amazing to witness,” Bowen said. “Rather than the teacher telling all the kids, open to page 65, and having all the kids working on the same material at the same time, here’s a student who is deciding for himself – with guidance, of course – how am I going to learn, and then show the teacher that I’ve learned, this particular information or skill. That voice and that power is engaging these kids in their education. And it allows them to move ahead when they are ready – whether that’s earlier or later than other kids in the class.”
Bowen said he and the Department are taking their lead from schools around the state already doing this work. “Our job is to find examples of what’s working, share those statewide, and support schools in the work they are doing,” he said. Already, more than a third of Maine’s K-12 students are learning in schools that are in various stages of exploring or implementing proficiency-based systems, in which students advance when they’ve mastered material, rather than based on the number of courses or amount of time they’ve spent on a subject.
The last stop of Bowen’s day was at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, where he met up with students from Fort Fairfield Elementary school. The students were busy making observations and hypotheses about lobsters and other sea creatures. Bowen said the program is an example of how students learn material in multiple ways and in multiple locations. “When we have a common set of rigorous standards, and we all talk to each other, we can give students opportunities to learn anytime and anywhere,” he said. “From the laptops and iPads to field trips like this (and to the Ferry Beach Ecology School in Saco, which I visited last week), we can give students more control over how they learn, and help meet the needs of all students. There is great work happening all over – I’m certainly not going to take credit for that. What I want to do is showcase it, share it, support it, and help schools improve achievement for all students.”
Bowen has already visited a number of schools and programs this spring, and has plans to visit more before school ends in mid-June. Among others, he plans visits to the adult education program in RSU 3 (Thorndike) and a school in Lewiston where teachers and the principal are involved in designing a new educator evaluation system that focuses on supporting effective teaching and developing fair and useful ways to measure teacher effectiveness.
The strategic plan can be found on the Maine DOE website at: http://www.maine.gov/doe/plan/index.html.