AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine and three other New England states have formed a groundbreaking regional partnership aimed at transforming high school for the 21st century.
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island have joined to form the New England Secondary School Consortium that will work to redefine the traditional concept of the American high school. The plan is to ensure that every student in the four states will be competitive with peers worldwide when it comes to academic performance and educational attainment, according to a press release from the Maine Department of Education.
Armed with a $1 million grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and coordinated by the Great Schools Partnership at the Mitchell Institute, the consortium has set five goals to improve secondary education.
The goals call for increasing the high school graduation rate to 90 percent; decreasing the dropout rate to less than 1 percent; increasing the percentage of students who enroll in a two- or four-year college to 80 percent; reducing the need for college developmental-remedial courses to 5 percent; and ensuring that more students who enter college graduate from college.
Gov. John E. Baldacci, Education Commissioner Susan A. Gendron, educators, legislators and other key stakeholder groups announced the partnership in the governor’s Cabinet room on Monday. The other three states made similar announcements. The announcement comes the week after the same four states announced collaboration on a common student assessment program.
“The consortium is built in part on an agreement that, contrary to the experiences of students a century ago, the skills needed by college-bound and work-bound students are the same,” Baldacci said. “Our new partnership will bring bold, transformative innovations to the design and delivery of secondary education.”
According to the press release, students at the transformed high schools of the near future will not be limited by building design, geography or educational convention. Students will conduct research in their communities, acquire real-world skills through challenging internships, take online and on-campus college courses, use powerful new technologies to access the world, and engage in other innovative learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.
Some innovations are already being tried or considered in Maine and the other states. At Messalonskee High School in Oakland, for example, more than 150 college credits have been earned by students, which has a side benefit of saving parents thousands of dollars on tuition costs, said Jim Morse, superintendent of the central Maine district.
Gendron said innovations in other states include creating a new learning environment for art students in a Rhode Island school that has helped to channel 100 percent of the students to further education. In New Hampshire, educators are looking at ways students can earn credit for experiences outside the classroom, she said.
The consortium also will undertake a wide-ranging examination of state learning standards, teaching strategies, assessment practices, professional-development programs, and student outcomes in relation to the highest-performing international educational systems.
The $1 million grant from Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the largest philanthropy in New England focused exclusively on education, includes a $500,000 partnership grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant provides initial support for the work of the consortium.
During the initial 18-month phase of the multiyear effort, the participating states will conduct a comprehensive review of the rules, regulations and laws governing education.
It is hoped that the resulting policy map will lead to the development of new state and local policies aimed at stimulating educational innovation, encouraging the implementation of new models of teaching and learning, requiring personalized support for each student, and clarifying performance expectations for educators and students.
“We’re thrilled to be working with the consortium and the Gates Foundation to stimulate the transformative change needed in our public schools,” said Nicholas C. Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
“Far too many young people leave high school without the education they need or deserve,” said Andrew Smiles, program officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “We are proud to partner with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and are excited about the prospect this work holds for improving education in New England and beyond.”
A steering council consisting of representatives from governors’ offices and legislative, education and business leaders will be established to guide and build support for the consortium’s work. More information on the consortium can be found at www.newenglandssc.org.
The announcement comes the week after the same four states announced collaboration on testing. Maine became the fourth member of the New England Common Assessment Program, a multistate testing partnership. By joining NECAP, Maine hopes to reduce its costs for testing by up to $1 million a year. NECAP will replace Maine’s current test, the Maine Education Assessment.
BDN writer Walter Griffin in Belfast and The Associated Press contributed to this report.