I was pleased to see the recent Bangor Daily News OpEd columns by Eliot Cutler and Libby Mitchell discussing the importance of education to Maine’s economic future. Preparing Maine’s people for the jobs of the next decade is our greatest economic challenge and opportunity, and it will require a quality education from early childhood through lifelong learning for all Maine students. I hope that education will remain at the center of debate this campaign season, and look forward to hearing more from all the gubernatorial candidates about how they would improve education results for all students.
Maine’s voters are rightly concerned with jobs and the economy right now. As a state, however, we need to appreciate more fully that education is the fundamental driver behind both economic vitality and job growth. Now more than ever, our public schools need to prepare all our students for college, career and citizenship.
The jobs of the future will overwhelmingly require education beyond high school, yet Maine already ranks last in New England in proportion of college degree holders in our work force. Moreover, Maine is home to one of the nation’s oldest populations and faces the looming retirement of many skilled workers.
The Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education has launched the Prepare Maine initiative (www.preparemaine.org) to refocus Maine on education as a moral and economic imperative. In the coming years, even if all our students graduate from high school with adequate skills and knowledge, there will not be enough employ-ees to fill the jobs being vacated by projected retirees. As a member of MCEE’s board, I am proud of our success to date in rallying community members and leaders in the business, education and law enforcement communities to support the initiative.
In particular, we have united behind three clear goals for educating Maine’s people: all young children have access to quality programs that advance their development; all students graduate from high school prepared with the knowledge and skills they need for college, career and citizenship; and many more Mainers complete a college degree or occupational certificate.
To achieve these goals, we need to understand the way our educational institutions work as a system. A successful educational system is like an orchestra, with teachers, parents, businesses, community members, administrators, child care providers, colleges and many others performing at a high level and in concert with one an-other. When a community makes a long-term commitment to strengthening education at all levels, every student can meet high standards and gain the knowledge and skills they need for success.
MCEE is supporting research to further distill what makes great schools successful. We have already honed in on some key priorities.
Quality early learning experiences give all children equal opportunity for healthy growth and development. High standards and personalized learning opportunities maximize success for all. Effective, knowledgeable, well-trained teachers in every classroom prepare all our children for success. Strong school, community and state leadership support effective teaching. Engaged parents, families and communities set high expectations for achievement and work together to build a high-quality educational system.
Expanded access to and support for college and work force training increases the number of Mainers prepared for well-paying jobs. Collection, use and analysis of reliable data help to focus on what works and what doesn’t. Efficient and equitable investment of educational resources maximizes opportunity, equity and account-ability.
Of course, MCEE doesn’t have all the answers. We are, however, building a statewide movement of people who want to find those answers together. Though there is no one magical solution, there are a number of best practices out there. Throughout Maine, some communities have dramatically improved their children’s results by engaging the entire community in reform, focusing on best practices and rigorously analyzing results.
In my experience as a banking executive, a former member of the Maine State Board of Education and a trustee emeritus of Bates College, I have seen firsthand how vital a skilled workforce is in growing businesses and the economy. I hope all Mainers will join MCEE and its Prepare Maine Partners in committing to strength-ening education as the foundation for future prosperity, and in calling on all candidates for elective office to share in that commitment.
Weston L. Bonney of Portland is a member of the board of the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education and former member of the State Board of Education.