June 24, 2018
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Certifiably LePage: Insert upside-down smiley face here

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
In this file photo from Dec. 2004, Lynn Bonsey teaches reading and writing to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Surry Elementary School. She was one of the first educators in the nation to gain certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.


Let’s agree on something easy. Mediocre teachers do not benefit students. So there should be incentives to encourage teachers to improve. The single most important thing schools can do for their students is to employ excellent teachers.

One way for teachers to set high standards for themselves is to pursue certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Only about 1 percent of Maine teachers — roughly 200 out of 16,000 — are national board certified. Just 40 percent are certified on their first try.

It’s a rigorous, time-consuming process, one where teachers must not only prove they know their subject matter but that they engage students, link different disciplines, collaborate with other professionals and parents and meet many other standards.

It was encouraging last week to see Republican and Democratic state legislators override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of legislation that will offer teachers a salary supplement if they become national board certified. LePage acknowledged in his veto message — which included a small smiley face next to his signature — that the certification is beneficial, but he referred to the bill as a Band-Aid on a larger problem of not having enough highly qualified teachers. He called for a larger, more coordinated solution.

Good for the Legislature for realizing LePage’s faulty logic. Of course the state can do more to attract great teachers, but giving them financial help to attain a difficult certification is part of the solution and should not be rejected simply because there’s no broader statewide approach.

LePage also used the veto to criticize the Maine Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers. By denouncing the MEA’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, LePage distracted people from the issue at hand — how to improve teacher quality — and threatened to punish teachers for a separate issue.

LD 1781 will only incentivize teachers to grow professionally by creating a statewide scholarship fund. It was a popular bill and originally passed unanimously in the state education committee, Appropriations Committee, the House and the Senate. The Senate overrode LePage’s veto on May 31 in a 26-9 vote. The House voted 129-12.

LePage should be proud of some of his education reform achievements, such as proposing and ultimately signing a bill to require districts to shift to a proficiency-based diploma. He signed another to make it easier for students to access career and technical education. We’re glad he wants to do more. But signing LD 1781 would have fit within his goals. Good for the Legislature for sticking up for hardworking teachers.

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