It is unfortunate that Gov. Paul LePage continues to blast Maine’s hardworking educators and call Maine’s school system a failure. It is also unfortunate that he manipulates the facts and data to suit his own agenda in trying to “prove” his point. He should be helping public education and educators, not demonizing us. Those of us in the Maine Education Association, the educators’ professional organization, know there is always room for improvement, but we also know that schools across Maine are succeeding in leading student learning during these very difficult times.
The governor pointed to a recent Harvard study that said Maine schools are not improving as fast as other states. What he fails to explain is that Maine’s students have performed in the top 25 percent of states for over two decades. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, was designed to give a broad view of how students are performing across the nation. Maine students have scored in the top tier of states on the NAEP since 1992. The states that have shown the most dramatic improvement in the past two decades were states that started at the bottom, like Florida and Louisiana. As any student knows, it is harder to go from an A to an A+ than it is to go from an F to a D. The small allowance for improvement is much harder for those who are already highly successful.
Maine’s schools have other measures of success beyond the NAEP tests. For instance, our high school graduation rate was about 74 percent in 1996, compared with nearly 84 percent in 2011. We’ve made significant strides during this time. We know we still have a way to go — every educator would like to see a 100 percent graduation rate. But we are moving in the right direction.
Maine educators are working hard to improve student learning through increased professional development. MEA members believe that every classroom should have a great teacher, and we have been putting our efforts into helping Maine’s schools improve through our Great Public Schools initiative. Another example is MEA’s collaboration with business, education and community leaders on the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council to improve evaluation systems for teachers and principals. A third example is MEA’s sponsorship of legislation to improve access to, and incentives for, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification for Maine teachers — something the governor vetoed. The override of the veto by levelheaded legislators from both sides of the aisle allows a provision of increased support to teachers seeking to improve their skills through the NBPTS process.
Studies show student achievement is affected by many factors: family involvement, economic circumstances, preschool opportunities, nutrition, availability of quality health care and, of course, educational opportunities. These all contribute to and impact a child’s ability to learn. Governor LePage’s budget cuts to important social supports for poor families will have devastating effects on Maine’s children in the short- and long-term.
Maine’s public schools are at the heart of our communities throughout the state. Parents value their schools and the educators who teach their children. The MEA, as representatives of Maine’s educators, encourages Governor LePage to support and collaborate with us to do the best for Maine’s public school students. Name-calling and condemnation won’t help. We need to have the governor behind our efforts to lead our students into the future through improved student opportunities in public schools.
Lois Kilby-Chesley is a NBPTS certified third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teacher presently serving as MEA president.