June 21, 2018
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Insults, threats, false allegations

By Mary Paine, Special to the BDN

Despite the onslaught of state and national criticism over his most recent attack on public schools and the misconceptions he is spreading, Gov. Paul LePage continues to tout his ABC plan for educational improvement, becoming even more aggressive in maligning education leaders in Maine.

In his weekly radio address of July 28, he told his audience that in response to the recently released Harvard study of academic improvement among students in 49 states, he had to come up with radical measures, such as threatening legislation that would force school districts to pay for remedial college classes, because in terms of improving education themselves, “Superintendents, union bosses and principals have not shared their plans with me,” the implication being that they have no such plans. This is an unconscionable misrepresentation.

Surprisingly even for Paul LePage, in introducing his ABC’s on Wednesday, the governor made no reference to AMO, I&S and MEEC, acronyms for the three workgroups developing the state’s robust plan for school improvement, already under way at the capitol.

The Accountability and Improvement System is the most comprehensive public school reform plan this state has ever seen and was formed in part to fulfill statutory language that the governor himself signed into law. The Commissioner of Education and other Department of Education staff preside over the workgroups, which are populated by a diverse set of public school and community stakeholders. Prominently among these stakeholders are representatives of the very education leaders the governor says have “not shared their plans” with him.

As a teacher appointed by the Maine Education Association to the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council (MEEC) workgroup, I have spent many hours this summer elbow to elbow with superintendents, principals, school board members, and their “union bosses,” along with business executives, higher education officials and fellow teachers. As one might imagine, in a room full of diverse professional interests, conflicts sometimes arise, but I can tell you that the people on these councils share a common interest in and commitment to providing all of Maine’s children with a viable education, and that we are working diligently and collaboratively to shape the system that will guide school leaders and teachers in that endeavor.

Contrary to what he claims, and having commissioned the work himself, the governor is fully aware of all of this, and it is he who is not sharing.
Instead, he is wielding his own unilateral plan like a weapon, publicly insulting and threatening even his own people, making false allegations, and most important, drawing attention from the federal Department of Education, which will decide, based on the work of the Accountability and Improvement System councils, whether or not to award Maine a much-needed waiver that will afford the state flexibility in meeting the requirements of the rigid No Child Left Behind law.

The governor would have served Maine public schools and their students well in using the occasion of the Harvard study’s release to honor the hard work and commitment of the associations and individuals who are developing the Accountability and Improvement System. He could have asked his commissioner to report on the work of the councils, or better yet, asked representatives of the many associations on the council to give briefings. He could have asked superintendents, principals and teachers to describe their district strategic plans for implementing the new system. He could have done a lot of things to broadcast the intensive work we are doing in Maine to improve our public schools and gain control of No Child Left Behind. Instead, he lambasted us. It might seem reasonable to conclude that, by publicly undermining the collective efforts of those who are carrying out his own marching orders, the governor of Maine has shot himself in the foot. Except that’s usually an accident.

Mary Paine is a teacher in Oakland and an MEA representative to the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council workgroup of the Accountability and Improvement System. The public can view the composition and monitor the progress of this and the other workgroups at Maine’s Department of Education website.

Correction: An early version of this story carried a placeholder headline due to a production error.

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