EDITORIAL

LePage should learn lesson from teachers, make assertions based on data

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and Gov. Paul LePage discuss their new ABC Plan for education reform in July
Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen and Gov. Paul LePage discuss their new ABC Plan for education reform in July Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 07, 2012, at 2:04 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 07, 2012, at 4:30 p.m.

Gov. Paul LePage drew attention with his July 25 assertion that, at universities in other parts of the country, “if you come from Maine you’re looked down upon.” LePage apparently made the claim based on his “life experience,” according to a spokeswoman.

But effective public education reform must rely on good scholarship, not life experience.

The life experience relevant to public education policymaking should be that of Maine students or recent graduates whose exploits in the global marketplace provide a baseline for measuring the effectiveness of instruction in our schools. That information can be quantified with college graduation rates and wage figures — not personal observations.

Good teachers correct students who defend theses with anecdotal evidence. Legislators, educators, parents, students and taxpayers should hold the governor to a similar standard.

As the administration releases the details of the governor’s “ ABC plan” to address what LePage calls Maine’s “stagnant” public education system, claims must be substantiated with data.

Likewise, representatives of Maine’s teachers unions and school management associations must do more than lambaste LePage’s “political agenda” if they choose to make a case against the ABC plan. The plan, details of which will be announced in the coming months, emphasizes “accountability, best practices and choice” as ways to boost student achievement.

If the answer can’t be found within ABC, then Maine’s professional educators must offer concrete initiatives. It is not helpful to repeat the need to increase state funding to 55 percent of the total cost of public education without providing examples of how to get there — and the correlation of how doing so would benefit students directly. Maine’s education system might not be as dismal as LePage claims, but it clearly needs to show more improvement.

Paul Peterson, professor of government at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance — which completed a study to which LePage referred on July 25 in trumpeting school reform — made clear the need for more progress when he told the BDN, “Maine is one of those states that hasn’t shown much gain over this period of time … There’s no reason why a high-performing state can’t move up.”

LePage has the forum to show how he proposes to improve Maine schools. But commenting about others looking down on Maine students will only distract people from the real issue at hand: how to remake the public education system into one in which Maine schools consistently show measurable improvements.

His other recent assertion that Maine might be the first state to explore charging school districts for postsecondary remedial programs is an additional example of speaking before having all the information. It would have been more instructive for him to state why legislative committees in New Hampshire, Missouri and Oregon rejected similar proposals and how it could be different in Maine.

In the future it would be more effective for the governor to build his case with fact-based arguments. After all, isn’t that what he wants teachers to impart to their students?

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