School for fools

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  February 13, 2013

If there's one Maine institution Governor Paul LePage hates more than the state's whiny newspapers, it's public schools. And for good reason.

A Harvard University study released last year found Maine was 40th of 41 states rated for student improvement. We beat Uganda, which Harvard apparently considers a US state.

The Maine Department of Education admits math and reading scores for third- through eighth-graders have been as flat as the TV screens kids are watching instead of doing homework.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, Maine scored a D-plus in 2012 for preparing new teachers for the classroom. That didn't even include training them to shoot guns.

Data from the University of Maine System shows 12 percent of the state's high school graduates needed remedial programs before they could do college work. Half the high school students the Maine Community College System accepted from within the state weren't ready for freshman classes. When LePage applied to college, he had much the same problem.

Maine got below-average grades for improving teacher quality from a national reform group called StudentsFirst. Although, all our teachers know enough to put spaces between words.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress found Maine fourth- and eighth-graders scored barely above average on its vocabulary test, even though the state spends considerably more per student annually than the national average. Too much of that must be going to putting spaces between words and not enough to the words.

Last year, the federal No Child Left Behind Act's assessment found only 35 percent of Maine schools were making adequate progress toward meeting the law's goals. Just 5 percent of Americans understand what those goals are, and most of them think they're irrelevant to measuring student achievement or else a plot to get rid of that nasty 10th-grade English teacher who gave them a C-minus.

"In fact," said the governor at a January news conference, "our school systems are failing." He claimed this was because, "we don't care about our kids."

That could be true. I certainly don't care about his kids. And when it comes to yours, I'm ambivalent.

In a speech last year, LePage was even blunter: "If you want a good education, go to private schools. If you can't afford it, tough luck. You can go to public school."

As is frequently the case, the governor's statements were so impolitic as to allow his opponents — chiefly the Maine Education Association, the state's largest teachers union — to divert debate from the point he was trying to make to the way he attempted to make it. The MEA is also adept at finding studies that contradict those LePage cites. In part this is because accurately measuring success in education is like attempting to measure sexual satisfaction. There can be considerable divergence of opinion even among those most intimately associated with the process.

(Hey, vocabulary testers, how about that last sentence for using big words to talk dirty without getting caught by the editor? Hard to believe I only got a C-minus. Not that I'm still bitter.)

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Politics, Harvard University, Paul Lepage
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