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Mixed Response to Gov. LePage's Education Plan
02/06/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Education is one of the issues Governor LePage has said he feels most passionate about, and last night during his state of the state address he laid out two goals aimed at improving its quality in Maine. One would require high schools to pay for remedial classes their graduates need to take in college. The other would establish an A through F rating system for schools.

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Mixed Reviews for Gov. LePage's Education Plan Listen
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In his speech, Governor LePage said that education can be a life-saver. After all, he said it saved him from a potentially bleak future as a homeless youth in Lewiston. But LePage doesn't think that all Maine children today have that same opportunity he did, and he laid out some stark statistics to illustrate his point.

"We have schools in Maine where 23 percent of the students are at grade level in reading in math, and they graduate," LePage said during the State of the State. "We graduate 'em."

Governor LePage said it's outrageous that parents have to pay college tuition for classes their kids should have mastered in high school. Instead, he thinks high schools should pay when their students need to take remedial math or reading classes in the community college or university system. It's an idea he first talked about last summer, but many educators haven't warmed up to the idea.

"I think it is a punitive measure aimed at schools unfairly," said Connie Brown, Executive Director of the Maine School Management Association.

She said each student begins school in a different place academically, and it follows that they're not all going to end in the same place. Brown said the answer is not to divert more funding away from schools, but to support and expand what's working. The Maine Education Association also said LePage's proposed solution is misplaced. But other educators said it's on target.

"I think there's the expectation that when you graduate with a high school diploma, that you've reached a certain level of proficiency," said Lewiston Schools Superintendent Bill Webster.

He said they already provide remedial classes to high school graduates through their local Adult Education program.

"And if we find out that graduates are not at that level of proficiency, then yes, I fully agree with the governor that we should be making up that difference by offering the appropriate remedial courses," Webster said.

Last fall, just over 12% of Maine high school students who entered the state university system took remedial courses. In community colleges, the number was much higher, 50% of students from Maine high schools took remedial courses, most of them in math. Why the big gap?

"Ya know it's just not as simple as it can appear on the surface, I think," said Helen Pelletier, spokesperson for the Maine Community College System.

She said the reasons why some students need remedial courses are based on many factors.

"Some students choose courses in high school that they think will be sufficient or that are based on what they think they want to do when they graduate high school and think about to college," said Pelletier.

But then realize later, said Pelletier, that they need a more rigorous course to enroll in their preferred area of study. Pelletier said there will always be a need for remedial courses, but adopting common core standards will go a long way toward ensuring all students have a solid foundation. Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said LePage's proposal gets at At the question of what a diploma really represents.

"If it represents spending a certain amount of time at school and doing OK, then that's one thing," Connerty-Marin said. "But if it represents having met certain standards and expectations and acquired certain skills and knowledge that the students will need to be successful, whether it's career or college, then why are we giving a diploma if a kid's really not ready?"

While LePage's remedial education proposal has some support from educators, his idea to rate schools A through F is met with more skepticism. The Maine Education Association's executive director Rob Walker said the idea is fraught with problems.

"We already have a grading system with No Child Left Behind, and we have schools that are not making adequate progress, all based on a standardized test scores," said Walker.

And also based on comparisons to different districts, said Walker, versus overall student growth. Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond said Governor LePage's plan will do little more than create a mess.

"How are we gonna support schools that do get a D or an F, because his budget actually takes money out of general purpose aid, and so how are we going to provide those supports to ensure every student is put first?" asked Alfond. "And so that's where I'm struggling with this A through F."

Department of Ed spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the rating system would be based on multiple sources of data, and provide a simple way for parents to see how well their schools are performing.

[DISCLOSURE: The Maine Education Association represents some employees of Maine Public Broadcasting Network.]

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