A Real Plan for Education Reform

May 22, 2015 Posted by Patrick Marvin - No Comments

Maine’s education system has lost its forward momentum.

It has become stagnant in its pursuit to better educate and prepare our students for all the challenges they may face in the future.

Even with the adoption of numerous expensive and “du jour” style education reforms, Maine schools are not producing smarter students, and in some cases, are actually turning out students who perform worse than students in years past.

In 1992, 8th grade students in Maine scored 12 points higher in mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test than the U.S. average. But in 2013, Maine 8th graders scored just 5 points higher than the national average, meaning any advantage we held in the subject is rapidly fading away.

Maine’s reading scores are even most disheartening. In 1992, Maine 4th graders received an average score of 227 on the reading section of the NAEP test. That number sadly fell to 225 in 2013, while the national average increased by 6 points in that same time period.

However, this lack of educational advancement isn’t because of a lack of funding.

Per student spending increased by more than 141% between 1990 and 2013, showing that Maine is throwing more and more money at our schools in a futile attempt to fix the systemic flaws that are holding back our education system.

But instead of simply dumping money into a system that needs serious reform, what should we be doing to correct the pitfalls and weaknesses that prevent our children from receiving a quality education?

How can we get Maine’s education system back on track?

Get rid of Common Core

One of the top priorities for reforming and improving education in Maine should be the elimination of Common Core.

A set of state standards that outline what every student should supposedly know and have the ability to do, Common Core has a complete strangle hold on our classrooms and schools.

Not only are these standards complex, bewildering, and detrimental for students (particularly younger students) but they are also low quality, and have been thrown into place without any field-testing or research.

They simultaneously confuse and distress students, while also demotivating them and lowering the bar for academic achievement.

Our children deserve Maine-made educational standards that are simpler, easier to understand, and higher quality than the ones put forth by Common Core. They need an education system that challenges them, allows them to expand their knowledge and thinking, and encourages them grow and develop into successful adults.

Eliminate Proficiency Based Education

Far too often, destructive and disturbing policies are masked underneath a harmless sounding name and a vague description that hide the true effects and outcomes of said policy.

This is the case with Proficiency Based Education or PBE.

Touted by supporters as a way to ensure we are graduating competent and fully-prepared students, PBE is a gimmicky scheme which mandates that students must be “proficient” in numerous several different areas in order to receive a diploma.

While this description and name sound innocent (who doesn’t want proficient students?) the truth is that PBE is turning our education system upside down because of three major problems.

First, is the fact that no student can be proficient in everything. Students are all unique, and have unique interests, knowledge, and skills. While some students may love math, and be able to solve even the most advanced calculus problems, others may be better suited to conduct complex chemistry experiments, or research a particular historical event.

From a theoretical standpoint, it’s simply impossible to expect our students to be high-achievers in all areas.

This issue is closely related to the second problem with PBE, which is that proficient is a vague concept that has no set standard or universal definition. What is an acceptable level of proficiency in math? What does it mean to be proficient in English?

Maine does not even have a set method to measure proficiency – students are allowed to complete a project, write a paper, conduct an experiment, or do any number of other tasks in order to show that they are proficient.

The third, and most troubling problem with PBE, is that the acceptable level of proficiency is not set in stone. The proficiency level can be changed by the teacher or school, in order to suit their own needs or goals.

So, if there are a number of students who are not proficient in any given subject, and are in danger of failing, those students can be saved by lowering the standard.

This not only is a disservice to those students, but it is a clear message to all students that they do not need to work hard in order to get ahead. Even if students don’t work hard, they still are able to move on to the next grade, and eventually graduate with a (now meaningless) diploma.

Clearly, PBE must be eliminated if Maine is to make any solid progress at improving its education system. Maine needs a system that is built not on lowered expectations and cookie-cutter students, but on the belief that students should be allowed to grow and thrive in their own unique way.

We need to encourage our students to challenge themselves, to work and study hard, and to follow their passions so that they can become productive and successful members of society.

Protect School Choice

Our American economy has been able to grow and thrive because consumers have the right to choose where they spend their dollars. They are able to buy the products that most closely match their need for quality and affordability, and are given a choice in almost every situation.

Students deserve that same freedom, and should be able to choose which school they attend.

They, and their parents, should be empowered to choose the school and the environment that best suits their educational and social needs.

By allowing students to choose between public schools, private schools, charter schools, online learning academies, and homeschooling, we can ensure that every student is in the most effective educational system.

Regardless of a family’s ability to pay, or their location, their children will be able to receive the best education possible, and be best prepared for the road ahead.

Critics contend that school choice would only benefit wealthy, successful schools, and would disparage those schools which are not performing well or are lacking funding. But in reality, it would create bottom-up pressure that would encourage teachers and schools to better educate our children.

By injecting choice into our school systems, and removing Common Core and Proficiency Based Education, we can start to make real progress towards regaining our educational advantage.

It’s critical that Maine lawmakers consider these reforms and get on board with these real solutions – because our future depends on it.