A new report from Envision Maine is in the news, with articles about it in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News. The BDN even goes so far as to highlight the report in a glowing editorial. (Funny, when we say that government spends to much or that too many people are on welfare, the BDN accuses us of “skewing the data”. When Envision Maine says it, the BDN calls their report “devastating, but necessary.” No double standard there.)
While most of the news about the report has focused on the cost-cutting suggestions it contains, I found myself absolutely fascinated with what Envision Maine, which sees itself as a kind of centrist alternative to groups like ours, came up with on education reform.
Their “action plan” on education includes the following:
- “Transform public schools through innovation and experimentation.”
- “Move Maine toward the national average on student-teacher ratios.”
- “Reduce administrative expenses with a new round of district administrative consolidations, but this time put the savings back into the classroom rather than the state’s general fund.”
- “Evaluate teacher performance, rewarding good teachers by bringing their pay to the national rural state average and removing under-performing teachers.”
- “Investigate the increase in non-teacher employment over the last decade and move the teacher/non-teacher ratio to the national rural state average.”
- “Create a statewide standard for special education programs that brings Maine closer to a national average.”
On the surface, there isn’t a whole lot here that is earth-shattering, but what you don’t get until you actually read the education section of the report is how far they are prepared to go with regard to “innovation and experimentation.” Within that one section, Envision Maine says the following:
- “Maine should pass a charter school law that encourages teachers, parents, community members, community organizations, colleges, and even businesses to create new schools.”
- “Maine should create “second chance” schools for students who have dropped out or at risk of doing so. Such schools, the report says, “are run by nonprofit organizations, on contract with school districts,” which is the model they suggest for Maine.
- “Maine should do more with distance learning. We should create a distance learning program available to all students at all schools in the state.”
- “Maine should create a “Postsecondary Options” program. Minnesota’s program, launched in 1986, allows juniors and seniors in high school to take college courses for both high school and college credit.”
- “Maine should consider creating a “Recovery School District,” to take over schools where students repeatedly fail to meet state standards.”
- Last, but not least, Envision Maine has this to say: “Maine should create its alternative schools in a
way that increases the pressure on existing schools to improve. The state should pass legislation that gives every parent the right to choose their childrens’ public school and requires all public funding for a student to move with that student when he or she leaves a school district for another district, a charter
school, an alternative school, or a second-chance school.
In other words, here is Envision Maine’s “innovation” agenda for public schools: charter schools, charter school-like “second-chance” schools, a charter school-creating Recovery School Unit, universal access to online and virtual learning opportunities, universal access to college course while in high school, and a universal statewide school choice voucher program.
What does it say about the extent to which patience with the pace of school reform is running out that this self-described “independent” think tank is proposing almost EXACTLY what we have been proposing for years in terms of school reform?
By the way, guess which gubernatorial candidate has advanced a school reform plan closest to what Envision Maine proposes.
I’ll give you a second. Remember, we’re talking school choice, charter schools, college courses in high school and greater accountability across the board, from teachers to administrators to school boards.
Give up? It is Paul LePage, who supports school choice, charter schools, college courses in high school and greater accountability across the board, from teachers to administrators to school boards.
The other candidates have talked about one or two of these approaches, but only LePage has embraced a school reform agenda even approaching what Envision Maine suggests.
I told somebody just the other day that this is a great time to be part of the school reform movement. If you need any evidence of that, look at what the Envision Maine report is calling on Maine to do in order to transform its schools.