Among the school reformers…


So how far behind is Maine in terms of school reform?

Way behind.

Though I knew this already and have been banging this drum for what seems like years at this point, I was reminded of it once again while at the annual policy meeting of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, which took place last week in Nashville.

PIE-Net, as it has come to be known, is a coalition of school reform advocacy organizations from around the country, including the Maine Heritage Policy Center. The project was launched by four of the nation’s leading school reform groups, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Center for American Progress, Education Sector, and the Center on Reinventing Public Education. These diverse organizations—some on the political right and some on the political left—have come together to advance a common reform agenda and to encourage reform at the state level through creation of PIE-Net.

The policy meeting is a chance for network members to come together and learn from one another.  This year’s meeting location, Nashville, was no accident. Tennessee, which was the winner, along with Delaware, of the first round of the Race to the Top, is already well under way advancing the series of reforms that it outlined in its winning Race to the Top application.

What are they doing that we are not? You name it.

  • Tennessee will adopt tough new standards and advanced accountability systems and launch am extensive teacher training program to support their implementation.
  • Tennessee will use its existing student performance data system, one of the nation’s best, to inform teacher and principal evaluations, which will now be done every year.
  • Tennessee will expand its student data system, allowing all stakeholders real-time access to student performance data.
  • Tennessee will place failing school systems into a state-run “Achievement School District” which will feature additional state aid and support.
  • Tennessee will strengthen accountability systems for teacher training programs and expand alternative routes to teacher certification.
  • Tennessee will increase its investment in innovation, especially in smaller, more rural districts, and expand the number of charter schools statewide.

Tennessee is not alone, of course, as states across the nation are embracing many of these reforms and more.

So when my turn came to speak up for what Maine is doing, what did I say?

I said that we had submitted an embarrassingly weak Race to the Top application, which came on the heels of embarrassingly weak Race to the Top legislation. I told them that we came in 33rd out of 36 states to apply for the Race to the Top and that there has been absolutely no fallout from this whatsoever—no investigation, no one held to account, no response of any kind from the Baldacci administration. I told them that we were in the middle of a hotly-contested governor’s race—the outcome of which will be decided next week—and that depending on the results of that race, Maine would either move forward with meaningful reforms  or maintain a largely failing status quo well into the foreseeable future. (I’ll let you decide which candidates will take us in which direction.)

I wish I could have brought all of Maine with me to this conference so that people could see, if only for a few hours, the great things that seem to be going on in school reform everywhere in the nation except here.  The whole experience was encouraging and dispiriting at the same time.

At the very least, though, you can get more information on the great things that are being down by visiting the PIE-Net website and reading how real school reform is actually moving forward in states all over our nation.