Friday, December 13, 2013
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The LePage administration also wanted to provide assistance through L.D. 1510, which would have allowed the education commissioner to determine schools in need of improvement, and allow school choice in cases where a prescribed improvement plan was not followed. It was rightly rejected in committee by Democrats who feared the flawed A-F system would be used as the standard.
The grading system may not have much of a future. It was created by the governor's office, not enacted by law. LePage's two mainstream opponents for the Blaine House in 2014, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler, have criticized the program and both said they would end it.
A grading system of some kind, however, could work. The governor is correct that an A-F system is easy to understand. After LePage's plan was unveiled, the Democrats offered their own, one that includes factors such as peer comparisons and rates of free and reduced-price lunch. A system also could grade on a series of subjects individually -- science, history, arts and language, for instance, in addition to reading and math -- to provide a more complete view of the school.
For the most part, schools are aware of where they fall short. The state should give schools the tools necessary to make improvements. The Department of Education did start this effort, in the form of webinars presented in June on topics such as the practices of low-income but high-performing schools, although the department was unable to say how many schools took advantage of the series. A spokeswoman also said the department spent the summer speaking with school officials about how to support improvement.
That work should have been done instead of the hasty and unfunded implementation of an ineffective grading system. The department should crunch the hard data so that educators at schools falling behind in one area or another can connect with their counterparts at schools doing those things well. The department should foster a culture of cooperation that celebrates successful programs, and shows how they can be duplicated. When necessary, the state should fund targeted professional development.
A lot of the responsibility falls locally, too, where accountability for performance, dedication and innovation has to run from school boards to administrators to teachers and staff.
There is no doubt that too many Maine schools fall short in some way. Those schools need help addressing those faults with full consideration of the challenges they face, not criticism based on factors largely out of their control.