My child - and yours - deserve an education equal to that of any other child in the state

By Kathreen Harrison | Feb 05, 2015

Educators in the state of Maine are currently consumed by the transition to standards-based curriculum. Local districts are focused on creating graduation standards and aligning curriculum to those standards. Lots of time on the part of teachers, administrators and school board members is being spent on this transition. We all know that time equals money. Is this particular expenditure worthwhile?

"Graduation requirements" and "standards-based" both sound a rigorous note and give the impression students benefit from having them. The word "standard" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable." Who would argue with "acceptable or desirable" when it comes to learning outcomes for students?

The trouble is that – in the state of Maine, at least -- we have no one definition for what we mean by "meeting the standard" in the eight content areas described by the Maine Learning Results -- other than the two defined by the Common Core in math and English language arts. In other words, the level of proficiency we want students to demonstrate in six content areas we fund -- and which the state deems "imperative" for adult life in the 21st century -- is not standardized. This level of proficiency varies by school district. There is no standard for "meeting the standard."

The six content areas not covered by the Common Core, but considered imperative by the state of Maine, are: science and technology; social studies; career and education development; world languages; visual and performing arts; health education and physical education.

The Maine Department of Education website, referring to all eight content areas, states: "These skills are imperative for Maine students to succeed and our state to thrive. The strengthened standards set a high bar for all Maine students, no matter their school. How Maine educators go about helping students meet and exceed those standards – including curriculum, required reading or school operations – remains entirely a local decision."

This abrogation by the state of financially guaranteeing all students the education it proclaims is "imperative" gives us back business as usual -- wealthy districts, which have enough funding to staff their programs adequately, define meeting standards at higher levels than do poorer districts, which simply don’t have the budgets to staff programs at a level that will allow their students to reach the same standards. In other words, students in Maine receive completely different educations based on their zip codes.

Additionally, each district’s new graduation standards are public documents, and this poses a particular challenge. College admissions committees and employers need no longer wonder if a graduate from a wealthy suburb in the Portland area is really better prepared for college life than a student from just about any other town in Maine. All they need do is match a student’s sending district with that district’s graduation standards for the picture of an applicant’s accomplishments in the eight content areas to be immediately clear. In effect, the standards-based movement makes crystal clear that the disenfranchised are highly likely to be less proficient in school subjects than the affluent.

Something should be done to redress this wrong of educational inequity in the state. We should not be spending all this energy and time and money to transition to a standards-based system, when nothing has been done to ensure all our students can meet the standards at the same level. Our representatives in Augusta should be ashamed to allow a situation to continue where bright, hopeful young students all around the state suffer a lack of opportunity simply because of where they reside. If the legislators in Maine update and adopt standards for schools in eight different subject areas -- which they did in 2013-2014 -- then they must provide matching funding. Otherwise, the work of the DOE and of the legislators is an exercise in futility at the expense of the people of Maine.

We must find a coordinated way to tell our legislators that if they are going to mandate a standards-based system for our schools, then they also have to make sure they provide the funding to enable all school districts to provide the programming that will make it possible for students to achieve proficiency. Standards should be equal for all. If they are not equal, then we are in effect abandoning our democracy.

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