Watch the Legislature: Major educational changes on docket

By William Shuttleworth | Feb 16, 2012

Changes in the educational landscape are occurring faster than at any time in Maine’s history. Let’s look at the five major agenda items up for discussion and legislative action.

Charter schools

Maine has now become one of the last states to institute charter schools legislation. The law, conservative in nature, will authorize up to 10 charter schools in Maine in the next 10 years. There is a flurry of resistance to this idea, mostly from the Maine Education Association, and superintendents and school boards, who are naturally worried about finite funds being siphoned from public schools.

I am not only in favor of this long-needed opportunity, I am actually one of the seven appointed Charter School Commissioners entrusted to oversee the implementation of this law. If you look at our student data, there are huge needs for some kids. We are under-serving at risk students, many who eventually drop out of school. Let’s encourage models that may generate new pathways for some kids to be successful.

 

School Choice

Governor Paul LePage and Maine Department of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen have announced plans to submit legislation to allow students to attend any school of their choice, unrestricted by zipcode/town lines, as long as there is room and parents assume costs of transportation. It is not a new idea and is currently in place in more 17 states. The MEA has announced its strong opposition to the plan saying it ”will create excellent schools, but it will also create bad schools.”

I have a different take on that. I don’t think parents want to uproot their children’s schedule and neighborhood friends and cart them to another town without good reason. And, that reason is usually because they are in a bad school.

 

Money will go to religious schools

This will certainly cause great conversation and disagreement. I have been cautious of any public money going to private schools without the same level of accountability with which we live. When students go to Chevrus, they are not required to take the SATS. If the governor wants to allow students to go to religious schools, he needs to make sure accountability follows the students. And, I am not sure that public dollars should go to the teaching of a particular religious pedagogy.

 

Tying teacher pay to student performance

Well, about time. And, I think great teachers are looking forward to this. There will be a lot of work to do to get an evaluation tool that is fair and valid, but that work is long overdue and will improve student achievement.

 

Increasing enrollment support for career and technical schools

We have a lot of kids that could benefit from solid vocational/technical training and there are some institutional barriers (credits, schedules, school culture) that work against full enrollment in our career and technical schools. In the Five Town CSD, we have approximately 65 unfilled slots at the Midcoast School of Technology. If you take a compass and draw a 50-mile circle around Camden, think of the jobs that require skilled craftsmen for the next 50 years. We will need carpenters, auto mechanics, plumbers, computer experts, electricians, welders, nurse’s assistants, hospitality workers and skilled cooks. Why do we think these jobs are not worthy occupations for the future when there will always be work, and always be income from this work?

Like, I said, these are exciting times and everyone has a strong opinion about education. After all, we all went to school and have ideas of how a school ought to run. Let your voice be heard.

 

William C. Shuttleworth is superintendent of the Camden-Rockport School Administration District 28 and the Five Town CSD, which comprises Appleton, Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport and governs Camden Hills Regional High School.

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