BATH — It is no secret that among industrialized nations, our high school students perform at the bottom of the list in math and sciences.

School administrators, presidents and lawmakers have addressed this trend in recent times with initiatives and incentives intended to make schools more accountable, economical and successful.

Yet today, schools face the worst economic dilemmas in recent history and America is no better off among advanced nations.

Here in Maine, we have been hit hard.

Programs and teachers are being cut in districts statewide, and many gubernatorial candidates are actually in agreement that Maine needs to increase the number of students in classrooms in order to close in on the national average.

The scope of the situation is not only dire in that our kids are failing and we cannot fund them for success, but worse, people with the potential power to influence and implement change are proposing a major step backward in the effort to improve quality education in schools.

That schools are focusing on finding only the most affordable paths to improve test scores is fundamentally misguided. The culture of education should not be fused with the culture of the corporate world.

It is one thing for a corporation to overemphasize profits; the quality of products or services slips, product and/or workplace safety is ignored, and injuries, lawsuits, recalls and other controversies are imminent.

We have seen this scenario played out before us many times in recent months and years.

Businesses must present a service or product that is worth its price in the eyes of the consumer.

If it is a high-quality product or service, it will gain in popularity and earn profits.

An honest business requires skillful economic planning, and above all, an emphasis on the product or service offered.

A dishonest business will cut corners, overemphasize the numbers, and attempt to convince its market that the product or service is worth a higher price than it really is, at the risk of the aforementioned consequences.

When we cut corners in education, we risk more than a product recall, an injured employee or a dissatisfied customer base.

The reduction in the teacher force, the lowering of academic standards, the compromising of art and music opportunities, the cutting of foreign-language programs, the increased workload per teacher, the overemphasis on reading and math scores — these are examples of shortcuts we are seeing almost everywhere in our state.

As a result, the children of Maine are not receiving the academic workout their brains need in order to grow into the well-rounded thinkers and problem-solvers the future will require.

This is not something we can repair with a product recall, an innovative fix or even a government bailout.

This is a mistake with a permanent outcome that is at the least dangerous, most likely crippling, and at worst catastrophic for the coming decades.

This is not just a message to voters, but to teachers, administrators, parents and even students.

Greatness is within our reach, and each of us is an expert in our own department.

Voters must be vigilant and elect the most committed and caring of education-focused candidates.

Elementary, middle school and high school teachers must strive to provide quality and relevant instruction, and ask for only the conditions required to carry out their best work.

Administrators must offer opportunities for teachers to plan, organize, revise and share their practice.

Parents must demand and support their children’s complete, quality education experience, and provide a healthy study environment at home.

Students must strive to succeed and communicate their needs with the help of parents and their community.

Finally, when it comes to education, there must always be money. We are witnessing a crisis as monumental as an economic disaster, and as dire as a military or natural emergency.

We must be proactive in assuring those in power do everything necessary to keep our young people engaged in their learning, and to be sure their learning is a result of the absolute highest-quality education we can provide.

Let us keep classroom sizes small at all costs.

Let us teach foreign language, music, the arts, physical wellness, sciences, math and reading with vigor and with modern resources.

Let us support all teachers with frequent evaluation, feedback and re-evaluation.

Let us make teaching a valued and sought-after profession, and let us be the talk of the nation and the world.

 

– Special to the Press Herald