PORTLAND – Everyone talks about the need for education, and the importance of a quality education for the future of our children and our state. We all agree about the importance, but fail to agree on meaningful reforms.

We talk about graduation requirements and the Maine Learning Results, about the number of students that drop out every year, charter schools, and linking teacher pay to student performance.

Yet little seems to change in terms of any broad-based measurable results.

Some say it is the teachers unions that block progress. To others it is the administrators. Others blame the lack of progress on the students and their parents.

The fact of the matter is that we all must accept our share of the blame. We need to rethink how we regard education and how we value it (or not).

Our recently departed commissioner of education has talked in the past about international standards and the need for our children to measure up to international standards in order to compete in the future.

She brought up countries like Norway and Singapore and their achievements.

So, what makes them different? Teaching in Norway is considered a desirable occupation and the teachers come from the top 10 percent to 20 percent of college graduates, and they have to have a master’s degree to teach.

In both Norway and Singapore the top students become teachers and society holds education in high regard.

Using tutors and trying to get the very best education for children is commonplace.

They both use high-stakes testing when students complete high school, and Singapore has high-stakes testing as students try to get in to the best high schools.

Be honest with yourself, does that sound like our approach to education? Do we hold our teachers in such high regard? Do you view teaching as a very desirable and rewarding career path?

So, how can we change and improve our educational system? There are no quick fixes.

Charter schools, teacher/student performance standards, setting goals for graduation standards, none of these will just “fix” things. Parents need to be more involved, and I don’t mean just going to their sports practices.

Parents need to take an active and supportive role in education at an early age! We need to work to create a pre-K program on a statewide basis to help students get the best start that we can.

We need to value our teachers and encourage our best and brightest students to consider it as a valued career.

And most of all, we need to hold our students, parents, teachers, and administrators responsible.

We have the Maine Learning Results, which call for high school graduates to meet learning standards in eight content areas.

Certainly these standards are laudable, but how do we implement them?

Do we actually test students in all areas to be sure they learned what we have set for goals? No! Are we saying that the high school is responsible for making sure that the graduates have met these standards? Is it solely the high school’s responsibility? Of course not!

Goals are an incredible tool if used correctly. But they are mere wishes if we don’t set benchmarks and make sure we achieve them along the way.

Maine needs to start at the beginning, and set up meaningful and achievable goals for each level of education, starting with a strong pre-K program statewide.

Students must not be passed along to the next grade until they have mastered the skills needed for success at that next level.

To do so sets students up for an ever worsening educational experience that leaves them ill prepared for the future.

Students, parents, teachers and school administrators all need to work together to achieve these goals.

Only by starting at the beginning can we build a strong foundation for future learning, and a strong future for our students and our state.

We must, as a society, put more value on teachers, and the profession of teaching.

We have to demonstrate, with actions as well as words, a commitment to education.

Otherwise we will never be able to achieve our goals. We will need to make changes and adjustments to our plans as we go along, but I challenge each of you to reconsider your attitudes about teaching and education.

Commit to a long-term plan to improve each level, one level at a time, from the ground up.

It may take us 15 years or even more, but we can make it work if we all make a commitment.