AUGUSTA — In his Sept. 7 weekly column (“Maine gets clear education message and continues to ignore it”), political wannabe Ron Bancroft once again insults educators, degrades Maine’s schools and maligns the Maine Education Association. This time he does it in a thinly veiled campaign promotion for gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

Like Cutler, Bancroft sets up the false premise that Maine’s schools are failing, our school boards are incompetent, our Legislature is inept and our educators are totally resistant to change.

The truth is Maine’s schools are doing well and working hard to do better; school boards are representing their communities; legislators of both parties have worked hard on school reform; and, the MEA has worked cooperatively with Govs. John McKernan, Angus King and John Baldacci on numerous school reforms that have improved teaching and learning in our schools.

Because it does not fit with their political agenda, Bancroft and Cutler refuse to acknowledge the success of Maine’s students on national tests; generally in the top 20 percent in the nation. Here are a few of the statistics they ignore:

• In 2009, our fourth-grade students ranked seventh in the country in math and third in the country in reading.

• Also in 2009, our eighth-grade students ranked ninth in the country in math and sixth in the country in reading.

• Per-pupil expenditures in Maine rank among the lowest in New England. Among small New England states, only New Hampshire spends less per pupil than Maine, while Vermont and Rhode Island spend significantly more.

• Average teachers’ salaries in Maine rank 43rd in the United States, although we enjoy a very experienced educator work force and a high percentage of our teachers hold master’s-level degrees.

• Finally, while Bancroft and Cutler have tried to blame teachers’ unions for lower student achievement levels, just the opposite is true. Student achievement levels across the United States are significantly higher in states where educators are organized.

The other inconvenient truth is that MEA has supported school reform.

We supported the Common Core of Learning, Maine’s Learning Results, Professional Learning Communities, the appropriate use of student test data to improve teaching practices, and Innovative Schools. And, we advocated for higher standards for the profession, for a greater voice in decision-making by educators and for the funding needed to implement reforms.

Bancroft’s suggestion that Cutler would be good for public education and our students is ludicrous. Neither has any real experience helping students learn to read, or write, or understand math concepts.

A key component of Cutler’s education platform is “saving” up to $400 million by increasing class sizes by 50 percent. To reach these larger class sizes, upward of 6,000 teachers would be laid off, hundreds of classes would be shut down, schools would be closed in another massive round of consolidation, and the quality of our programs would be radically reduced.

From his experience as a school board member, Bancroft should know that these budget cuts and larger classes would deny students world-class learning opportunities and eliminate hundreds of programs. Maine’s rural schools and “high receivers” of state aid would be particularly devastated by this loss of funding and additional consolidation.

Cutler’s “savings” would also drastically reduce instructional quality by eliminating professional development opportunities, eliminating planning periods, increasing teaching loads and prohibiting collegial conferencing.

Cutler also proposes diverting state aid so students can attend unregulated private, religious and for-profit schools that lack safeguards for students and accountability to taxpayers.

Even though a number of studies have detailed their deficiencies, including incompetence, fraud and racism and scholarly research concludes that such schools fail to outperform public schools, Cutler believes they are deserving of state aid.

Cutler and Bancroft are wrong on their facts, wrong on their policies and wrong on their politics, and their ideas are just plain bad for our public schools. Both should be rejected.

Instead, Maine citizens should be asking those who are doing the work, what needs to be done to achieve better results. Our teachers and support professionals are working every day to do the best they can with the resources that they are given.

If Bancroft and Cutler were really interested in improving our public schools, they might begin by listening to those who have dedicated their professional careers to doing just that.

 

– Special to The Press Herald