January 17, 2013

Report: Maine grads more ready for college than others

Data shows less of a need for remedial work, adding a new debate point on school quality.

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

New data shows that Maine's high school graduates are less likely to need remedial courses in college than other students across the nation.

LePage administration officials said the numbers are "not acceptable," but the state teachers union praised them as showing that Maine schools are succeeding.

Data on freshmen coming into the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System, available for the first time under a new state law, shows how many Maine high school graduates need remedial courses -- at an annual cost totaling about $2 million for those students. The courses help students fill in knowledge gaps or improve skills so they can move on to college work.

Gov. Paul LePage will propose legislation in this session to "hold schools accountable" for their graduates who need remedial courses in college, Adrienne Bennett, LePage's spokeswoman, said late Wednesday.

"It's clear we've got a problem," said Bennett, who provided no details of the proposed legislation.

In July, the governor said he wanted to introduce legislation to require school districts to pay for their graduates' remedial courses in college. Bennett would not say Wednesday if that is what the proposed bill would do.

The new data shows that 12 percent of this year's freshmen in the University of Maine System who came from Maine high schools needed remedial work.

By comparison, the average in New England ranges from 24 percent to 39 percent, depending on the type of four-year college surveyed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Maine's community colleges reported that 50 percent of this year's freshmen from Maine high schools needed remedial courses, compared with an estimated average of 60 percent nationwide, according to numerous studies.

The college systems' remediation rates for all students were slightly higher than those for just Maine high school graduates. In 2011, the University of Maine System had 18 percent of students in remedial classes, and the Maine Community College System had 51 percent.

"This proves our public schools are succeeding and we should continue to invest in a system we know produces positive results," said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, which represents teachers.

As for possible legislation, Kilby-Chesley said she won't have any opinion until she knows what it might say.

"I don't think that our students should be political pawns," she said. "We should be thinking about what's best for kids and getting what's best for kids in the classroom."

And that, she said, means money, reiterating the union's call for the state to provide 55 percent of funding for public schools, a standard set by voters in 2004 that has never been met.

The data is creating just the latest conflict between LePage and Maine's public school administrators and unions.

In November, LePage criticized Maine's public schools, saying, "If you want a good education, go to private schools. If you can't afford it, tough luck -- you can go to the public school."

A few months earlier, he said the reputation of Maine schools suffered nationally. "I don't care where you go in this country -- if you come from Maine, you're looked down upon now," he said.

The data, made available this week, is more proof that change is needed, said a spokesman for state Education Commissioner Steve Bowen.

"I find it mind-boggling that anyone can suggest 50 percent is a success," said David Connerty-Marin, referring to the percentage of community college students who needed remedial courses. "It's like saying, 'Great, I'm getting a D but everyone else is getting an F.'

(Continued on page 2)

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