July 27, 2012

Our View: LePage, MEA both miss point on ed reform study

Things aren't as good as the union suggests, but not nearly as bad as the governor insists.

Good thing school is out because Wednesday's education reform presentation by Gov. Paul LePage and the response by the Maine Education Association would have resulted in failing grades all around if they had taken place during the semester.

click image to enlarge

Gov. Paul LePage talks during a press conference about a proposed education rule on Wednesday in Augusta.

2012 file photo/Andy Molloy

Both sides were responding to a Harvard University study that showed Maine in next-to-last place among the participating 41 states when it comes to the rate of improvement in student performance on standardized tests.

While not all the news in the report was bad, this was a dismal result that called for a serious response. But that's not what we got.

First, the teachers union made the case that Maine was slow to improve because it was already so good there was little room for improvement. That's just not true.

Yes, Maine students regularly produce test results that are well above the national average and often at the top among the states. But comparison of international test results show that even scoring above the U.S. average is not good enough. The country is falling behind competitors in the developing as well as the developed world when it comes to education. Even being at the top of the heap doesn't mean much when the heap is so low. A quarter of Maine's elementary school students fail to meet standards in reading, and 30 percent don't meet them in math. There is plenty of room for improvement. And if the union's assessment is correct, the states with the lowest test scores would be the ones that make the biggest improvement. While that is true for some states, Massachusetts, which already outperforms Maine, was one of the states that made the biggest gains.

The Harvard report would appear to give Gov. LePage a strong rationale for taking a different approach to education reform. Unfortunately, he chose to poison his proposal with unjustified attacks on Maine's reputation and make a blatantly untrue claim about how colleges view Maine applicants.

The governor said: "I don't care where you go in this country -- if you come from Maine, you're looked down upon now." He went on to claim that the College of William and Mary in Virginia requires a placement exam for all Maine students before considering their applications. When contacted, college officials said that they do no such thing. As has happened in the past, the governor just made it up.

Why Gov. LePage thinks he can move Maine forward by tearing the state down is a mystery. That he thinks he can get people to back his education reform by inventing false information to support his argument is beyond belief.

The Harvard study, finding that Maine's school reform efforts have not produced acceptable rates of improvement, gave both the governor and the union something concrete to work on.

Next time out, we should demand a better response. Summer is almost over.


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