Tuesday, December 10, 2013
As a proud graduate of Portland Public Schools now finishing my junior year at Harvard, I am greatly dismayed by Gov. LePage's new grading system for Maine public schools ("Schools get letter grades, call system flawed," May 2).
Hall Elementary School student Harrison Greene takes part in a rally Thursday in support of the Portland school, which received an F under a new state grading system. The grades don’t reflect all that Maine schools have to offer, readers say.
2013 File Photo/Gabe Souza
The appeal of implementing a simplistic rating system of public schools is understandable.
However, any attempts to paint the aptitude of our schools with such a broad stroke will always miss the mark for one key reason: The stories of public schools cannot be explained by a simple letter grade.
I graduated from Portland High School in 2010 and, though it had certain shortcomings that a perennially underfunded budget render impossible to avoid, it served me well.
When one considers the myriad factors that contribute to the successes and failures of Portland High and all public schools, ranging from educating at-risk populations to ensuring after-school activities that keep youth off the streets, I cringe at the notion that a failing letter grade will help educators achieve their mission.
But LePage's grading system threatens more than simply the morale of hardworking educators.
Rather than work toward what should be our collective goal of improving struggling schools, describing schools as failures will only further stratify education inequities.
Parents fortunate enough to consider private schooling a viable option will choose to remove their high-achieving children from public education, undoubtedly leading to a brain drain and decreased confidence in our public schools. This is exactly what we should be working against.
Though perhaps well-intentioned, the grading system offered by Le-Page is a shortsighted and overly simplified answer to what is in fact a complex problem.
We must instead work toward an evaluation of Maine public schools that provides a holistic and complete assessment of the factors that influence the successes or shortcomings of a school.
We owe it to the future generation.
I am very troubled by Gov. LePage's distribution of school "grades."
This does simplify things, as the governor wanted, but to the point of being absurd.
Yes, students are graded, but they get multiple grades, one in each subject, rather than one total grade based on limited aspects of their progress.
My daughter is graduating from Portland High School, a school that just received a D.
She received a great education and has been admitted to an excellent college. Students from her class were admitted to Ivy League colleges and other first-rate colleges.
However, she does go to a school with a very high poverty rate. There are kids there who are homeless or live on their own because their parents cannot care for them. Another large group of students are English language learners.
Schools from the wealthy suburbs, ones that got "high grades," do not have this kind of mix in their schools.
Most students in those wealthy districts have parents who give their kid every advantage.
Although my husband and I could have lived in a wealthy suburb, we chose not to because we wanted our daughter to learn what the world is about, and to build skills for interacting with all kinds of people.
In addition to her daily interactions, she tutored in the ELL class, worked in the nearby soup kitchen and donated food for classmates who did not have money for food.
She learned as much from those experiences as she did from many excellent academic classes.
Rather than complain about education and make up a grading system based on a few measures, I wish Gov. LePage would visit schools like Portland High School, to see what amazing things they are doing with an incredibly diverse population.
While the governor's new school-ranking system fails for many reasons (many of which are well articulated in the May 2 editorial, "Our View: LePage's education policy earns him an F"), the rhetoric he used to explain it is also a failure.
In my junior English classes at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, I discuss the threat of rhetorical failures with my students.
Imprecise explanations, poorly supported assertions and ineffective analogies can undermine both an argument and its speaker's authority.
If the way in which you make your case is careless, I tell my students, then the class will doubt not only what you're saying but your reasons for saying it.
In defense of his ill-conceived effort to pit the students, teachers, administrators and citizens of Maine against one another via this ranking system, Gov. LePage explained that consistent school performance is problematic because "in a hospital setting, a flat line is not a good line."
Were this phrase to appear in an argument written by one of my students -- and especially if it were coupled with the vague generalizations and clumsy verbs LePage also employed -- then I would insist that the writer work harder to use the tools of language to achieve his purpose.
"How," I might ask, "is invoking the image of a dead heart supposed to help you inspire your audience?"
Either LePage does not understand that an effective analogy invokes the audience's understanding of one thing to help explain another, or his assumptions about and aspirations for Maine schools are not what he says they are.
As an English teacher in Maine schools, I am troubled by the governor's difficulties with language.
My classroom door is open to him should he want to bring his rhetoric up to the standard I set for my high school juniors.
I agree with your grade of F for Gov. LePage's school grading system.
As the mother of two boys who attend Portland Public Schools, I will let my sons speak for our family:
Jackson, age 12 and a seventh-grader at King Middle School (graded C), said, "King got a C because we have 70 kids who are still learning English."
Nate, age 11 and a fifth-grader at Hall School (graded F), notes, "And there are about 50 kids at Hall learning English."
Our children attend these great schools, by our deliberate choice, because of the dedicated teachers and staff and because of the diverse student body that will prepare them for lives in this world.
The best way for Gov. LePage to improve their educational experience would be for him to increase state funding to Portland Public Schools.