The pandemic has forced teachers to switch from improvisers to innovators. This amplified the fact that students learn differently and that adjusting to this reality is hard work, requiring professional discretion. A year of home schooling has earned teachers the respect they deserve from parents. It is time for lawmakers to do the same.
As part of carefully curated party line efforts, the current legislative session is passing laws that appear to view teachers less as innovators than as compliance officers in a centralized command and control system. Instead of providing frontline educators with incentives to embrace shared learning and create new opportunities for student learning options, Maine’s education policy is driven by a cohort of elected officials and some bureaucrats from across the country. Education Department the district model is the only option going forward. There is no tolerance for deviations from the system we currently have. There are a lot of opinions but little learning. As part of this educational orthodoxy, public charter schools, magnetic schools or even cost-sharing agreements between city academies are considered heretics. Ignoring the positive contributions of these schools and the emerging science on teaching and assessment, advocates for district-managed schooling strive to purge the alternatives.
This partisan politics is dysfunctional and thwarts a desperately needed systemic restructuring. The academic Kindergarten to Grade 12 Learning Outcomes talk about this need. Without a significant restructuring policy from the Ministry of Education, the Legislature has carte blanche. In all fairness, committees are inundated with bills, making it almost impossible to put in place a serious and thoughtful educational policy. It is clear from the questions asked that few people have the time to keep abreast of current literature such as KnowledgeWorks, The Center for Reinventing Public Education or thinkers like Ted dintersmith or the end Sir Kenneth Robinson. Fewer have the time to visit schools or engage in meaningful discussions with teachers and principals. Without it, few people can realistically draw independent conclusions and therefore rely on the party to inform decisions – usually in the form of behind-the-scenes caucuses. Failure to hold the line deserves reprimands from party leaders.
The voices of young people are particularly absent from the discussions. National student efforts, such as 100 conversations about school and Youth Truth, use sophisticated data analytics to integrate youth feedback into district plans. Maine should do more.
In the absence of a high-level representative body of citizens from education, business, nonprofits, philanthropy, and students, the ruling party in Augusta and its interest groups determine the restructuring of Maine education. Watch the videos on the Legislative Assembly website to see that governance by grievance is the norm. Public hearings are a facade. Despite a year of learning from the pandemic, openings for genuine innovative opportunities are falling victim in an effort to roll party orthodoxy or to recoup decisions made by the previous administration. Existing options, such as public charter schools, public magnetic schools, and even esteemed municipal academies are threatened with elimination or serious financial disasters Watch for keywords like “equity” to sell the unique model, rather than discussions on how to implement student-centered learning strategies.
Thoughtful and thoughtful educators across the country join in the need to do a better job of listening to local communities about their visions and hopes for a renewed and restructured education system. We all need to respond better to the new economic disruptions happening around us. The current system is failing too many children in Maine. We can and must do better. Over the past few months, we have relied on our teachers to find new and better ways to educate their students. They have risen to the challenge and we must force legislators to meet the same standards. The stakes are too high for public education to continue to be a tool for taking a political position and restoring an outdated educational model.