Governor LePage’s recent distribution of grades to schools could be considered a call to action in the state of Maine. We certainly did not learn anything new from the list. We already knew that standardized testing scores usually reflect community wealth. However the list does do a nice job of shining a clear light on the inequities of Maine’s school system. The question now is – will our elected officials do anything practical to help our schools?
Level of educational attainment tends to be generational in this country. Educated parents demand excellent schools. They choose their school boards, school leaders, and teachers from the top of the pack. They protect the arts, languages, humanities, physical education and field trips because they know these are vital parts of an education. What their taxes can’t fund they often successfully fund through private philanthropy. In Maine most schools in wealthy communities got a ‘B’ or an ‘A’.
Less privileged parents often do not have the same human and material resources available to them. Usually less empowered, they do not press for equal programming and funding for the schools their children attend. Most of these schools got a ‘C’ or worse. The state government, which should be guaranteeing school equity, clearly has not done its job well. Some children may manage to find their way to a satisfying life after graduating from mediocre or failing schools but many will not.
Significant good could come of the governor’s grade list if it is used to launch a positive action plan. I suggest that for a start state education officials, school boards, and school administrators look at the programming offered in Maine’s A schools and replicate it in those assigned lower grades. Such programming would create excitement for learning on the part of students. There would be theater, music, visual arts, languages, physical education, project-based learning. Wealthy schools have this kind of programming; poorer schools do not. The buy-in of students for ‘doing’ school increases when they think of school as a place where there are things they love to do. Where funding for such programming is insufficient it should be increased. Where leadership is unimaginative it should be replaced. This would be the first part of an action plan to be proud of. Without such an action plan the governor’s grading system – an exercise in sharing information we already had – can only be seen as a waste of valuable taxpayer money and as adding insult to injury.