Our state and federal governments invest a lot of time and energy in preparing mandates about what education should look like. Once the mandates are presented town school boards are supposed to implement them, with local taxpayers footing the bill. The problem is that local towns don’t have enough money to do the implementing and therefore most of the mandates simply are not fulfilled. Taxpayers don’t want to increase taxes to fund mandates. So all that time spent preparing the mandates at taxpayer expense seems like a waste both of time and money.
Let’s take the Maine Learning Results as an example. Maine statute requires that schools provide instruction in eight content areas: Career and Education Development, English Language Arts, Health Education and Physical Education, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Social Studies, Visual and Performing Arts and World Languages. To me that statement means that students should be studying all those subjects in every school in the state – but they don’t. At the present time I am a World Languages teacher so I am particularly attuned to what happens in schools in relation to my discipline. The first thing I can report is that all too often nothing happens – many districts in Maine do not offer World Languages at all until high school.
One could argue that the mandate applies to high schools, which certainly do offer languages. This statement from the World Languages section of the Learning Results clarifies the intent: To succeed, all students must study language and culture in an integrated fashion beginning in the early elementary grades and extending through their school experience. Yet very few schools in the state of Maine provide language instruction for all their students beginning in the early grades. I have no idea how much money was spent preparing the Learning Results – but I would bet it was a big chunk. Why spend the money if we aren’t going to fund the mandates?
The Maine Legislature passed LD 1422 in 2012. This is the law that mandates that schools transition to a standards-based education system. The transition does not come cheap. One superintendent estimated the total costs involved in standards-based education were at least approximately $60,000 per year; another district administrator said they had spent roughly $500,000 on professional development regarding standards-based education implementation. Yet the state decreased its financial contribution to education just at the time it passed this expensive mandate. The intent is for the local taxpayer to pay more.
Teachers often absorb the brunt of our ambivalence, and this comes back to haunt us. The only way to implement LD 1422 without increasing funding to the schools is to ask our teachers to devote ever-increasing amounts of time to figuring out how to change the way education is done while they carry on with their regular work. Most districts don’t have the money to pay for professional development. At best most teachers enjoy half a day of professional conversation around this major educational transition once or twice a year.
The trouble with this is that teaching is a stressful profession in the best of circumstances. Demands are heavy and piling on additional demands risks burning out some of our best teachers. These people are unwilling to do a poor job in a profession they care deeply about – which is all they can do if their resources of energy and time are stretched too thin – so they opt out of the profession altogether.
When will the state and federal governments put their money where their mouths are? They either want new programs or they don’t. If they want new programs in the schools they need to pay for them.