Maine tolerates a wide achievement gap amongst students – is this what we want?

We all love the myth of the ‘American Dream’ – it’s comforting in a world that surrounds us continually with risk and inequity. The mythology holds that everyone has an equal shot at wealth and a satisfying professional life – all it takes is hard work, a winning disposition, and determination. Schools are said to give each child the tools needed to achieve this American Dream.

Many nations have bought into this conception of education paving the way to a rewarding life. Those nations include Finland, Japan, Norway, Korea, Singapore. Children in these countries are being educated in a manner that tolerates only a small achievement gap between  children in the top income level and those in the bottom. Unfortunately, this is not true in the United States. As Eduardo Porter wrote in the New York Times on May 20, in the United States ” … only one in 20 children coming from the most disadvantaged quarter of the population manages to excel at school and climb in the rankings.”

During the past few decades the nation has been hotly debating how to improve education in this country so that all children have access to a top education. Mr. Porter suggests several key changes we need to make:

1. Change the funding structure of schools so that local real estate taxes aren’t at the heart of the formula.

2. Make the teaching profession attractive to top college students who might otherwise be looking at careers in law, medicine, engineering, business.

3. Raise standards for admission to teacher-education institutions.

Here in Maine we also have a problem all our own … we have a state-wide grossly unequal funding formula which results in certain high-poverty towns receiving minimal state subsidy while other high-poverty towns receive much more assistance.

I’d like for us to join the ranks of nations who have made educational equity a national priority not only in word but also in deed. If you agree, spread the word.

The way to get the funding formulas changed is by contacting your legislators and letting them know you don’t accept the status quo. While you’re at it, contact your school boards and the media. Let it be known that you want the state formula changed and you want conditions in your district’s schools to attract top educators.




Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.