Vote to help Maine’s students compete on the world stage

Maine should move decisively to join the nationwide movement prioritizing global education and the study of world languages in K-12 schools. These are key curricular areas that will prepare our young people – and our state –  to participate successfully in the economy of the future.

Twenty-two states now offer a Seal of Biliteracy to high school graduates who have achieved proficiency in at least one language other than their mother tongue. Our close neighbor New Hampshire is in the early stages of adopting this Seal of Biliteracy. On the front page of Education Week, arguably the most influential education journal in the country, Corey Mitchell noted on October 12 that “…enthusiasm and demand for students who can read, write, and speak in more than one language have spiked.”

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning calls for much more time in schools spent studying languages, and recommends moving away from current practice – with its isolated periods of language study – toward dual language and immersion programs beginning with elementary students. The rationale for this new strategy is based on the number of study hours required to become proficient in a language and the key role they play in allowing participation in a globalized world. Languages provide both an essential tool for communication and the mindset that allows for openness toward cultures other than one’s own.

Along with language study, global education is also on the rise nationwide. Many universities and community colleges, and now some states, are awarding graduates a certificate of global competence. Illinois is the most recent state to have passed an act supporting global education (Public Act 99-0780). The purpose of the certificate is to encourage schools to prepare students to work and collaborate in multiple cultural contexts and to recognize those students who have the skills to participate in a globalized world.

Maine has a recent history of trailing the nation when it comes to educational policy. When other states were breaking consolidated schools apart into smaller schools, for example, Maine set about to consolidate schools and school districts. When other states realized it made good economic sense to raise pay for teachers, Maine continues to penny pinch when it comes to teachers – ours are the 48th in the nation in terms of salaries.

Some will say Maine cannot afford to pay for increased language programming and global education in schools. I think Maine cannot afford NOT to pay for a competitive education for its students. We are extremely short-sighted when we do not prioritize the education of our greatest state resource – our children. Why would businesses set up shop in a state where its citizens are unprepared for global competition and where the children of their employees will receive an outdated education? Maine needs to step firmly into the 21st century and join the national movement toward language education and global education.

A vote for Question 2: Stand Up for Students is an important step in the direction of insisting that Maine fund the programs we need in order to educate our students according to 21st century standards. The voters in Maine told our legislature in 2004 that we want the schools funded at a higher level by the state. The time has come to insist Maine provide that funding. Schools simply cannot compete nationally and internationally  if they continue to be funded at the current, inadequate level.

The April 1, 2013 Picus Report, funded by our legislature to the tune of $450,000, makes clear Maine is under spending on education and urgently needs to increase funding to schools. As citizens we need to demand that the legislature in Augusta heed the results of this expensive, tax-funded study and provide the $327 million more dollars in education each year that should be spent in Maine. Passage of Question 2 will raise half the amount indicated by the Picus Report – not enough, but an important step. Once Question 2 passes, we then need to insist that our Department of Education and our school leaders move our education system to join the growing nationwide investment in language education and global education so Maine can participate in the 21st century global economy.

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.