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Maine governor outlines school improvement plan

By Glenn Adams
Associated Press / July 25, 2012
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AUGUSTA, Maine—Prompted by a recent study showing slipping student achievement in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen on Wednesday laid out a plan to improve academic performance.

In doing so, the Republican governor also provided a glimpse of legislation he'll propose next year and other actions to turn around what he sees as a disturbing pattern in the public schools.

A report by Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance last week said Maine had the second-slowest rate of improvement between 1992 and 2011 among the 41 states measuring fourth- and eighth-grade test score gains in math, reading and science.

"We know Maine's educational system is lacking and we are here to share these results with you so that we can move in the right direction," LePage said. "This is a call to action."

The LePage administration's remedial plan is called "ABC," with each letter standing for an aspect of the plan: A for improving accountability; B for best practices Maine can borrow from other states; and C, expanding school choice.

The plan calls for a new accountability system for Maine schools that will identify where they need improvement and help struggling schools turn around, Bowen said. The system is still being worked on and will be implemented under a federal education waiver the state will request, he said.

As for best practices, one idea, which is borrowed from Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration in New Jersey, is to employ a chief academic officer to coordinate all the state programs that deal with teaching, learning and academic achievement. Bowen said that job will be created "very soon" in Maine.

Maine has already taken a big step toward the third priority, choice, by passing a law allowing charter schools. LePage believes students should have more options to get the kind of education they want, and says they should not be limited to the schools in their communities if those schools are failing.

LePage also said he'll propose legislation next session aimed at making schools more accountable for students' achievement. It would require schools to pay for their graduates' remedial courses if their colleges require them.

"Many of our kids go to the university, and they have to take remedial courses," said LePage. "Fifty-four percent of the kids who go on to the community colleges here in the state of Maine have to take remedial courses."

The Harvard report cited by LePage in his remedial plan has sparked an exchange of sharply worded letters between the governor and the Maine School Management Association, which says the governor is misinterpreting the report. The nonprofit association of school boards and superintendents says Maine ranks among the top-performing states on the standardized test the Harvard study used as a foundation for its report.

The association said in a July 19 letter that the governor is motivated by some educational associations' opposition to LePage's charter school and choice legislation last session.

LePage responded in a letter Monday that the school management group, which represents superintendents and school boards, "offers no real solutions" and ignores the interests of students.

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