Education Evolving: Maine's Plan for Putting Learners First

Core Priority Area 4: Comprehensive School and Community Supports

  1. Effective and efficient services for learners with special needs
  2. Coordinated health and wellness programs
  3. A commitment to community and family engagement
  4. Career and workforce partnerships

Surrounding the teaching and learning that take place in classrooms and other educational settings is an extensive network of school and community supports that are critical for learner achievement. In even the most effective teaching and learning environments, learners will still struggle if they lack appropriate support for special learning needs, confront health and wellness issues, have limited access to learning opportunities beyond the school walls, or struggle to see how the work they do in school prepares them for college, careers and civic life. Highly effective school systems integrate these systems of support and interaction in order to ensure that effective teaching and learning can take place.

In many European nations, for instance, not only are health and other services for students more readily available, but fewer barriers exist between schools and the communities they serve. In many such systems, students complete learning outcomes while working in apprenticeships and internships with employers.

Within this core priority area are four subcategories related to providing needed services and supports to students:

  • Effective and efficient services for learners with special needs
  • Coordinated health and wellness programs
  • A commitment to community and family engagement
  • Career and workforce partnerships

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1. Effective and efficient services for learners with special needs

Students with special learning needs require adequate support in order to succeed. But school districts face a daunting challenge in providing those required services: They are under constant pressure to contain rising costs for special education at a time when the number of students with multiple and severe learning and behavioral issues is on the rise.

According to the Fordham Institute, Maine has one of the highest rates of special education identification in the country. At 17.25 percent, Maine’s rate well exceeds the national average of 13.14 percent. In fact, only three other states - Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York - identify a higher percentage of their students as in need of special education services. A sensible first step toward finding efficiencies might be to undertake a detailed study to examine Maine’s high rate of special education identification.

Maine also seems to go about providing services to special education students in a very labor-intensive way. The Fordham Institute’s report identifies Maine as having one of the nation’s highest special education staff-to-student ratios. At 210 staff members for every 1,000 special education students, Maine has the sixth highest ratio in the country, well above the national average of 128 to 1,000. Some of that high staff ratio is almost certainly due to Maine’s rural nature, but Fordham does report that there are much larger rural states with much lower personnel ratios. Additional study should be undertaken to determine the extent to which Maine is using cost-effective best practices in the provision of special education services.

Addressing the challenge of providing cost-effective special education services will almost certainly require building more regional capacities around special education administration and service provision. Much the same could be said of services for students with limited English proficiency.

Goal: All students with special learning needs have access to efficient, effective and appropriate services that help them succeed.

Objective: Review current practices with regard to the provision of services to students with special learning needs, and develop regional approaches to the delivery of special educational services, including the development of regional support centers for learners with special educational needs, their parents and families, and the educators who serve them.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

4.1.a Special education policy review
Review current special education policy and practices; recommend changes for the next legislative session. Review to include analysis of data regarding special education eligibility, placements and staffing ratios to determine factors that influence determinations of eligibility and higher-than-average staffing.

Major overhaul of the Special Services team to address a critical need and build capacity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the team.

LD 944 (Res 2013 Ch. 74) requires a departmental review of state mandates and the efficacy of education laws. Staff is working on the review, and the Director of Special Education Services has already developed a memo detailing the areas where state law varies from or exceeds federal special education law. These resources will be shared with stakeholders as part of the review.

4.1.b Share special education best practices online
Publish a page on the DOE website to share evidence-based best practices with regard to special education services.

The Center was launched and now includes six detailed case studies, 10 videos, dozens of resources and best practices for and from Maine’s schools with a focus on learner-centered instruction.

Through the Statewide Professional Development Grant, staff is developing online resources addressing a number of special education issues, including posting all webinars on the website. As the Center for Best Practice continues to expand, special education best practices will become a focus area.

4.1.c Regional special education services
Use the Fund for Efficient Delivery of Educational Services (FEDES) to pilot models of regional special education administration and services delivery.

The Department intended to provide financial support for development of regional centers and programs through the Fund for the Efficient Delivery of Educational Services (FEDES).  Funding was attained, but swept to close a budget gap.  The most recent enacted budget did not contain FEDES funding.

Despite the lack of FEDES funding, the DOE will continue to highlight regional efforts and will support, to the extent possible, development of new efforts.  The DOE is working to deliver services using a regional approach and already has several regional support methods for autism and for post-secondary transition planning. The DOE will continue working with the Regional Content Specialists on school improvement efforts. The Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research, a joint effort with the University of Maine, is scheduled to be operational in January 2014.

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2. Coordinated health and wellness programs

The health and wellness of all members of the school community have always been important factors influencing learner achievement and growth. Today, young learners often come to school with myriad physical, developmental, behavioral and emotional health issues. School personnel also are challenged with physical, personal and emotional issues of their own. Schools need to respond by working to coordinate access to a seamless array of health and wellness services for children, families and staff, developed in cooperation with health, counseling, wellness and nutrition resources outside the school walls.

Additionally, every effort must be made to ensure that schools and school districts have access to the latest information and resources on best practices in delivering health and wellness services.

Goal: Coordinated health and wellness programs contribute to a healthy school environment that helps learners make the most out of school.

Objective: Further coordinate, at the state, regional and local levels, school programming in health, wellness, counseling and nutrition.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

4.2.a Programs review
Review the DOE’s health and wellness programs.

Steps are being taken to more carefully coordinate health and wellness services and outreach.

DOE to undertake cross-team collaboration to better coordinate the provision of health and wellness-related services.

4.2.b Share health/wellness best practices online
Publish a page on the DOE website dedicated to sharing evidence-based best practices with regard to health and wellness services.

The redesign of the DOE’s website includes plans for new pages devoted to student health, nutrition, counseling and school safety.

Launch of these pages will come soon as will communication of those resources to field.

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3. A commitment to community and family engagement

The involvement of families and the wider community in a child’s education has always been critical to student success. According to the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University, repeated studies have found that “through high school, family involvement contributed to positive results for students, including higher achievement, better attendance, more course credits earned, more responsible preparation for class, and other indicators of success in school.” Research also suggests that community partnerships, in the form of service learning opportunities, for instance, also have an impact on student outcomes.

Partnerships with the world beyond the school walls are especially important in a learner-centered system of education. Learners will take part in home- and community-based learning opportunities, including online and distance learning, and will be asked to demonstrate mastery of standards through community-centered capstone projects. Community institutions such as libraries need to be engaged in new ways. In order to support the principle of student-centered, anytime, anywhere learning, schools will need to interact with and engage families and communities as never before.

The Department can play a role in advancing engagement efforts by sharing models of effective family and community partnerships. As the Department redesigns its website, for instance, it could create a clearinghouse for best practices in family and community outreach.

The state has an additional resource in the form of the Maine Commission for Community Service, which coordinates various volunteerism and community service programs across Maine. While the Commission is currently housed at the State Planning Office, the administration has put forward a proposal to move it into the Department of Education. Such a move could potentially mean an expansion of the state’s capacities to support school and community partnerships.

Goal: Schools and districts are engaged in unprecedented partnerships with families and the broader community as a way to expand learning opportunities for students.

Objective: Expand the state’s capacity to support family and community partnerships at the school and district level.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

4.3.a Share models online
Publish a page on the DOE website dedicated to providing models of family and community partnerships established in schools across Maine and the nation.

With the Data Warehouse and School Performance Grading System, the Department has taken steps to engage families and communities in local schools and provided them the tools to do so.

The Department will encourage schools to submit to their parental involvement initiatives in accordance with 20-A MRSA §255(6) and will post them on the Department website.

4.3.b School, community partnerships plan
Develop a plan, in cooperation with the Maine Commission for Community Service (MCCS), to more fully implement school and community partnerships.

The Department has partnered with the MCCS on projects related to service learning and the Literacy for ME initiative.

The Department will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with MCCS.

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4. Career and workforce partnerships

Even in this time of high unemployment, employers report that they struggle to find employees with the knowledge and skills the modern workplace requires. The era of the No Child Left Behind Act, with its emphasis on tested academic subjects, has led to a narrowing of school curricula, which has often led to a decline in course offerings in the industrial arts and other fields oriented toward career preparation. Many employers report being interested in hosting school visits or providing students with workplace internships, but find that schools show little interest or have little capacity to take advantage of such opportunities.

Building the workforce of Maine’s future will require an unprecedented partnership between employers and educational systems at all levels. Learners should have broad access to opportunities for workforce and career exploration, and educational programs at all levels should work to ensure that their students develop college- and career-ready skills. Opportunities for students to intern with employers should be expanded and flexible schedules should be created to allow students to apprentice with employers part-time while completing their studies. Efforts should be made to align curricula and coursework at all educational levels in order to create clear college and career pathways for students.

A good first step in this work would be for the Maine DOE to survey school districts, Career and Technical Education centers and adult education programs to determine current practices with regard to career and workforce partnerships. The results of the survey could then be used to develop strategies to expand such opportunities. Efforts should also be undertaken to review state law in order to identify potential barriers to expanding educational opportunities in Maine’s workplaces.

Goal: Students commonly access internships, apprenticeships and other opportunities to learn in workplace settings, apply academic lessons and explore potential career fields.

Objective: Develop a set of strategies for the expansion of career and workforce partnerships, based on feedback from school districts and the employer community.

Action Steps:

Initial Action Steps

Progress on Action Steps

Response/Next Steps

4.4.a Partnerships survey
Survey Maine’s school districts to identify current practices with regard to business and workforce partnerships.

The Department included employers in both the Commissioner’s Conference and Governor’s Conference on Education to begin to establish workforce partnerships.

Review whether a survey is best approach or if a different method of outreach and research is preferable.

4.4.b Partnerships access
Use survey results, along with feedback from stakeholders, to develop strategies for expanding access to partnership opportunities.

No action can be taken to meet this objective yet.

Future steps will be determined following completion of the survey or other outreach methods.

4.4.c Barriers to workplace educational opportunities
Undertake a review of state law and policy in order to identify barriers to career and workplace educational opportunities.

The review has not yet taken place.

Specific action steps will be determined after the review of state law and policy. This will be done in conjunction with the action steps resulting from the partnerships survey.

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