Maine Education Reform Starts with Putting Students First

March 22, 2013

Hello. This is Governor Paul LePage.

Our first education conference was a great success, and I would like to thank everyone who participated. One of those participants was Mohamed Nur. He is a sophomore at Deering High School in Portland. He is a high honors student, a Maine Seeds of Peace leader, and he is very enthusiastic about his future.

But Mohamed noticed that not all students were as eager as he is to learn. So, he asked his peers why. The answer surprised him. He was told that they were uninterested in class because they didn’t like how or what they were being taught.

That answer led to a dialogue between Mohamed and his classmates. And that conversation is one every superintendent, principal, teacher, and parent should engage in, too. How do we motivate our students to learn?

A quality education is critical to any child’s well-being and future success. The status quo no longer works. Accountability, best practices and multiple options will help Maine students excel.

First, we must create a system with accountability. By measuring school performance and providing assistance to struggling schools, we can improve achievement.

High-performing states like Florida put accountability and improvement systems in place to identify schools needing support and then provide them with the tools and resources to succeed. In this legislative session, we’re proposing similar reform in Maine.

Options must be available to students and parents. In other words, they need choice. Giving students more learning options and the ability to determine what school is best suited for them will enhance every student’s public education.

Further, we must look at best practices. Many states and countries’ educational systems have yielded proven results, and we should learn from these lessons.

Maryland, Massachusetts and Florida are consistently top performers in education. Just last year, Florida ranked first in the nation for teacher quality. At our conference, we investigated the Florida model and why it works.

Over the past few months, Education Commissioner Steve Bowen and I have worked on a number of education proposals, which we believe will get Maine’s schools headed in the right direction. An emphasis on higher skill sets for teachers is a common feature of reforms around the globe.

Currently, there are winners and losers in Maine’s education system. Union bosses and administrators enjoy many benefits and protections, while teachers and students have been displaced. There is a too much money going to unions and administration when the money should be put into the classroom.

That is why I have made targeted investments in education. While cuts to many state agency budgets have occurred, Maine’s schools will receive $84 million in additional funding over the first four years of my Administration.

Over the next two years, we will spend $2.5 million each year to help districts implement teacher and principal evaluation systems. We will spend $2 million to facilitate the transition to proficiency-based high school diplomas, ensuring that students graduate with a diploma that truly prepares them for life’s experience.

And we will spend $1.5 million to assist Career and Technical Education centers and regions in attaining national industry certification. This will enable students to receive college credit more easily and increase their chances at successful college completion.

Education should not be a partisan issue. Our children are not Democrats or Republicans; they are our future. Education gave me a future, and it is giving my children a future, too.

When our son Devon first came to Maine, his English was not very good. He was one of those students who would have told Mohamed he wasn’t interested in the lessons being taught.

One day, a friend told me, “Paul, throw away all those dead white men books and get Devon something he enjoys.” So, we did. We bought him every golfing magazine we could find. His reading and writing skills soared, and we learned a valuable lesson: effective teachers not only motivate students, they find out what inspires them.

Let’s reward those teachers, and let’s inspire our students. Let’s give Mohamed and others the opportunities they deserve for a brighter future.

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Maine Education Reform Starts with Putting Students First