Archives for category: Maine

Governor Paul LePage is a blunt-spoken Tea Party kind of guy, who has won two elections by a plurality, not a majority.

Early on, he aligned himself with Jeb Bush to promote for-profit digital learning.

But now he is in trouble because he threatened to cut the state funding of a charter school that wanted to hire the Democratic House Speaker as its president.

Some legislators are talking impeachment, and the movement seems to be picking up momentum.

The cynic in me wonders why a charter school wanted to hire the speaker of the Democratic House as its president. Charter schools are notorious for finding ways to send money to key political figures, usually as direct campaign contributions. Was this on the up-and-up or just another clever ploy by the charter industry to shore up political support from both sides of the aisle?

While cleaning up my files, I discovered this excellent article by Alan Ehrenhalt, contributing editor to Governing magazine (and formerly executive editor for 19 years). It was written in 2013, but remains pertinent today.

Ehrenhalt sees through the fraud in the high-stakes testing obsession of our day, in which scores on standardized tests are used to label children, rate teachers, and close schools.

He begins by writing about the Tony Bennett grade-rigging scandal in Indiana, then moves on to Florida, where Jeb Bush launched measurement mania.

He writes:

The Tampa Bay Times newspaper lamented that “after grading schools for 15 years, Florida’s education leaders still cannot get it right.”

One might easily go further and argue that changing the results to make the picture look brighter, whether it involves outright cheating or not, is cause for embarrassment all by itself. If new test questions can have that much effect on a school’s overall performance grade, then why should anybody believe in the integrity of the system?

What’s especially humiliating is that Florida is the birthplace of the school testing movement, the state where former Gov. Jeb Bush decided in 1999 to begin awarding overall letter grades to individual schools to provide information for parents and help assess statewide educational performance. More than a dozen states have begun using a similar system since then, several of them just in the current year. Now they are being told that the Florida model they dutifully copied is too full of flaws to be trusted.

That matters a great deal because a lot more is riding on FCAT test scores than just local bragging rights. If a school receives repeated grades of D or F, it can be required by the state to take a variety of drastic measures, such as making the entire faculty reapply for their jobs, converting the school to a charter or closing it down altogether. So public confidence in the grading process is essential if the state is to have any credibility as a dispenser of draconian educational remedies.

States applying or adapting the Florida model have learned that changing the questions on the test, or switching to a new type of test altogether, can result in wildly fluctuating school grades. School officials in New Mexico this year were delighted to find out that the number of schools receiving A grades had more than doubled in comparison with the results from the year before. Was this the product of innovative new pedagogical techniques? Well, no. It was because the state had abandoned the federally designed No Child Left Behind test and switched to a new one designed by state education experts. Mississippi had a similar experience. Its school test scores went up dramatically because state officials took the expedient step of removing high school graduation rates from the list of test criteria for some schools.

The dramatically higher scores that resulted were a cause for initial state elation. But on further review, they raised another serious question. If the testing process is based on solid educational research, then the results from different tests ought to be reasonably congruent. If the results are dramatically disparate, there is a disturbing suggestion that the people writing the tests aren’t sure what it is they are supposed to be measuring.

Then he shifts his focus to Maine:

Maine is another state that has endured a season of controversy based on the introduction of its new school grading procedures. Gov. Paul LePage, a tireless advocate of school measurement, pushed through a new system this year based largely on the Florida model. Schools were evaluated on student test scores in reading and math; the percentage of students who had shown improvement in their scores during the past year, especially among the bottom 25 percent; graduation rates among upper-level students; and percentage of students who take the national SAT exam.

When the statewide results were tallied, Maine’s schools averaged a C grade—a reasonable enough sounding score. But when researchers in the state began looking at the results in greater detail, they found something that disturbed them. What the tests were really tracking was demographics. Schools in poorer communities around the state nearly all finished lower than their counterparts in affluent suburbs, regardless of academic methods. High schools that were graded A had an average of 9 percent of their students on free or reduced price lunch. Schools that got an F had 61 percent of their students receiving subsidized lunches. To a great extent, the test was simply a measure of poverty, not school quality.

He recognizes that testing has become a problem in itself:

It is hard not to conclude in the end that the school testing movement represents a popular fad in educational policy that is desperately lacking in either substantive methodology or common sense. Its fundamental assumption, underneath all the jargon, is that schools fail because they just aren’t trying hard enough, not because they are being asked to educate pupils who are culturally and socially unprepared to learn. Cooking the books on the tests won’t do anything to solve this problem. All it will do, when the extent of the mischief is revealed, is undermine public confidence in the entire enterprise of school testing.

We have gotten into the business of measuring school performance with precise testing numbers because it’s something we know how to measure. In doing so, we leave aside the subtler and more personal things that teachers and principals do all the time to make their schools function in an orderly way and disseminate as much learning as they possibly can. In the words of Roger Jones, a professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia, one of the states that enacted an A-F grading system this year: “We have gotten so caught up in testing that we have lost sight of a true education.”

Emily Talmage of Save Maine Schools says goodby (and don’t come back) to the federally-funded Common Core assessments called SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium).

It is not a fond farewell.

She writes:

“SBAC, you will not be missed – but rest assured that we will not forget you.

“We will not forget how many hours you took from children so that they could take part in your failed testing experiment.

“We will not forget the way you set our children up to fail – confusing them with strange, multi-part directions that even adults could not decipher; giving them reading passages written for students well beyond their grade level; requiring them to manipulate complicated computer interfaces to answer your questions…

“We will not forget how hard some parents had to fight to protect their children from your nonsense.

“We will not forget the way you hid your profit-seeking makers behind non-profit organizations.

“We will not forget how very expensive you were.”

The U. S. Department of Education is forcing Maine to use junk science for teacher evaluations. The legislature enacted a teacher evaluation program, but it was not tough enough for the Feds, says Politico.

“MAINE UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Education officials in the Pine Tree State are warning that Maine could lose its No Child Left Behind waiver if the state legislature doesn’t take swift action to strengthen its teacher evaluations. The department has aligned itself with the feds in insisting that students’ performance on state assessments be a significant factor in teacher ratings. But the legislature has sided with teachers unions in demanding a more flexible framework. Its rules do call for evaluations to include measures of student learning. But those measures don’t have to incorporate state test scores. Instead, local committees made up mostly of teachers can come up with their own metrics (within certain parameters), such as students with disabilities’ progress toward IEP goals.

– That’s not good enough, Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle told Maine officials in a letter late last year. After multiple conversations with Delisle’s team, state officials have drafted a bill that they say would meet federal expectations standards and save Maine’s waiver. But it’s far from clear that the legislature will go along. In a recent blog post, state Rep. Brian Hubbell, a Democrat, wrote that federal concerns “may be addressed more productively simply by clarifying Maine’s process.” Delisle’s letter: http://politico.pro/1yHOZpf.

“- Even as debate unfolds in Congress about repealing NCLB, Maine officials say they’re determined to renew their waiver to ensure stability for schools. “It puts departments like ours in a frustrating position when we know what the feds expect and spend months and even years putting aligned systems in place, only to have our legislature – often under great pressure from the teachers union – insist on watering those down in the 11th hour,” department spokeswoman Samantha Warren said.”

Jonathan Pelto wrote an astonishing piece about the re-election of Governor Paul LePage of Maine. He won last time in a three-way race and had the same good fortune this year. Maine has no run-off.

LePage has made a series of insulting remarks about others, but corporate America supported him.

A few examples:

“After taking office in 2010, LePage refused to attend Maine’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast. When the Maine NAACP complained, he told them, on camera, to “kiss my butt.”

“During his first term, LePage vetoed legislation raising Maine’s minimum wage to $9 per hour and pronounced that he wanted to lower the legal working age from 16 to 12.

“LePage also vetoed a bill that would have expanded access to health care for the people of Maine and another that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to 70,000 of the state’s low-income residents.

“As an outspoken supporter of the corporate education reform industry and the expansion of privately managed, but publicly funded charter schools, LePage told Maine students, “If you want a good education, go to private schools. If you can’t afford it, tough luck. You can go to the public school.”

“LePage publicly opined that President Obama “hates white people.”

“And LePage compared the Internal Revenue Service to the Nazi Gestapo.”

Why do people vote against their self-interest?