By Governor Paul LePage
My administration has one primary principle that governs education policy, and it is a simple one: “What is best for the student?” That is the number one question that we ask ourselves when we develop education policy.
Education is the foundation to success. I know, for me, education was the catalyst that got me off the streets.
But the fact is education in Maine has become a partisan issue when it ought not to be.
I had the opportunity earlier this year to take part in the Governor’s Education Symposium hosted by the Hunt Institute and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Former governors Jim Hunt and Jeb Bush brought together Republican and Democrat governors to talk about best practices and ways to improve our education system.
The two governors brought to the conference U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He was a guest speaker, and believe it or not, he and I agree on a lot when it comes to education.
Currently, Maine is in the process of requesting more flexibility under the No Child Left Behind Act. We’re working with Secretary Duncan to ensure we have a way to measure schools that is more realistic and more meaningful, and that we will have new, more effective tools to make our schools better.
Every state needs change agents and they have to be willing to fight for the student. In Maine, we have superintendents fighting for appropriations, principals fighting for pretty schools and union leadership fighting for more dues. Who’s fighting for the student? The teacher. Our elected officials, you and me, need to fight for the quality teachers and a plan that shifts away from the status quo.
Our administration is focusing on reform efforts in a handful of core areas, based on work that was done in high performing states.
This brings us to Maine’s ABC Plan. ABC stands for accountability, best practices and choice.
The “C” in our plan is about Choice, and I would like to share with you why this part of the plan is paramount. Another word for choice is option. If we are striving for more successful outcomes for our students we must offer multiple options. The one-size fits all approach does not work.
When we talk about options what do we mean? Well, public education works for some students, but not all of them. So, how can we reach the students who are slipping through the cracks? We do it by offering customized education through options. By way of charter schools, private and homeschooling options, career and technical education and digital learning, both online and virtual opportunities.
For the past 20 months our administration has highlighted the benefits of career and technical education. In fact, Secretary Duncan has applauded Maine’s efforts to expand access to career and technical education.
I will continue to stand up for vocational education because we know the skills that are taught at career and technical centers are what our job creators are requiring from their workers. Good-paying jobs are on the line.
Digital learning is another option our administration is focusing on. However, there is a difference between online learning and virtual learning.
Online learning doesn’t require a teacher while virtual learning does. The key to successful virtual learning is the teacher that interacts with students. If there is an effective teacher that can engage with his or her students through technology, hundreds of children can be educated successfully. With that said, it’s very important to have assistant teachers in the classroom to support the students, but a quality teacher is the critical component to making virtual education work.
Online learning is another option to provide learning opportunities to students in a way that works best for them because they can go at their own pace, set their own schedules and choose from a greater variety of courses.
Right now, we’re working on a digital learning plan that we hope will mean wider access to high quality digital learning options for all Maine students.
There are many options for students, Maine just needs to offer these options to all students not the select few who can afford it.
For me, education was a way out. It was a way out of poverty and a start to a new life. But, believe me; I had plenty of mentors along the way. Today’s students need role models that will guide them. They need great teachers and great school leaders.
There’s nothing partisan about education when we ask ourselves, “What is best for our students?”