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"Thinking Beyond Paul LePage"

LePage on Education

The Dangers of Virtual Schools are discussed at length in our recent series of blog posts. [9/11/12]

Truth Serum Instead of Tea:
Read about the real press conference that would have taken place yesterday, had LePage and Bowen been stating their true intentions with respect to public schools in Maine. [link]

LePage's Corparate Sponsored Education Plan will be the subject of public hearings this week. The joint Education Committee will be hosting the hearings beginning at 1:00 PM on Tuesday, according to an article in today's BDN, which also includes the full hearing schedule. Amidst allegations that the LePage administration deliberately delayed the hearings in order to reduce the chance for public input, it is especially important that those who can attend. For those who cannot attend, contact information for the committee is here. [posted 3/11/12]

Burning Down the Henhouse: LePage's weekly radio address is little more than an advertisement for his education initiatives, which he claims are being made with the child in mind. We find it hard to see how burning down the henhouse is good for the chicks. But that, however, is just what Lepage wants you to believe. A more realistic assessment of how the proposed changes would affect public schools, is reported in today's PPH. [posted 2/18/12]

Challenging the Feds:
In today's news, Dirigo Blue reports that the LePage administration will announce a voucher program that divert public money from public schools to private and religious schools. If Maine schools were overcrowded and swimming in money, maybe this would not be a problem. But then there is the little problem of the Constitution. [posted 2/8/12]

The Education Commissioner, Steve Bowen, got a late Christmas present on Wednesday when LePage issued an executive order compelling him to develop a plan that increases online learning opportunities for Maine’s K-12 students. Steve Bowen was championing digital learning back in the days when he wrote slick right-wing propaganda for Maine Heritage Policy Center, so LePage's "order" here is more like taking the bit out of the horse's mouth.

Digital learning, as we have stated previously, is an important weapon in the Koch Brothers / ALEC plan to dismantle public education. Anyone doubting that there is a conspiracy among 1%'ers to further consolidate power and wealth should check out the Huff Post's recent article about the recent $100 million the Koch Brothers and a few allies recently donated to help defeat Obama in the upcoming election. [posted 2/4/12]

Would We Still Be Maine? Paul "Drown Government in a Bathtub" LePage does want to close schools, and even though his recent threat was little more than bully pulpit bluster, he does have another way to close schools that he is likely to talk about in today's state of the state address.

He will use the term "school choice" because, for many, it's hard not to see choice as good. Important to note, however, that parents have school choice right now. The difference is, under the LePage plan, local taxpayer money that currently supports local schools will be diverted outside the local community and outside the public arena -- to schools in larger, more affluent towns, to private schools, to the parents of homeschoolers, and to corporations that offer computer-based learning.

In a rural state like Maine, sending a child to a "school of choice" is highly problematic due to transportation issues. You quickly get a situation where more privileged families have "choice" and the children of poor families get left behind.

In terms of schools, small schools in rural communities will likely suffer the quickest and most. A cold-hearted economist might look at those schools and say they aren't very cost-effective anyway. But we might want to ask, if we give up on the idea of public education as the great melting pot and equalizer, will we still be America? if we lose our rural schools and our rural communities, and if we passively watch them die, will we still be Maine? [updated 1/24/12]

Having His Cake and Eating It: LePage states teachers need to be highly trained in their subject areas, but in the same speech, LePage stresses that wants teachers to be mentors for kids. Lots of stuff in that education degree LePage maligns has to do with that mentoring. And lots of teacher professional development has to deal with that aspect of the job as well.

LePage talks about improving test scores, but he also wants more hands-on learning -- "shop classes" -- from the sounds of it.

LePage has said he wants to pay good teachers more. At other times, he has said there is no money for it, and that paying teachers more will not happen.

This "friend of free markets" faults high schools for not steering enough students into technical careers. (No matter that determining individual career choices based on societal needs smacks of communism).

Sounds like he wants it all, yet at the same time doesn't have a clue about what he really wants.

As for LePage's statement that he would be allowed to teach at the college level but not at the K-12 level, we wonder what qualifications he has besides perhaps some outdated subject matter knowledge? Teacher qualification hoops are there for a reason -- to keep kooks like him out of the classroom. [Posted 11/14/11]

Apparently as a part of his effort to raise the status of Maine teachers, Paul LePage has "challenged" teachers to pay for 50% of a professional development program that his administration will devise.

No matter that Maine teachers are already engaged in on-going professional development, some of which they pay for.

LePage knows the teachers union will say no (as undoubtedly funds are already committed elsewhere), and this is just what he wants. "Look," he'll be able to say. "That evil union sends money to Washington but it won't even pay for the professional development of its own members."

Why should teachers pay for professional development they do not necessarily approve of?

Thank goodness we do have unions. Unions offer one of our few hopes of stopping the ALEC-fueled steamroller that is Paul LePage. The Kennebec Journal covers the story here. Dirigo Blue comments on the story here. [Posted 11/4/11]

In one of more stunning leaps of logic in recent memory, Maine education wunderkind Steve Bowen has looked at the recently released test scores of 4th and 8th graders and concluded that Maine needs to dismantle its public schools and send kids out on internships. (Ok, I exaggerate, but not by too much). Although Maine students scored 14th in the nation on these tests, and although the biggest single predictor of test scores is (go figure) a region's socio-economics, it is not enough for Bowen, who is trying to use the results to "justify" the previously announced LePage administration education overhaul. We will soon be moving full speed ahead toward online learning (Bowen's code phrase is "individualized learning") with its accompanying high failure rate, homeschooling and charter schools (think unfettered by nuisances like teacher certification and teachers unions), more standards, and more testing. [Posted 11/2/11]

LePage claims to respect teachers, and then he says stuff like this: "What's the secret? There is one common denominator that I have found on [sic] the top ten countries in the world that beat us in education is that teachers are better prepared. Teachers actually have to have subject knowledge before they can teach." --Paul LePage, Education Forum, Rockland, Maine, Oct. 3, 2011.

In our study of top governors, we have found several common denominators of success. Intelligence is one. Respect for the people of your state is another. [Posted 10/4/11]

LePage Education Plan Plagiarized from ALEC? Several key aspects of LePage Education Plan and his recent remarks on education mirror what is proposed at ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council: (1) Taking charter school authorization away from local school boards in favor of a statewide advisory committee. (The Maine Charter Schools plan, complete with statewide governor-appointed advisory board, was recently approved by the Legislature). (2) Certifying individuals with no education background as teachers. .(LePage's recent comments on the importance of content area preparation and on making it easier for people to become teachers at mid-career seem to be laying the groundwork for this.) (3) Eliminating tenure for teachers in favor of "performance," allowing districts to fire older teachers in favor of lower-cost young teachers. (LePage is currently promoting a pay-for-performance program for Maine teachers.) (4) Undermining teacher's unions. (LePage spoke recently about moving toward a single statewide teacher contract, which would weaken local teachers unions and ultimately the state union.) See AlecExplosed for more details on education legislation at ALEC. Just because an idea comes from ALEC doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, but it does mean we should look at it with a skeptical eye. If LePage were our student, we would tell him to start over again, and to make sure it was his own work this time. .[Posted 10/2/11]

LePage -- Wrong Page on Education: LePage wants to cut teachers, flat fund education, have a statewide teacher contract, and revive industrial arts programs. That's the gist of what we are getting as we struggle to decipher his recent stream of educational gobbledygook, Click here .to read LePage's Education Plan for 2012 and Beyond. [Posted 9/27/11]

LePage Celebrates Maine Teacher -- But Not Really: LePage recently lauded Maine Teacher of the Year, Alana Margeson, stating we must "ensure that every student in Maine has an Alana Margeson at the front of the classroom." Yet in the same speech he states Maine teachers fall short by not having advanced degrees in the content areas in which they teach. (Ms. Margeson, by the way, does not). In today's education summit he reiterated that Maine teachers need to have "not only teaching skills but content skills." Apparently Alana Margeson needs to head back to school because by LePage's definition, she is educationally deficient. (Any disrespect here is intended solely for the governor. We believe in you, Alana Margeson!) [Posted 9/26/11]

Teacher Motivation Not the Problem: In this week's radio address, Paul LePage expresses support for development of performance-based pay systems for Maine teachers. The $16 million federal initiative will impact 18 Maine schools and is the subject of an article in the Bangor Daily News. This initiative is a inefficient use of time and money for a number of reasons: (1) By and large, motivation is not a problem among Maine teachers, so this focus will only bring marginal gains, at best. (2) As we have seen in Texas and elsewhere, pay for performance can lead teachers to focus on gains in test scores rather than on real learning. (3) School systems already have measures in place to identify, mentor, and -- if needed -- weed out ineffective teachers. (4) The time and money could be better spent on teacher training, on addressing student motivation, and on educational resources. Here's betting that if you asked a roomful of teachers how to best improve their schools, a system that is just as likely to create inequity and resentment would be well down the list.

America still leads the world in innovation, but this won't last long if pay for performance encourages more teachers to "teach to the test." And if LePage truly wants to improve the motivation of teachers, he could start by showing them some respect and by encouraging others in society to do the same. [Posted 9/4/11]

Headline: Maine Lawmakers Loosen Teen Work Rules (BDN, 5/27/11). LePage is expected to sign into law the Republican-sponsored bill, which will allow 16 and 17-year olds to work as many as 6 hours on the afternoon / evening preceding a school day. Noteworthy is that this is yet another bill in which Republicans have aimed to bring Maine law in line with that in other states. If it is good enough for other states, the reasoning goes, it should be good enough for us. Apparently we have forgotten the motto, "I lead." This amended bill is more restrictive than the original bill but still will put teens more at the beck and call of employers. The working teens I have talked to seem easily pressured into taking on whatever schedule the employer has asked them to take -- and give consideration to schoolwork and school activities secondarily after that. [Posted 5/27/11]

Headline: LePage Takes Steps Toward 5-Year High Schools (BDN, 7-26-11). At last, a LePage idea we can get behind! The Maine economy can get a boost and we can draw more business to this state if we have a more skilled workforce. This initiative would address a sector of students whose needs are not necessarily met by AP programs -- especially those likely to attend technical schools.   Too many Maine students start but do not finish college or technical school -- partly due to the cost, partly due to the frequent need for them to take needed remedial courses, and partly because they lack the maturity and motivation to stick it out when the going gets tough.  This initiative could help in all respects.

The only concern is Education Commissioner Bowen's statement, "“There is no money."   Hard to see how this initiative will go very far unless there is money to support it.  Can local communities foot the bill of keeping students in school for a 5th year?  Communities are already struggling, and the state is already failing to meet its commitment to fund 55% of the cost of education. Good idea, but where's the beef? [Posted 7/27/11]

LePage on why he likes charter schools: "Do I believe it [creationism] should be taught in schools? Yes. So, I will - yes - be pushing to have it taught. The likelihood of it passing the state of Maine legislature is not good. So, what we can do to do that is our charter schools, magnet schools, special schools and give them the right to do whatever they want."
--Rockland, ME; 3-11-11
[Posted 5/21/11]

Foot in the Door? Just because LePage is behind them doesn't mean Charter Schools are a bad idea. As a FB commenter stated, "Even a blind squirrel gets a nut now and then." I was trying to keep an open mind about this, but then I went and re-read LePage's speech to the Homeschooler Convention and was reminded why deregulating schools during a LePage administration is a scary prospect. Tidbits from that speech include: (1) LePage supports prayer in schools; (2) LePage supports the teaching of creationism; (3) LePage supports diverting money from public schools to private schools, religious schools, and to the parents of homeschoolers; (4) he wants to see public school enrollment shrink; (5) he wants Maine to be a red state. LePage states teachers should be respected but also implies disdain for them and for the quality of public schools. Is it mere coincidence that the Koch brothers would also like to dismantle the public school system? Highlights (lowlights?) from LePage's speech are here. News on the progress of the Charter Schools Bill is here. [Posted 5/21/11]

VIrtual Gamble: Steve Bowen, LePage's education commissioner and previous staffer at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, is a big proponent of online learning and virtual charter schools. Currently LD 1533, a bill on charter schools, is being considered in legislative committee.

Think about it for thirty seconds and the pieces start to fall into place: eliminate collective bargaining for Maine teachers; pass a charter school bill; bring in corporate charter schools that offer online learning; (see NH and Florida examples); and also allow formation of other specialty charter schools that are exempt from all state requirements.

The result: simultaneously save the state money; reduce the tax burden; reduce the size of state government; increase corporate profits; please corporate interests; please parents who currently send their children to private schools; please religious conservatives; allow the more privileged (those with high speed internet and parental support) to continue unimpeded to get a high quality primary and secondary education; significantly de-fund and remove support for the education of the less privileged; and in that sense give up on the idea of equal and free access to education for all.

The Charter Schools Bill is being taken up in committee this Friday. Not sure if the meeting is open to the public. You can send a letter to the committee using this address. Edgar Allen Beem's powerful editorial on virtual charter schools is here. A BDN article (be sure to read comment thread below) on charter schools is here. The Maine Heritage Policy Center position on charter schools is outlined here. Our letter to the charter school committee is here. [Posted 5/18/11]

Charter Schools -- What’s Not to Like?  At first glance, changing state law to allow charter schools seem like a great idea at best and a harmless one at worst. Charter schools provide educational choice.  They foster innovation and competition.  Charter schools are popular among parents.  At least some charter schools have been successful in raising test scores.  Charter schools don’t cost us anything more than public schools -- or do they?

One principle of charter schools is that the money follows the students.  For example, if a local high school loses 50 students to a charter school, the high school loses that amount of state and local funding.  The public school cuts programs to make up for the loss of revenues --- and the students remaining behind are shortchanged.  Especially in  rural areas where school enrollments are low and declining, diverting education dollars to charter schools will create a two-tier education system (privileged and less privileged) and make it more difficult to improve our public schools.

Gov. LePage and his education commissioner Steve Bowen are big proponents of charter schools.  Tomorrow I’ll highlight some alarming aspects of their bill which is already being discussed in legislative committee. [Posted 5/17/11]

Shock, Awe,& Obfuscation: 3 different bills curbing access to abortions, a proposal to dissolve LURC and open 3 million acres of the Northern Maine Woods up to development, a plan to terminate a 50-year legacy of providing funding for MPBN, a bill proposing public funding of Charter Schools, and a bill deregulating health insurance are all swirling around Augusta. Think anyone including our legislators have time to digest it all? For the rest of us who have day jobs, the pace and ruthlessness of change is mind-numbing -- as, very likely, it is intended to be. [Posted 5/16/11]

Childcare Provider Union Under Attack: LePage's budget revisions this week include elimination of existing collective bargaining rights for family care providers (22 MRSA §8308), enacted in 2007. According to Dirigo Blue, "Almost 2,200 providers voted to create a union in October 2007, under the auspices of the SEIU." This proposal doesn't save any money in the budget, and it is hard to figure out why anyone would support it. Those childcare workers making too much money? Extorting thousands from corporate executives? It does seem to pave the way to bring in one of those for-profit social services corporations (such as Maximus) that donated to LePage's campaign. [Posted 5/7/11]. 5/9 Update: Dirigo Blue analysis.

Drowning or Lying? Dirigo Blue provides video documentation and commentary of some of the misinformation LePage provided at the Topsham town meeting last week. Overall, Dirigo Blue's coverage shows a man who has little grasp of the details of the changes he is promoting. Either that or he is a shameless liar. For example, he significantly misrepresents the Child Labor bill and repeats a false claim that Mainer workers can be forced to join a union

In the case of the Child Labor Bill, LePage stated the training period was 9 days, when if fact the bill would allow employers to hire teen workers at well below the minimum wage for 180 days. Our commentary on the LePage's claim that unions are infringing on the Constitutional rights of Maine workers is here. Write LePage and let him know you notice it when he doesn't tell the truth.

Editorial: "Maine Voices: State retirement system 'crisis' a figment of alarmist imagination" (Portland Press Herald, 3/18/11) This editorial argues that the crisis is a manufactured one and that the retirement system is in better shape now that at almost any time in recent history.

Editorial: "LePage in Wonderland" (BDN, 2/28/11). Clears up some of the myths about the teachers retirement system in Maine. [Read more news.]

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11 Things We Learned -- 2011 Legislative Session
LePage & Jobs -- A Parable
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