LePage Spins Schoolkids, Bashes Newspapers

As reported in the BDN and Maine Sunday Telegram, Paul LePage spent part of Friday morning complaining to a captive audience of schoolkids that his greatest fear is of newspapers and that he is “not a fan of newspapers.”

Later, he stated to a reporter that newspapers “spin the news” rather than providing reporting that is “fair and objective.”

This follows comments from last March in which LePage said, also to students, “Reading newspapers in the state of Maine is like paying somebody to tell you lies.”

It’s interesting to note that the careers of Republicans such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have not been likewise incapacitated by the alleged liberal bias of Maine newspapers.

Mr. “Fair and Balanced” (who not so long ago stated “If you want a good education, go to a private school,”) also said that private schools such as the one he spoke at Friday were “showing the rest of the people in Maine that you’re getting the best education, and every child in Maine deserves to have the same good education that you’re all getting.”

Meanwhile, this week’s news about charter schools, the holy grail by which LePage hopes to transform education in this state, is not particularly rosy.  A New York Times article provides further evidence that overall, despite their costs, charter schools have failed to provide promised benefits.  A Washington Post article details the mounting evidence on how online learning corporations are being let in through back doors to write state legislation that subsequently opens the front doors to corporate profits.

Paul LePage doesn’t want you to read that stuff, however.  Just tune in to his weekly Saturday morning radio address and he will tell you all that you need to know.

Bashing Public Education Every Chance They Get

Anyone else becoming weary of the parade of national rankings giving Maine poor grades?

Don’t jump off a bridge yet, however.  The recent “National Council of Teacher Quality” rankings, which awarded Maine a D+ for teacher training, make a useful little case study of the political gamesmanship that is going on.  According to the BDN article on the rankings,  the D+ grade is actually a slight improvement over Maine’s grade last year and places Maine in the middle of the pack nationally.

A little digging shows that Barbara O’Brien, current chair of the National Council of Teacher Quality is an active member of ALEC, the ultra-conservative, corporate-sponsored organization that would like nothing better than to see public education itself dry up and blow away.

While the recommendations of the Council, such as raising the bar for entrance into teacher training programs, are not without merit, the agenda that looms behind the report casts such a huge shadow that it truly renders the report useless.  This is a case in which one would be better off not reading the news at all.

The ALEC strategy (frequently and guilelessly carried out by our governor) seems to involve saying bad things about public schools at every opportunity, in order to create a climate in which charter schools and virtual schools might be seen as more attractive.

The recent Michelle Rhee/Students First ranking is another example of an agenda-driven organization releasing highly negative rankings intended to push states toward adoption of a corporate agenda.

An ironic little sidenote is that our accidental governor, who earnestly intends to be in lockstep with ALEC, not so long ago stated that he wanted to relax standards for teacher certification and allow those with content knowledge but no teaching degree to teach.

LePage Press Conference Shows Lack of Control

One aspect of last week’s press conference — the part in which the governor threw charter commission members under the bus — got all the attention.  However, now that charter members have picked themselves up and dusted themselves off, it’s worth looking back at what else the governor said.

As evidenced below, the press conference (uncommmon in recent months) is a glimpse of a man who has lost control of his message and — we say this in seriousness — may be losing his mind.  Precedent has led us to accept statements such as the below from LePage without too much surprise, but in any other time or place, such statements would be cause for concern

1. LePage stated that Maine’s schools are failing.  Blatant Lie.  LePage made no reference to back up his claim.  By most accounts, including recent test results, Maine schools are above average.  As noted by the Portland Press Herald recent reports have ranked Maine schools in the B and C range.  The recent Michelle Rhee report did score Maine a D, but it is important to note that was not a quality ranking of student achievement Maine schools but rather a ranking based on how well the Maine’s schools structurally met certain criteria such as inclusion of parents and evaluation of teachers.

2. He threatened to reduce funding to Maine schools.  Displaced aggression.  He is angry at the Charter Commission but it is unclear why he is now threatening to hurt Maine students to the tune of $63 million as a retaliatory measure.

3. He states Maine schools are ranked 49th in the nation.  Blatant Lie.  This statement by LePage has absolutely no basis in fact.  There is no published study in which Maine schools rank anywhere near that poorly.

4. He suggested that when Puerto Rico becomes a state, they will beat us in terms of education.  Blatant Lie.  Again, referring to #3 above, there is no factual basis for this statement.  According to one source, 95% of public school students in Puerto Rico graduate at a sub-basic level while 60% do not even graduate.

5.  The governor stated that Maine teachers are underpaid. Irrelevant / inane / off-message.  Another statement that is apropos of nothing.  LePage has proposed no legislation related to this measure.  One who believed the above might logically reach the conclusion that we need stronger teachers unions to reach the goal of higher pay.

6. LePage continued to build that myth that anyone who does not agree with his educational philosophy “does not care about kids.”  Oversimplification.  Obviously there are many many schools of thought in education — and the vast majority of people understand that various other philosophies have value.

LePage Looks to Cross Aisle,
Veers Into Gutter

Maine Schools -- Lots to be proud of.  Lots to improve.If you send your cat into an oven to have her kittens, she’ll give birth to biscuits. Or so Paul LePage would have us believe, based on the convoluted logic he recently used to compare public and private schools. “If you want a good education, go to a private school. If you can’t afford it, tough luck.” the governor stated at a breakfast meeting last Friday. “Private schools are kicking our butts,” he went on to say.

The governor stated that even in the best of Maine’s public high schools, only 60 percent of students are proficient in English and math, and implied that the proficiency rate is higher in private schools because those private schools are superior.

It is LePage’s logic that is deficient, however. Anyone who knows anything about education knows that family income and education level attained by parents are two of the strongest predictors of a child’s educational success. Comparing the achievement levels of public and private school students is unfair and illogical because these two types of schools are worlds apart in terms of the types of students they enroll.

An Education Week article looked at this disparity on a national basis: “On average, private school students come from families with higher incomes than those of public school families, and have parents who have reached a higher level of education than the average parent. ”

Overall, the evidence does not show that the typical underachieving public school student would make academic gains if sent to a typical private school. An extensive Center for Educational Policy study states that when socioeconomic status is taken to account, private school education offers no advantage over that of public schools. The study concludes: “Once the full scope of the family is taken into account, cultural capital as well as economic capital, private school effects disappear.”

LePage probably knows this stuff — or could easily know this stuff if he wanted to. What he wants to do is to drive a wedge between teachers and the local communities that employ them. He knows that his education proposals will be opposed by teachers, so he is criticizing teachers and public schools — and gambling that the general public will take his side.

During the same Friday breakfast speech, LePage described our political system as “vile” and “full of lies.” He stated that he is willing to work across the aisle. He called Democrats “cruel” for their behavior in recent campaigns but said he can work with “honest” Democrats.

If Democrats are honest, however, they will tell the governor that it is wrong and destructive to paint our public schools with so broad a brush. They will point out that his criticisms of public schools are an insult to the students who attend them — as well as to the teachers, administrators, staff, school board members, and volunteers who have give so much of their time to help our schools succeed. They will tell Paul LePage that his negativity is a huge stumbling block — and it’s hard to see that the conversation will go anywhere good from there.

(Cross posted at Dirigoblue.com )

Maine Public Schools —
Lots to Be Proud Of


We believe that the governor’s careless, denigrating, overgeneralized statements about our public schools do far more harm than good.

Depending on how you look at it, Maine ranks somewhere between 5th and 23rd in the nation in terms of quality of education.  Not as good as we’d like, but not as bad as Paul LePage would have us believe.

What we do know is that the public school system in Maine has many high achieving students, many outstanding teachers, and many excellent schools.  We also know that child poverty is a huge impediment to educational progress.  And — most important of all — we know that a positive attitude and a environment of mutual respect will get us much farther than negativity and derision.

Talking Trash on Schools: LePage Again Throws Public Education Under Bus

Paul LePage has created an uproar with his recent trash-talk about public schools.  “If you want a good education in Maine, go to a private school. If you can’t afford it, tough luck.” the governor stated at a breakfast meeting yesterday.

Any way you you look it it, this is a remarkable statement — the educational equivalent of the chief executive at Ford telling people to go buy a Chevy.

A Bangor Daily News article on LePage’s statements has generated a huge response, with the comment section below the article registering more than 500 comments in less than 24 hours.  The governor is clearly seeking to rile people up — and to create division.  One of our posts on the BDN message board is below:

The lies LePage is telling about our schools are not just normal political lies that rile people up and create pressure for political change.  They are something much worse.  Here’s why.  Many of the underachieving students in our schools come from homes in which education is not valued.  And now, thanks to LePage’s campaign of negativity, education may be valued even less.

We now could have thousands more kids who have another “excuse” not to succeed, not to care, not to invest themselves in their education.  After all, according to the governor, attending a public school is a waste of time.

As for the governor’s claim, it is cowflop.  Private school students by and large come from families that are wealthier, better educated, and who value education.  It is illogical to compare those students with “the average Maine kid” in terms of achievement levels.

Dominoes Don’t Make Choices: The Plan to Profitize our Schools, Part V

After reading our previous four posts on this topic, some still might not feel the situation merits much alarm.  The American public school is an institution that has stood for hundreds of years — and this might lead one to believe that it is assured of healthily surviving hundreds more.   The fact that virtual learning is being presented as a choice tends tamp down the level of concern even further.  Only those parents who wish to will withdraw their children from public school to attend virtual school, right?

After the first few dominoes fall, the others don’t have much choice, however.  In this post, I’ll argue that allowing the choice of virtual schools isn’t simply a matter of individual choice, but is also a choice that, once made by some, will reduce the choice available to others.  A choice that will ultimately threaten the survival of rural Maine schools — and in many cases of the rural communities themselves.

Contrary to what conservatives would have you believe, school choice is already alive and well in America. Private schools, religious schools, home schools, correspondence schools, online schools, prep schools, and charter schools are included among the available options.  The real debate isn’t about the “choice” of where students attend classes — but whether taxpayer funds should be withdrawn from the local school if the student decides to go elsewhere.

For an example of how one the choice of one family might affect many others, let’s look at the loss of 15 students from a 500-student RSU.   Approximately $150,000 in state and local funding is then removed from the local school budget.  As a result, the RSU cuts two teachers. ( A likely additional side effect is that the teachers move out of town and there are now two less taxpayers in town and 4 fewer students attending school.)  The school also loses its art program.  Ten more students withdraw to attend virtual school or  a nearby RSU that still does have an art program.  The RSU loses an additional $100,000 and cuts an additional two teachers.  The school is now in a death spiral of diminishing revenues, program cuts, and shrinking enrollment.  Due to economies of scale, even with cuts, per pupil expenditures are sure to climb.  At some point especially since many of their children may already be attending elsewhere, local taxpayers are likely to feel they can no longer support a public school — and the doors will be closed for the last time.

When a community loses its public school, it loses more than that.  It loses everything from school plays to softball games to places to hold bean suppers.  It loses a school song and a set of alumni and a set of traditions.  It loses a hub and gathering place for parents and children. It loses a set of teachers and their families who must now go elsewhere. It loses a place for public meetings. It loses a prime selling point for new families looking to move into the region.

The survival of Maine’s rural schools and communities are already threatened.  Given current economic trends, the financial pressures facing rural communities will likely get worse before they get better.   Now, more than ever, the people of Maine need to do the opposite of what LePage and Bowen would have us do.  The people of Maine need to stand up and protect our rural schools.

Some states have now mandated that students take at least one digital course as a condition of graduation. Maine would be wise to do the opposite — and pass legislation stating that every student has the right to receive 80 percent or more of their education from a real live teacher.


Kids as Pawns: The Plan to Privatize our Schools, Part IV

In his Sept. 7 radio address, LePage insists he is promoting virtual schools as a way to put students first and castigates the opposition for “debating the needs of adults and administrators over the needs of students.”

Is it just a coincidence that ALEC, the national conservative organization that LePage has repeatedly aligned himself with, is working to destroy teachers unions and dismantle the public education system?  Isn’t it disingenuous to hold that LePage’s “students-first” approach and ALEC’s war on public education could both settle on school choice, charter schools, and online learning — but for such different reasons?

If we were to truly put the needs of young people first, the solution would look very different from a virtual school — of that you can be sure.  Given that obesity, technology addiction, substance abuse, and lack of aspirations are four of the biggest problems facing young people today, it is difficult to see how replacing public school attendance with having kids sit at home in front of a computer keyboard will solve any of these problems.  In fact, it is likely to make them worse.

In our previous post, we argued that virtual schools do poorly when it comes to academics.  Schools do much more than feed the intellect, however.  Especially in this time of latch-key kids, school is where students gain a sense of values and a sense of belonging.  Students learn to work with their hands and not just their minds.  Students learn to collaborate; they learn to discuss and to present.  The move around between classes.  They communicate.  They get involved in conflicts and learn to resolve them.  They learn to understand the perspectives of students very different from themselves. In short, they learn how to function citizens in a messy thing called democracy.

Kids are social creatures who want to move, create, and interact.  Nothing on a computer screen can replace the encouraging smile of a teacher or the hug of a classmate.  Nothing on a computer screen can help our kids develop heart.

The public school, like democracy itself, is an imperfect institution — but like democracy it is also far better than the alternative.  When it comes to education, right now, the public school is the best thing we’ve got.

Continue Reading:  The Plan to Profitize Our Schools, Part V