Gov. Paul LePage, referring to the findings of the Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, claims “This report reaffirms what we already know: that the status quo in Maine is not working. Our educational system has neglected to put its students first, and has therefore failed them. We have a lot of work to do to rejuvenate our academic performance.”

The Maine School Management Association had an immediate reply, its director asserting that “recent criticism of Maine schools leaves out some facts on student achievement … most notably that students here are achieving well above the national average.”

He went on to cite some cheerful statistics about Maine’s performance relative to other states. The MSMA’s defensive reaction is only to be expected.

The governor finds the status quo unacceptable, and if the MSMA is not part of that status quo, then there’s no such thing as a status quo.

The director wrote a letter to the governor saying that the “MSMA believed it worthwhile to do factual research concerning Maine’s rankings. We ask that you read and review this material carefully.”

This sounds reasonable, even a little pious; but since the governor’s office has repeatedly provided links to the PEPG report in its releases, it seems redundant.

Intuiting the governor’s true and hidden motives, the director tells LePage, “Clearly you continue to be driven by the four educational associations’ opposition to your charter (school) and choice legislation.”

The MSMA position on charter schools: “The bottom line is that charter schools will take away badly needed funding from public schools even though research shows they will not improve student achievement.”

Here’s my stab at intuiting. The MSMA wants control over the money being allocated to charter schools and it wishes to maintain the status quo it helped to fashion.

There is no bottom line on charter school research. A paragraph from the Albert Shanker Institute gives a fair idea of the complexity of the issues: “Charter schools are among the most controversial issues in education today, with much of the debate focused on whether they produce better testing results than comparable regular public schools.

Too often, these discussions either rely on a tiny handful of studies, or on raw, cross-sectional testing results, which are not valid measures of school effects.”

Google “charter school research” and you will discover that, taken as a whole, research shows clearly that the MSMA has no grounds for announcing a definitive conclusion.

A further complication is that charter schools appear in a wide and growing variety of forms. The public education status quo is not uniform in every community and state either, but it shows far less variety than the charter schools.

The true bottom line is this: Criticism of individual charter schools is valid and necessary; blanket rejection is opposition to any experimentation that might undermine the status quo.

A task force sponsored by the Council of Foreign Relations takes a dim view of our nation’s educational system: “The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy. … (The United States) will not be able to keep pace — much less lead — globally unless it moves to fix the problems it has allowed to fester for too long.”

The task forces’ concerns are all the more depressing since they echo those expressed in the “Nation at Risk” report that appeared 30 years ago.

The PPEG report (PEPG12-03) cited by LePage (www.hks.harvard.edu/ pepg/) recognized Maine’s standing relative to other states, but finds little evidence of improvement since 1992. Cheerful statistics about Maine’s relative standing do not negate LePage’s concerns.

If the ship’s bow is underwater but the good news is that we are high and dry on the stern, then the good news is not good enough.

Before we can have a serious discussion about reforming and improving Maine’s education, we have to agree that the status quo is not acceptable.

John Frary, of Farmington, is a retired professor and former Republican candidate for Congress.


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