For compelling evidence that Maine’s public schools are long overdue for an overhaul, check out the May 10 Kennebec Journal story about Cony High School students who were disappointed at the C grade their school received from the state department of education. Members of the student council gave their school much higher marks on a report card that graded the school in 10 different categories, none of which included academics.

The most disturbing aspect of this sad story is the enabling role played by grown-ups who should know better, including members of the local school board and Cony’s guidance counselor. The praise they lavished on the students’ feel-good approach to grading their school borders on educational malpractice.

Why would any responsible adult encourage students to focus on the squishy social aspects of school rather than solid academic achievement?

The students’ report card graded the school in ten categories, and with the exception of music, none of the categories have even a remote connection to academics. Forget about basic math and language skills. What’s really important, and what sets Cony apart? Relationships between student and staff (A-), the school environment and culture (B), extracurricular offerings (A), athletics (A+), and of course, diversity/tolerance (A-).

No wonder more than half of Maine’s high-school students who go on to community college need remedial courses. We’re paying twice for the same education, and there doesn’t seem to be any adult supervision at places like Cony. Again, why in the world would any responsible parent, teacher, or guidance counselor encourage students to engage in this sort of silly self-indulgence?

The lowest grade was a C- for student health services. Anyone care to guess why? “Students are deprived of drug and alcohol rehab help, counseling and contraceptive care…” Imagine that. Who knew Cony has legions of deprived students, suffering from a lack of access to free stuff to help them avoid drunkenness, drug addiction, and unwanted pregnancies?

This complaint from the student council is especially disturbing. Cony’s administrators are coddling these kids and fostering an entitlement mentality that will eventually be dashed on the rocks of fiscal reality. In the meantime, here comes another generation of low-information voters who assume their neighbors and their neighbors’ children and grandchildren are obligated to provide them with free condoms, birth-control pills, and drug-abuse counseling.

These kids are in for a rude awakening. After graduation, they will find that grading yourself isn’t an option in the job market, or in higher education. And your employer won’t much care about the wonderful relationship you had with the staff at Cony, or the great sports programs, or how good you feel about tolerance and diversity. Your bubbly self-esteem won’t trump your lack of basic skills when you emerge from the cocoon at Cony. Even if you have tons of musical talent, nobody will be impressed with your crooning of the Sam Cooke R&B classic:

Don’t know much about history

Don’t know much biology

Don’t know much about a science book

Don’t know much about the French I took

But I do know that I love you

And I know that if you love me too

What a wonderful world this would be

So now more than ever Maine’s public schools need to have their cages rattled. Bring on the A through F grades, and let parents start asking questions about how much bang they’re getting for their buck from our schools. We’re already spending way above the national average per pupil, so we need more than rhetoric from the education establishment. We need positive outcomes and accountability.

I would suggest the dialogue start with an examination of how teachers are hired and evaluated. That means taking a hard look at teacher tenure, and how collective bargaining impacts education. Frankly, the teachers’ unions are a major roadblock to making sure schools hire and retain the very best teachers. We saw in Portland recently how “first-in, last-out” cost a Maine Teacher of the Year her job.

In a recent conversation with a retired principal who serves with me in the Legislature, I learned that it can take as long as five years for a school district to cut an incompetent teacher loose. That is unacceptable. Our children and grandchildren deserve better than to take a back seat to union contracts that put job security ahead of the students’ best interests. And until we honestly address this festering problem, it will be next to impossible to fix what’s wrong with Maine schools.

So bring on the debate. And thank you, Gov. Paul LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen, for jump-starting the conversation.

Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst, represents District 30 in the Maine House of Representatives and serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development (LCRED) Committee. His email address is [email protected]

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