As the new administration and Legislature takes stock of the new situation, one of the challenges is that while we recall the problems with the just-past leadership, we don’t forget that there were longstanding problems before the last team. One of the obvious areas is education — funding certainly, but especially policy.

The model of the 25 years I was a teacher was to elevate someone to education commissioner who was perceived to have handled the challenges of a superintendent. That is not necessarily the right standard to apply.

For these three decades, the one-size-fits-all Maine Learning Results program, its Common Core variation, and the “proficiency-based” diploma have not been good policies. Someone who has managed, like Cinderella’s step-sisters, to force these policies to fit, is in all likelihood not a good leader but something of a tyrant.

A year or two after retiring I attended a conference for math teachers on the Common Core. I quietly asked the state coordinator how in good conscience we could insist that every student in Maine would accomplish thing X. She looked at me and replied, “Because it’s the law.”

Any education leader in Maine who has used that argument, whether bureaucratic insider, superintendent or teacher — anyone who has subscribed blindly to that rationale should be crossed off a list of potential candidates to lead Maine’s Department of Education. There are a few legislators who have recognized that the proficiency-based model was handled badly, but argue thoughtfully from the middle for a fresh start in making Maine’s education model once again one that leads the nation.

I hope Gov.-elect Janet Mills and her team looks carefully for a thoughtful leader, and especially for one who will actively engage with the teachers and parents of Maine to design a next set of pathways for our schools.

Jim Perkins


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