As policymakers begin to plan for the upcoming 130th legislative session, Educate Maine believes that their work needs to be grounded in the needs of our communities, the health and well-being of our state’s economy, and an understanding of our students’ educational barriers and challenges.

To help policymakers and the public better understand these dynamics, Educate Maine recently released the newest edition of our annual Education Indicators for Maine report. This annual report measures access, participation, and attainment through the educational pipeline from early childhood through postsecondary education, based on 2019 data (thus before the pandemic).

A quick overview of what the data tells us:

• Maine has made progress at the beginning and the end of the educational pipeline: in particular, expanding full-day kindergarten (98% of districts offer full-day kindergarten) and increasing the number of Mainers holding postsecondary degrees or credentials of value (51%).

• At the same time, pre-kindergarten continues to grow across Maine, with 77& of school districts offering some PreK programming, serving 51% of eligible 4-year-olds. Only 9% of PreK programs are full-day, five-days-a-week programs.

• Fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores are showing progress. Maine fourth-graders who met or exceeded state expectations improved from 52% to 56%. Math scores have been steady, yet are far from where they need to be for our future workers to compete in the global economy. Only 41 percent of fourth-graders and 36% of eighth-graders met or exceeded state expectations in math.

• At the same time, performance in reading and math have declined at the high school level. Eleventh-graders who met or exceeded state reading expectations dropped from 59% to 56%, while math skills dropped from 35% to 33%.

• Achievement gaps are significant across grades and subjects for economically disadvantaged students, who comprised 42% of Maine’s student population in 2019. Gaps are also significant for students when looking at race/ethnicity.

These education indicators are of great interest to me as one of the MaineSpark leadership partners. We are dedicated to helping Maine achieve our education attainment goal that 60% of Maine adults earn a credential of value by 2025. Those credentials will position them and their families for success in the current and future economies. The indicators I just described lay out a road map for how we achieve this goal.

First, we need to start early with robust high-quality early education. Healthy development from birth to age 5 is vitally important. What happens or doesn’t happen during these early years helps build the social, emotional and cognitive foundations and developmental skills children need to start school ready to succeed.

Research has consistently highlighted how early education benefits kids throughout their schooling and in adulthood. For example, data shows that children who participate in high-quality early learning programs are 44% more likely to graduate from high school, 74% more likely to hold a skilled job, and make 26% more in earnings as adults.

Second, we need to continue the development of strong math and reading skills and other strategies that will support middle and high school students in successfully transitioning from high school to their next education and/or career path. Additional tools include promoting career and technical education opportunities, and developing school-based workforce recruitment and education leadership to support these goals.

There are many reasons to commit ourselves to these goals that will help our students succeed in their post-secondary lives. Each student of today will enter a workforce in which 95% of all American jobs created in the past 20 years have gone to people with college degrees or other post-secondary credentials. At the same time, college graduates earn an average of about 56% more ($20,000 annually) than their peers with only high school diplomas—and this pay gap is only growing.

We do not yet know the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including how it will change educational needs and goals.  Nevertheless, Maine schools, employers, policymakers and MaineSpark partners need to continue to work together toward our common objectives.

The 2020 Education Indicators report provides a solid starting point for discussions on how we all can better support Maine students from cradle to career.

Jason Judd is executive director of Educate Maine.

 


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