Democrats assail LePage plan to grade Maine schools

AUGUSTA — Democrats voiced fierce opposition Thursday to an initiative by the LePage administration to give schools across Maine A-through-F letter grades based on their performance. However, the initiative does not require legislative approval and will be unveiled prior to the end of the school year.

LePage announced the idea during his State of the State Address in February. Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen discussed it with lawmakers on the Education Committee on Thursday, where he said the grades could be released within two weeks.

Democrats and the Maine School Management Association don’t like the idea. Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, the Senate chair of the Education Committee, said the grades would embarrass schools rather than help them.

“I see this as a mechanism for shaming or threatening schools,” she said in a prepared statement.

Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, agreed. Though the method for assigning the letter grades has not been released by the Department of Education, Johnson said he was concerned that standardized tests don’t cover enough subjects to be an accurate gauge. He also worried that the system would drive people away from towns with low-performing schools.

“You’re going to tell people not to buy a house in that town,” he said in the statement. “You’re devaluing property.”

Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Marin said the idea came from Florida, which already has a school grading system in place. At an education summit organized by LePage last month, Florida educators said the grading system caused an uproar at first but resulted in parents and communities rallying around schools to improve them. Connerty-Marin rejected the notion that the purpose of the grading system was to embarrass schools.

“We’ll give schools these labels and then the question is, ‘What are you going to do to help them?’” he said. “We’re not going to just simply label and run.”

In a related initiative, LePage has proposed spending $3 million over the next two years to create the Office of School Accountability. Connerty-Marin said the bulk of the $3 million will flow directly to struggling schools. The state administers a federal program to help low-performing schools that receive federal Title 1 funding in economically disadvantaged areas. The difference in the new program is that it will be available to all schools.

The grading system will be the subject of a biannual meeting Friday morning of a group called the Technical Advisory Committee, which is made up of education experts from Maine and across the country. Connerty-Marin said the committee, which is federally mandated, is scheduled to advise the Maine Department of Education on a range of issues Friday, but that the meeting is not open to the public. He denied statements made Thursday to the Bangor Daily News that attendees have been asked to sign nondisclosure agreements that bar them from talking about the meeting.

“Part of the point of the Technical Advisory Committee is to be able to provide the department with high-level expertise and advice,” said Connerty Marin. “Often we change what we do as a result of those meetings and the value is in being able to have private conversations about the work that we’re doing and to see if we’re on the right track. There are no nondisclosure letters.”

According to the Department of Education’s website, the committee includes Bowen; Maine Department of Education Policy and Programs Director Deborah Friedman; National Center for Improvement of Educational Assessment Executive Director Brian Gong; director of the University of Minnesota’s National Center on Education Outcomes Martha Thurlow; Stephen Slater, the Oregon Department of Education’s assistant director of assessment; Bangor schools Superintendent Betsy Webb; RSU 49 Assistant Superintendent Lenora Murray; and Maine Department of Education Director of Standards and Assessment Daniel Hupp.

Connerty-Marin said he was unsure how intertwined the school grading system would be with the process of choosing failing schools for the Office of School Accountability because neither process has been fully developed.

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FRANK EARLEY's picture

This is starting to.........

This is starting to feel like a game of "Whack-A-Mole", It seems that I this little Governor keeps popping up in one controversy, gets whacked down, and pops up in the next controversy. I kind of wish he'd go back on vacation, and give my typing fingers a break. He would never do that, the State might somehow straiten itself out in his absence. Then he'd have to start all over again...............


Grading the schools

The last person I would expect to give a fair evaluation of the public schools would be this governor or anybody in his administration, given the way he has behaved towards other so called" independent" boards. Considering that he held a state summit on education last month and included everybody except state educators from the Maine public schools, one would hardly expect a serious attempt at improving the public schools. Also considering his example of successful schools is the Florida school system, it's hard to take anything he says about public schools seriously. The last attempt at "holding schools accountable" has cost the taxpayer a fortune in money funneled to testing companies, student time wasted on lengthy testing sessions rather than learning time, assorted cheating scandals that are only now coming to light, a drastic lowering of the bar in educational achievement and dumbing down of the curriculum, a switch from real testing to multiple choice testing which measures testing skill or luck rather than true education. The end result of all this accountability has revealed that students in wealthier districts like Cape Elizabeth are getting a better education than students in small rural schools or inner city schools and no serious effort other than loud criticism has ever been done to change that.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Follow the Money

Again this administration as like other Repub state governors has made it clear that Charter schools is his focus and in any way to take aim at the public schools, is money in his pocket and his GOP partners to privatize any government involvement for personal profit.

This is an agenda with ALEC, for privatizing everything and selling off the state's assets to corporate leeches like the Kochs and others.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

Why are we

Why are we not grading schools performance, as well as teachers performance ? How many of you that are union workers don't have performance reviews at least yearly, if not more often?

I am a taxpayer in SAD 17. I have 20 grandchildren in school currently. They are attending grades K- 10. The one's that have attendend one elementry school seem to struggle terribly when they get to junior high. Why I can't really tell you, but they certainly appear to have a weak learning foundation built into them. I realize that half of their gene pool came from a different donor, none of the other donors would be considered to be slow learners.

One son sold his house and moved to the next town over and the three children all vastly improved. Perhaps the water is better at the new house. Seriously this one low performing school has been that way for a long time, so bad that a couple of years ago the district paid Sylvan Learning Centers to tutor the lowest performers. SAD 17's budget is over 33 million a year.

Shouldn't the employers (taxpayers) be allowed to review the schools performance based on the numbers of non english speaking students who of course would influence grades, the number of LD students, etc etc.

Jason Theriault's picture

LePage should move to Florida

I mean, he seems to love it so much. Besides, he can retire there in 2 years


Certainly in today's local

Certainly in today's local political world anything the Governor proposes will be assailed by the Loyal opposition. Grading schools is not a bad idea and should be expanded on and studied. A fair method of grading would be of benefit to all. If the schools in a particular district are not up to standards or expectations parents have a right to know before they move into that area. Will this affect property values, or will this encourage citizens to take a more active role in their towns? Poorly performing schools will be questioned and citizens should expect their town/City managers to take care of this situation by expecting their school administrators to improve non-performing teachers. Our children are our most important asset and we must educate them properly for they and our country to prosper. The official's and our responsibility is to our children and not to a teacher's union. The ability to terminate people who arre not up to par is important here.

Bob Berry's picture

What are we training kids for?

The idea that we should not grade schools because it embarrasses and tears them down is faulty. This bears absolutely no resemblance to real life, where you are tested and graded daily, and where your grade has a direct impact on your success. Schools are there to educate our kids. That education is meant to prepare them for real life. Prepare them, do not blind them.


I would like to know more

I would like to know more about who is going to grade the schools, what they are going to be looking at to decide the grades, and what the criteria will be. If they are grading on test scores then are they going to factor in the diversity of all of our schools or are the actual scores going to be the only thing they look at. Are they going to look at complaints from parents/students? Are they going to look at the educational level of teachers? To me there are too many unanswered questions to know whether this is going to be a fair assessment of our schools. It would be nice to have more information prior to the grades being released so we know how it will be done and if there will be any input from parents/students.

David  Cote's picture

Tina, while I agree schools should be graded...

You have asked a number of excellent questions regarding how such a program would be administered. It would be nice if someone from Lepage's administration qualified to answer your questions would do so in this forum in order to lend the clarity neccessary for those of us interested about this to chew the fat on. Great post, Tina.


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