Family income largely decides school grades

Here's a modest proposal to help Maine's citizens judge the effectiveness of Gov. Paul LePage's new A-F grading system for public schools.

For the 2014-2015 school year, teachers and administrators at the Falmouth Elementary School will exchange places with teachers and administrators at Lewiston's Longley Elementary School.

Falmouth Elementary got an A in the recent rankings while Longley received an F. Like nobody saw that coming.

If the A-F rating system for individual schools has any merit, Longley School should quickly rise in the rankings because teachers and administrators from Falmouth will bring their winning ways with them.

We all realize, of course, that merely switching teachers won't make a darn bit of difference.

The problems at Longley are outside the school building, not within. We know the people working there and they are working double time to improve the school's educational outcomes. We believe their passion and dedication are unmatched.

They have taken on what is perhaps the most difficult educational challenge in Maine.

So, as a way of thanking them, the governor and school commissioner have now hung an F for failure on their building.

That stinks, and Education Commissioner Steve Bowen knows it. "We understand a letter grade does not tell the whole story of a student, nor does it tell the whole story of a school," Bowen said in a press release accompanying the rankings.

But, hey, we're going to do it anyway.

The problem at Longley is poverty, the kind of deep poverty that breeds more poverty.

One census tract in downtown Lewiston, the one nearest the Sun Journal, is the poorest tract in the state with a median family income of $11,194. The median family income in Falmouth is $117,578.

Nearly one in five of the students at Longley is an English Language Learner. In Falmouth it's less than one in 100.

The Lewiston Public Schools spend $3,792 per pupil on "regular instruction," according to the Department of Education, compared to $5,638 per pupil in Falmouth.

As some quickly pointed out, the state's new grading system closely correlates with the number of children receiving free or reduced-price meals.

Meaning the new grading system tells us mainly what we already knew: affluent, educated people have high-achieving children. Students from families in poverty struggle in school.

Thomas Jefferson, the landed aristocrat and slave owner who inherited a 5,000-acre plantation and 20-40 slaves, told us in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.

But from birth forward, things become unequal very quickly, especially in modern America with its astounding and growing income gap between the wealthy and the poor. Jefferson himself knew that black babies went to the slave quarters and white ones to the mansion.

A baby who goes from the hospital to an apartment in downtown Lewiston is nearly guaranteed a very different life than a baby brought to a home in Falmouth.

One is likely to experience the best of everything — stable family, two educated parents, medical care, safety, nutritious food, enriching vacations and weekend trips, tutoring and summer camps.

Let's just say the kid in Lewiston will have a lot less of the good stuff and see a lot more of the bad — crime, violence, drugs and chaos.

Those experiences, good and bad, are brought into the classroom every day and largely determine success.

The governor's goal is to improve educational outcomes in Maine, and we believe he is sincere about that.

But trying to pressure and embarrass inner-city administrators and teachers into improving performance is counterproductive and demeaning.

Falmouth is a pleasant place, and we admire its residents for making the education and success of their children a top priority.

But excellent education is a lot easier executed in a place where everyone speaks English, comes to school prepared and has a pair of parents making sure the homework gets done each night.

We know that, and we suspect the teachers and administrators in Falmouth do as well. The only people who don't seem to recognize reality are LePage and Bowen.

* * *

In the interest of full disclosure, the Sun Journal has had an Adopt-A-School relationship with Longley Elementary for the past 20 years.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Family income largely decides school grades

Rex ? Monday 16:45 hst
. . i couldn't disagree more
Remember Abe Lincoln ? Yeah , him . Born in a log cabin , dirt floor , or Maya Angelo , Ella Fitzgerald ( she was illiterate and blind ) or even your US National inagural Poet Dick White from Bethel Maine via Cuba
Family income does not decide school grades or intelligence. Either you got it or you don't. " Stupid is as stupid does ." -- Forrest Gump
Even our sitting President was a . .well . his dad was in Kenya and his mom and grandmom raised him from a baby on limited resources and he managed straight and married a summa cum laude Princeton graduate
That's smarts
One c o u l d possibly make the argument that our best Presidents were rich already ( FDR & JFK ) but even that would be a s t r e t c h e r . hth /s, Steve btw - Love this paper
"You know Paul could do wonders. Everyone's
Heard how he thrashed the horses on a load
That wouldn't budge, until they simply stretched
Their rawhide harness from the load to camp.
Paul told the boss the load would be all right,
"The sun will bring your load in"--and it did--
By shrinking the rawhide to natural length.
That's what is called a stretcher." --

Carol Durgin's picture

Family income largely decides school grades

I agree with parts of your comments and disagree with others. Yes, some children do have the ability to sail through their schooling with little to no problems. Others have to really work hard. I feel some kids these days have little participation in their well being from parents. Wealthy kids and poor kids can do well with hard work and a parent who takes an interest. The environment and a full stomach have a lot to do with a child's ability to concentrate. You made comments about our sitting President. You don't know these facts to be the solid facts. And nobody has seen his academic papers. There is an old saying and it goes like this. "Sometimes it is not what you know, but who you know." There is also a difference in being book smart and having common sense. I would take what I consider to be the high road and go with common sense. He married a like minded person. I say no more.

Andrew Hall's picture

Talking the Talk

Rex Rhoades pointed out an interesting and valid demographic fact in his editorial: One of five Lewiston students is an ESL learner, whereas in Falmouth, the rate is more like one in a hundred. This begs the question, why is this so? Towns like Falmouth are hotbeds of people who preach the dogma of multi-cultural diversity. Like the evangelical preacher who pontificates on proper moral behavior while having three mistresses on the side, there is something disingenuous about people who talk the multi-cultural talk but don't walk the walk.

Again, why are the liberal prophets prophets of multi-cultural diversity so lily white, with no poor population? Why are these towns so homogeneous, so lacking in the diversity its resident claim to value? Why does diversity in these towns consist of a mix of Federal vs Colonial style houses? The why is pretty simple. Because ethnic diversity is nice in theory as long as it doesn't apply to them.

So how do they maintain their hypocritical facade yet keep their liberal multi-cultural credentials? Zoning laws and environmental laws. You will never see a low-income family, Somali or native-born, in a town like Falmouth. Zoning laws don't allow multi-family, low-income housing. Nice, neat way to keep out the undesirables while still pretending to value them. You'd think these town would actively seek to have the less fortunate join their ranks. Is that going to happen?

Until the courts step in an order an end to the inherent discriminatory intent behind these laws, perhaps the state should implement an education funding process where all districts are given state aid based on a flat per pupil reimbursement, say $4000 a year (arbitrary number). For every dollar a town like Falmouth spends from municipal funds above that $4,000, it's subtracted from the state aid, so ultimately every district is funded at the same level as every other.

Will that happen? Will the Falmouths of the state ever actually walk the walk instead of just talking the talk? Will pigs fly?

In the meantime, they should stop their hypocritical preaching.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Andrew , Who ? Have you even

Andrew , Who ? Have you even taught E S L in Loystone ? We have ? Steve R P C V micro '78 \/ o l u n t e e r •

MARK GRAVEL's picture

It has nothing to do with

It has nothing to do with skin color and all do to with attitude and values. All that you’ll get with what you are preaching is the lowest common denominator. You can move the people through zoning, but you cannot move the attitudes and values through zoning.

But perhaps you are not really interested in elevating people, sounds like you are more interested with pulling others down.


Magical thinking

Taking a realistic look at the problems that children from low income families have to overcome is not making excuses. It is being realistic. When you cut headstart and early learning funding for children who are starting school nearly 2 years behind their counterparts in the more affluent schools, money is the problem. When teachers are let go and class sizes increase in some schools while they are decreasing in others, money is the problem. That's why there is so much consistency in the scoring with nearly all wealthier schools scoring higher and poorer schools scoring lower. That can't all be coincidence. Blaming people for their lack of resources will not solve it. Neither will ignoring it and waiting for magic to solve it. People need to put aside their prejudices and political ideologies and look at what is happening in the real world. Some urban schools have been successful but it's easy to point at one school and say that will work everywhere. Sometimes the situations are not all that similar. And I will say it again measuring success on the basis of test scores is very iffy. Sometimes people cheat. Private schools especially manipulate those scores and even honest scores only tell you a part of the picture. Our goal needs to be to educate all the children that we don't want to be supporting in the future.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

You cannot buy success driven

You cannot buy success driven attitudes and values with money. Money cannot buy you class as the saying goes.

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Why don't we stop complaining about this grading system...

and start sending educators from "D" and "F" schools to "A", "B" and "C" schools to learn something to take back and move their schools to the next higher level. In business they call it leaning about "best practices" and replicating those practices to obtain the desired results and improve processes.

We need to start spending our education dollars better and move out those who cannot or will not teach our children, or no amount of money will fix struggling schools.

With the logic I have read over the past few days, apparently no amount of funding will fix this problem so why bother, unless we remove the children from their low soci-economic situation and fix the decay of the American Family. It amazes me of how many educators blame all the ills of certain schools performance on socio-economics.

Yet when conservatives bring this up time and time again, and attempt to break the cycle we are just being mean and heartless.

Amazing the number of rocket scientists and world leaders that once came out of one room school houses in America taught with old primers and chalkboards, with several grade levels in one class; they could read, write and calculate.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

The social economic doldrums

The social economic doldrums are due in part to the same attitudes and values the make for poor students.

Andrew Hall's picture

Doldrums etc

I'm really not sure what your point is the previous comments. Values? Is it a positive value, a virtue, to preach one thing then actually live the opposite? Is it a good thing to use laws to keep the less fortunate from your neighborhood? Separate but equal is a value to strive for? If those are your preferred values, spare me.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Let’s examine values using a

Let’s examine values using a simple example:
Individual A:
--values education and reading.
--values college education.
--values exercise and clean living.
--work around problems when life goals are blocked.
--teaches values to their kids.

Individual B:
--Values the NFL and nachos.
--values playboy.
--values beer and cigarettes.
--blames others when life goals are blocked.
--teaches values to their kids.

Who is more likely to buy properly in Falmouth?
Moreover, humans tend to associate with others of similar values – that is the human condition.
“Is it a good thing to use laws to keep the less fortunate from your

There are no laws to keep the less fortunate from any neighborhood. Just because someone cannot afford to live in geographic area does not mean they are prohibited by law from that area.

Lastly, I’ll be more than accommodating to spare you. Perhaps we have different values; that is okay. I don’t need to force my values on you; I’ll simply associate with those who share similar values.

That is human nature, that is reality, nothing wrong with that. If you value the NFL, then live with those values for they are the ones you chose to live with.

Andrew Hall's picture

Inherently immoral

So you're arguing poor people are inherently immoral? That the poor are automatically drunken smokers who use drugs and are work shy? That given the opportunity. poor families wouldn't inherently reject a college-bound path for their children? That's astonishing set of beliefs if they are accurate.

There are indeed laws in towns like Falmouth that ensure people who are at the low end of the socio-economic cannot live in that or similar towns: zoning laws. When a town has zoning laws that do not allow multi-unit, low-income housing, that's a law designed to keep out the poor an other undesirables. When zoning laws are used to keep out potential home-owners by excluding the presence of homes they actually can afford as they try to move up and meet the socio-economic standards that are the price of admission to the elite club, that's flat wrong.

The situation is made much worse when the people using these laws are the ones who proclaim to love multi-cultural diversity the loudest. You are welcome to live in a neighborhood of your own kind, but when laws of any kind are used to keep others you dislike out, that's a problem. That's a value I want no part of.

Some years ago, Lewiston's mayor pleaded with the leaders of the Somali community to slow down the influx of more refugees because the social service system was strained to the breaking point. People from wealthy communities were up in arms, tossing around charges of racism. I remember thinking, "Surely these towns -- Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth -- will open their arms and welcome the refugees." But it was not to be -- I was still naive then. They were more interested in the showing their faux support of multi-culturalism. It was much easier to cast Lewiston as racist then to do something real and honest -- it was a serious case of the pot calling the kettle black.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Ask yourself, are you an

Ask yourself, are you an individual that just craps about the rich displaying our envy from the sofa, or are you an individual who focuses on what they can do to improve your lot in life?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Oh look!

Oh look, Multi-unit apartment in Yarmouth....

MARK GRAVEL's picture

1. The poor are not

1. The poor are not inherently drunk. Remember, that is a hypothetical example that shows two extreme ends of the spectrum. Social mobility still exists in this country. In one generation a child from a poor up bring can go from Lewiston to Yarmouth. The question for you though, is way don’t more children do it?
2. All towns have zoning laws. All towns have rules about here industry, dethatched housing, and high-density housing is build. In every town I’ve lived in, high-density housing is not build in the vicinity of low cost housing. Who would dish out $1M for a home next to a multiunit apartment; the answer is no one. Drive around the poor sections of Lewiston and ask yourself if you would pay $1M for a home here that environment. By the way, this comes full circle back to attitudes and values. Why are poor neighborhoods mostly slummy?
3. Multi-cultural and Diversity: I think you are assigning the tag of hypocrisy on everyone in Falmouth or Yarmouth for perhaps a few vocal individuals. That is not logical. Unless you have personal knowledge that every resident acted in that manner, you cannot with any credibility make this all-inclusive claims. Your argument breaks down in to an emotion plea at that point.

Lastly, you can only control what you say, how you behave, and how you react. If you would like to live in Falmouth or Yarmouth focus your energy on self-development. Make learning marketable skills habitual as compared to watching each NFL game on TV. I’m still okay that you don’t want to share my values since I only associate with others who do. That is simply human nature. Maybe I’ll see you living Falmouth someday, or maybe not; that is in your hands, not anyone else's.

Zack Lenhert's picture

...because it has nothing to

...because it has nothing to do with "best practices". If you put the Falmouth teachers and admin in the Longley School in Lewiston they would still garner a low grade because of the socioeconomics of the student population.

If you actually took a moment to look at the results you would find that the schools that spend more money per student generally had higher scores from the Gov. How can you dismiss that so easily?

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Nothing to do....really...

I have travelled this country from end to end, and I have taught in both a large metropolitan school district in San Diego, California as well as a small RSU in Northern Maine.

There are schools in the inner parts of our urban areas that do very well thank you. Some public, some charter, some parochial. The reason, dedicated teachers and administrators and supportive parents.

I'm sure the Falmouth teachers and administration would beg to differ with you, please give them their due and don't try to equate their excellence simply with expenditures money. This path only furthers the agenda of those who would try to cover fixable problems with economic band-aids instead of addressing the causes.

I have seen many examples in my life where dedicated people make a difference regardless of lack of resources. If I had listened to this type of logic, I would have never gone to college, because my parents couldn't afford it and they didn't have college backgrounds...but I figured it out. Was it hard, heck yes, but I didn't blame anyone, I just got on with it. It's called self-reliance and inititative!

We've tried pumping tons of money into the schools, I think it is time to hold people accountable for the job they do at EVERY level of education to include the students and their parents.

Schools can and should be a haven from the challenges our children face on a daily basis, those who are writing on this shouldn't be using it as an excuse. Enforce rigor, discipline and accountabiltiy and stop making excuses for poor choices and behaviors. Then things will change.

I feel sorry for those of you who seem to want to write off a portion of our population, perhaps those "low socio-economic" folks should stop voting for those who would would label them as the cause; perhaps then we will see improvement.


Seems to me like you are

Seems to me like you are blaming the teachers for the failing school...what about the parents, what about the kids who are ELL is not a problem caused by one when people stop blaming the teachers or the lack of money maybe they can actually have a discussion to fix the problems with ALL schools...including those from affluent areas that got an A because there is absolutely NO school in this state that is perfect....all grading them did is make a greater divide versus finding a real solution. I have dealt with children in both Lewiston and Yarmouth and let me tell you the kids in Yarmouth are worse then any in Lewiston because they think they are ENTITLED to better treatment....

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Tina please read my comments...

What I am saying if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Education requires teamwork: parents, elected school boards, administrators, teachers, staff, students and community all working together.

Let's turn of the blame-thrower and fix it! Hold all stake holders accountable for each performing in their roles and functions, and provide students with rigor and relevency in their education. Get rid of non-performing teachers and administrators; don't allow them cover or excuses.

I think we can agree that lack of money IS NOT the issue. As an educator, I would never blame ALL teachers, you can go to any school, take a survey and the teachers will tell you which ones should be doing other work. That is a fact! The same applies to administrators, good teachers know who should be otherwise employed.

This grading system put in place was another spur to dialog about our schools, not create a divide but to identify those that are struggling and to put some focus on them. Just like when a child brings home a failing grade on a report card, people may start to ask why; at least I hope they do and look for ways to help. Throwing more money at schools may seem like a victory; but it is not.

Do you really think that paying administrators $500,000 a year and teachers $100,000 a year will result in a better education system. Do you really think that building state-of-the-art schools at multi-millions of dollars will result a better education system. I certainly don't. What builds better results in schools is individual discipline, standards, academic rigor and accountability to those standards at ALL levels.


The issue is that someone

The issue is that someone said to bring Falmouth teachers to Longley and the Longley teachers should go to Falmouth....then Longley grades should rise....this would not be the case. The teachers at Longley work extremely hard and often very long days. However, the student population at Longley is constantly changing as people move out of the downtown area on a regular basis. To give this particular school an F just because of test scores and student growth is can you measure something that is not constant......I agree that administrators is an area where there are too many that could free up some much needed funds to provide tools for the students. I do honestly think those schools who spend more per student received a better grade because they are able to provide more tools for students. My point is that the grading system is extremely flawed and does nothing but pit one against another. The system doesn't take into consideration other factors like the ELL students...I doubt Falmouth or Yarmouth have the same per centage of ELL students as other schools who received low grades.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

The common denominator to

The common denominator to educational success is not money; it is a set of attitudes and values that drive one to succeed.


Editorial is a good one. What

Editorial is a good one.
What the hell is the matter with this Governor? Where does he come from with these crazy ideas and his potty mouth? This letter grade system based on SAT scores in high schools is absolutely ridiculous, and is an insult to teachers and schools. I am not a teacher, but if I spent my days teaching in a Maine high school I would be totally demoralized. It is time someone spoke the truth about our public educational system. It is time for someone to step forward and tell it like it is. No political correctness and no masking of the truth. It is coming to you direct from the old computer of a typical Maine parent and lifelong resident who is not expert in anything educational.

Maine and this country have been screwing with our public educational system ever since Lyndon B. Johnson was elected president. It suddenly became fashionable to tinker with everything educational. Remember “ new math ? “ That seems to have been the first silly concept meant to change everything for the better. Over the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties, and right up to today, we have changed our curriculums, changed our text books, and changed our moral beliefs and practices. As a result, we have raised an entire generation, now adults with children, who have no moral compass, no understanding of history, and no understanding of how our government works. They can’t read and they can’t write. They were simply pushed from one grade to another. They do not have a respect for education, and they feel it is not relevant to their lives. The children in school today in many poorer communities are the off spring of that gereration, and a direct reflection of that lack of values. When we send children to school today, it is expected that the teacher and the school authorities will function as a second or even first set of parents. We feed the kids at least 2 meals daily because their parents do not. Almost one out of two kids are labeled disabled in one way or another to provide explanation for their lack of achievement. When one turns on the tele news, all we hear about is how hungry and deprived everyone is and how it is governments responsibility to provide everything.

Lets look at today's schools. Exactly what is happening and what is not happening. When a child is raised by parents who are uneducated; manifest no self worth; have no sense of pride or civic responsibility; have no role models to emulate; and cannot tell you ( 42% cannot in latest Marist poll) the name of the vice president of the United States...we have a problem. It is not a problem teachers can correct. It is a societal problem, and can only be corrected when leaders are willing to admit we have a breakdown in society and are willing to propose solutions to that breakdown.

Notice the top ten high schools in Maine in this stupid test. Every single one of them have many things in common. Some glaring commonalities are that the child is in the school voluntarily, understands the importance of an education, and is willing and able to listen to his teacher to accomplish an objective. In other words, when you put a willing student in front of a teacher, and the student’s parents participate enthusiastically, wonderful educational results will occur. Secondly, The socioeconomic make up of every one of those schools is far above the average. Third, almost the entire student population in all ten schools is happily college bound. That cannot be said for the bottom ten schools. The majority of the students in the bottom ten schools will not go on to college. They see no value in studying math and reading and doing well on exams. They will tell you that it does not apply to their lives. The parents don’t care. Why should they.

Maybe it is time for all the phd’s in Maine, along with Maine’s governor, to understand that as politically incorrect as it may seem, all kids are not created equal. All kids are not college material. Some kids are better with books than others. There is nothing wrong with being a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, working in manufacturing, or any other honest profession. What this country and state need are common core values, and what our kids need is a track that interests them and leads to a productive future. A lot is said about how unfair life was in the fifties. Was it really unfair? We had kids and parents select what kind of high school career they wished to pursue. College course;general course; industrial arts course,; etc. We gave up that system when a few goody two shoes decided that all kids should get a college education. Well folks, look at us now.

I can guarantee you that the teachers in the top schools are no better than the teachers in the bottom schools. Again, when you put a willing student in front of a teacher that student will achieve to his ability level. If the student is not prepared; gets no encouragement from home; sees no value to the subject matter; refuses to pay attention in class; does not do his homework; etc.; then failure will happen. Throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. Forcing all kids toward a college education is dead wrong and won’t fix it. Using a college SAT to measure learning success in not only wrong but stupid. Lets go back and reevaluate our goals for students. Lets give them a chance to succeed in a general course, for example. Lets teach things like civics once again so that kids will understand how their government works. Lets teach consumer math to kids instead of advanced algebra. If a kid’s ability as measured by observation and agreement leans toward vocational endeavors, lets provide that opportunity and encourage it. Every one can’t be a lawyer. If we must test results, lets test in areas relevant to the students courses and goals, and not to see if Harvard will accept him.

Bottom line...teachers are not the problem with our educational system. We are. Society is the problem. The governor loves charter schools. All charter schools do is take the willing students and the money out of public schools and leave the problems behind. If LePage can’t understand all of the above, then we need a new governor. Fast.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

“Bottom line...teachers are

“Bottom line...teachers are not the problem with our educational system. We are. Society is the problem. The governor loves charter schools. All charter schools do is take the willing students and the money out of public schools and leave the problems behind.”

There is nothing wrong with leaving the problems behind; that is one solution within my control.

There is nothing wrong with leaving the problems behind; that is one solution within my control.
Moreover, when you have a society that does not allow people to suffer the consequences of their bad judgment perpetuates those bad choices.


Reality check

Using the governor's system to evaluate schools in Maine is the equivalent to saying since so many of us are obese all of us are now required to qualify for the Olympics within a year or our insurance premiums will double. Forget your excuses. Age doesn't matter. Health not important. Disablilities don't count. Setting goals is good but setting one that is unattainable does not encourage progress quite the opposite. What the report card has shown us is that poor kids struggle more in school than kids from affluent families. It does not tell us how to help them to succeed. I have two ideas. First, set individual goals. We have testing that shows individual progress by specific skill. That should be the real measure of success. To set an arbitrary goal that all children have to know a specific skill by the age of 7 years sets poor kids up for failure. They achieve at different rates and often struggle more with skills that require learning in a linear order since their learning is more sporadic due to moving, illness, upheavals in their personal situations etc. Many do catch up later, however, if they get a decent set of basic skills early on. Secondly, we need to revisit the curriculum. It is way too 1950's, especially the high school curriculum. You remember the college track, the business track and the general track. Poor kids are pretty much stuck in the general track. It's no more effective today than it was then.

Eileen Messina's picture

Well said, Mr Rhoades!

Well said, Mr Rhoades!


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