A better yardstick for judging schools

A new statewide evaluation system for teachers and principals will help Maine qualify for "Race to the Top" federal school funding.

That's good, but the criteria adopted must seem cruelly ironic to the handful of school principals around the state who are losing their jobs to qualify for a different federal program.

In May, 10 schools in the state were identified as "persistently low-performing," including Livermore Falls High School and Longley Elementary School in Lewiston, using test-score-based criteria.

Seven of the 10 schools decided to put their pride aside and apply for the federal money. Three other high schools — Houlton, Hodgdon and Madison Area — rejected the opportunity.

The participating schools now will be eligible to share $9 million in federal funding. Most are, however, required to remove the school's principal to qualify.

Good or bad, the principal goes. This idea might have looked smart to a bureaucrat in Washington angling to guarantee a school fresh leadership.

However, it was a broad sword that discounted many factors that might account for a school's problems.

Longley Elementary, where Tom Hood has been principal for 12 years, is a perfect example.

An estimated 96 percent of Longley's students live in poverty, and 62 percent are foreign immigrants, compared to 3 percent statewide.

What's more, the school's population is constantly changing. Of the 33 students in third grade, only six have been at the school since kindergarten.

Language, culture, mobility, poverty — Longley's teachers and principal face a host of handicaps.

Regardless of past performance, Hood will go, all to satisfy this one-size-fits-all test-score policy.

Contrast that with the new evaluation policy being developed for Maine by a group of stakeholders that includes teachers, principals and state education officials.

While that yardstick is not yet finalized, it will take into account student "growth," defined as an individual student's progress or achievement over the course of a year.

What counts is improvement over time, rather than everyone in the class meeting a single standard.

That's only fair, since neither a teacher nor principal can control the capabilities of a student entering the classroom. The goal should be moving that student a grade level or more forward by the end of that school year, regardless of their starting point.

Critics of public education sometimes seem to assume that every child shows up like a perfect learning robot, performing at grade level with parental support and ready to learn.

In the real world, some children arrive with a collection of learning hurdles outside a teacher's control.

Is that child loved? Does he speak English? Has he ever been in a classroom? Is he living with both parents, or even one parent? Are they living in a home? Is he hungry? Had enough sleep? In fear of domestic violence or sexual abuse?

All of these problems distract from a child's capacity to learn, and nearly all of them are exacerbated by poverty and rootlessness.

Are there lazy or incompetent teachers and principals out there? Yes. We hope the new evaluation system roots them out.

There are good ones, too, and it is imperative we know the difference.

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Thanks to the Sisters of

Thanks to the Sisters of Charity for without their help none of this mess we are in would have happened in the first place. Thanks for your endevor to your efforts we have the lowest scores due to your immagrant efforts and their lack of the spoken word and your ignorance of the impact of thousands of children who are unable to speak or read english let loose on a community. And how is it possible you have an office in the city building I mean really is it not a violation of church and state?

Michael Schaedler's picture

tenure +

If a child is told he/she is unteachable or treated as if the teacher feels that is the case, the child will not excel.
If a child is treated like they are not wanted they will not excel.
If a child is offered confusing and boring class work they will not excel.
When a more energetic positive qualified teacher is let go or moved to class they are less qualified for, because of tenure or contractual bumping requirements, the child will not excel.
There are contractual reasons children won't excel, while costing the taxpayers the maximum amount of money possible.
Just some other reasons than those that put all the blame on the kids, as some would have it.

Nathan McCarron's picture

Well, you're full of it....

My daughter's class at Geiger has 14 children. 10 are Somali. My assumption is these kids were born here, but seriously... I think there are more issues than immigrant families.

Nathan McCarron's picture

PreK has a 14:2 ratio

Lewiston PreK has a 14:2 ratio in the classes. I cannot speak to Kindergarten or other class sizes as I won't know until the fall.

Nathan McCarron's picture

Wrap your mind around this...

Tough for you to wrap that mind around, but think bigger picture. Last I checked there are immigrants attending Auburn schools and somehow they are nearly half the drop out rate of Leiwston. Montello's scores are within 2-3 points of being as poor as Longley. There is a bigger problem. Teachers? Maybe... Immigrants? Maybe... But could some of the problems start at home? Some of these parents treat our school system (and extra activities) as some sort of glorified baby-sitting service.

My co-worker and I were discussing the con/pro of sending kids to Parochial schools. Kids come from all sorts of backgrounds, and yes maybe the families are capable of being in a better socio-economic bracket... but the common denominator appears to be a group of like-minded parents who expect/involve themselves in being part of their children's education process.

Could that be the element that is missing from our school system nowadays?


Thinkingman can't spell editorial with it printed for him? just sayin

the kids can't help it where they came from....but there is a strain on everyone in the twin cities from the serge of newcomers.They are not going away, so how do we bring them into our community?

 's picture


Could it possibly be the quality of the teachers? I am not a teacher but the principles are in charge of his/her school and it's success. He/She should weed out the deadwood teachers, Union or not. Think of it this way, If a school has problems with children not learning, who else could be at fault? Not Pres. Bush! Not the democrats in Augusta!

Nathan McCarron's picture

LSJ missing the bigger picture

Put aside the 7 out of 10. Why does LHS have a 1 in 12 dropout rate when EL has a 1 in 25 ?? Why is Montello a failing school for consecutive years in a row ?? It's not just poverty and immigrants, there's a fundamental breakdown in how we're approaching this. There are schools in Boston, NYC, Chicago, etc, where the poorest of the poorest are mingled with immigrants and these schools succeed to produce competent graduates. Why can't we get one of the largest elementary schools in the state to produce better than a 40-45% "proficient for their grade level" ?? There has to be an ingredient we're missing in this recipe... I only wish I knew what it was.


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