Failure of public education

The Sun Journal editorial of Aug. 25 supported abolishing the testing provisions of the No Child Left Behind law. It is unfortunate, but school officials are in agreement; they have yet to encounter a test they aren’t willing to avoid. They are like unsuccessful dieters who dislike weight scales because of what is revealed.

The problem is neither about tests nor scales, but about failure that both dieters and school officials would prefer to ignore.

It is difficult for ordinary citizens to recognize that our public schools are failing; our schools continue to give students passing grades, continue to promote them, eventually to graduate them. School failure would go undetected except for the testing required by NCLB, which, when used like a thermometer to gauge each school’s condition, reveals failing schools.

Fifty percent or more of local high school juniors failed to score proficient or higher on a recent SAT. Local employers acknowledge this failure when they test high school graduates to ensure they have ninth-grade skills.

At Central Maine Community College, nearly 40 percent of the high school graduates who enrolled in the fall of 2010 had to take remedial courses, courses that should have been taught and mastered in high school.

The educational system is like a manufacturing company where inspectors and creative engineers are no longer present. Defective products continue their unimpeded journey on the production line until falsely presented as complete.

Some educators, desperate to explain their failure, claim they are insufficiently funded. Yet, half the state and municipal budgets are spent on education in its various forms.

We fail because we are so embedded within our failure.

We are unable to make meaningful changes; the teachers’ union is obdurately resistant and local school boards are fearful of displeasing a powerful lobbyist.

When schools are reformed, we should be able to terminate an ineffective teacher; we should be able to grade teachers by the performance of their students. We should be able to reform a sick leave policy whereby teachers are allocated 15 sick days annually and can purchase an additional 20 days, by paying for a substitute teacher. But, we remain powerless, except for the ability to change the school boards.

The daily newspaper, whose unwritten responsibility includes acting as a community sentinel, should be aware of the failure of local public education, should be able to predict the continuing deleterious effect upon students and the community and, accordingly, should actively campaign to correct the failure.

Why, then, would the newspaper want to eliminate the testing that so definitively reveals the failure of public education?

Richard Sabine, Lewiston

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



Steve  Dosh's picture

Failure of public education

. ....i should have titled it ' Failure of Parenting . Happy Labor Day all parents . Labor of L o v e :)

RONALD RIML's picture

Merit pay for teachers is about as applicable

As merit pay for the military.....

"Gee Major, if I blow away another forty (fill in the blanks) do I get my Bonus for the Month??"

- "No, you just don't get Court-Martialed like Lt. Calley did...."


Culling the incompetents and the slackers

I hear the governor praised a federally funded study this week designed to come up with some sort of merit pay evaluation instrument for teachers. The problem with merit pay based on student test scores is that it is inherently unfair and damaging to the education of the students. Think about this. Suppose you are graduating from teacher's college and you have a choice to teach in Cape Elizabeth or in the slums of Boston. If you are planning a long term career you are in Maine. Boston will burn you out and your students will be low scorers and you will need a lot more training to work with them if you are to succeed. The teachers who work the hardest and are the most dedicated and trained are the ones who work with learning disabled, physically and emotionally disabled students. Those students are also the low scorers on the tests. These teachers are hard to find, hard to replace and they tend to burn out sooner. Penalizing them for the students they choose to work with will only aggravate the problem. If there are incompetent teachers in the schools it is a problem with the administrators who are not doing their evaluations or following up on them. They, by the way, are not union employees.

RONALD RIML's picture

Turn off the Television

No screwing off for the Kids

And no Rush for the Parents



It's obvious from some of the comments that a lot of folks here have not set foot in a schoolroom since the 70's. "socialist agenda, indoctrination techniques" ? What nonsense! Unless you consider school lunch to be socialism? As for the union keeping unfit teachers in the classroom that is also from the stone age. Teachers are fired all the time. The only protection the union gets you is that they are required to tell you why you are being let go.
During your first two years of teaching they don't even need a reason. The only indoctrination going on here is from Fox news and Rush.

 's picture


You would not allow a parent, who conveniently now has most of the responsibility for his child's education, to question in public the methods of teachers or the contents of the material they're pounding into the heads of the little darlings. That's scary. You're way beyond unionism and wading in muck the world hasn't seen since Germany in the 30s.

 's picture

Obviously... don't get out much. The proof lies in your reference to Nazism. There is a complete lack of discipline on the part of parents these days, with barely any responsibility for a childs education. As junior breaks a jar in the grocery store, you can hear the mother yell at him not to do that. That's it. No punishment. Then the parent denies the kid did anything, the jar simply fell off the shelf. Teachers are not allowed to discipline children anymore, under the threat of a law suit. Why such high unemployment? Look in the mirror.

Jason Theriault's picture

Your know what I love

I love how, according to Republicans, parents are completely excused from the failure here. Yes, the failure is with the unions and the socialist policies, not the parents.

Maybe if parents gave a damn, their kids would do better.

I have a brave new solution to this problem. If kids fail the class at the end of the year, the parents are charged to cost of it.

 's picture

All Republicans I know ...

... want to participate as much as they can in their children's education, but are thwarted at every turn by PC regulations promulgated by politicians and unions. Your cowardly old solution is to heap more blame on the messengers and to ignore the message.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You are correct about the

You are correct about the parents being responsible to a great part, for the academic failures of their kids. But this parental burden of responsibility should in no way absolve the unions and the indoctrination techniques of the teachers and their socialist agenda from their share of the blame. Like Hillary Clinton used to like to say, 'It takes a village to raise a child'. What she didn't tell us is that it also takes a village to keep them academically inept.

Jason Theriault's picture

Answer me this:

Is it the job of the union to protect teachers and get them as much benefits as possible?
Is it the job of the unions to educate children?

Put it this way - is anyone worried about how our colleges stack up? No, they are regarded as some of the best. Yet they have the same unions and whatnot that lower schools have. So I doubt the unions are to blame.

The more I think of it, the more I like my solution of making parents pay if their kids fail. Sorry, school is just daycare. You need to participate.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The quality of education

The quality of education would be considerably improved without the teachers' unions. Then, the taxpayers would be able to cull the herd by getting rid of the incompetents and the slackers and, keeping the best qualified teachers employed. With the unions, we can't do that, because they protect all teachers regardless of their competency level.
Don't recall if it's in New York or New Jersey, but there are teachers being paid in excess of $60,000 a year to sit in a room all day doing nothing. They've been deemed not fit to teach in the classrooms for various reasons, but the school dept. can't release them because they're protected by the union.

Jason Theriault's picture

That isn't Maine

Average starting salary in Maine is $26,000. Average salary is $40,000. Woohoo, that Union sure got us.

Jim Cyr's picture

Apples and oranges

are not the same. A teacher's salary is based on less then 9 months of work to which they are fully aware when becoming a teacher and the other is based on 12 months. Becoming a teacher is for the love of the doctors ,EMT's, fire fighters, police officers. And I don't believe the starting salary in Maine is $40,000. The biggest problem with the socialist school system is the lack of choice!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

When did the topic become

When did the topic become anecdotally acceptable only if the content pertained to Maine? Guess I missed that.

Jason Theriault's picture

Why do I care about New York Schools?

If NY wants to mess up their schools, let em. I don't pay for it and more importantly, I don't have a say in how they run their schools. So I can shout at a wall, or direct my efforts where they are useful.

I'm concerned with Maine, and more in particular, Auburn schools, where I can make a difference.

Also, the original letter writer referenced only Maine schools, so I though that was the context of the argument

Bernice Fraser's picture

don't care

You do pay for the New York schools and all other schools in this country , through Federal taxes.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

I have a hard time convincing

I have a hard time convincing myself that these forums have any boundaries, whatsoever. I understand your concern over Auburn schools if that's where your affiliations are.

 's picture

Apples / Oranges

Public schools through HS are funded by property taxes, the most regressive tax we have; and of course through the 55% beneficence that Augusta has never even tried to meet. Colleges are funded by private means or public state-level funds, mostly from income taxes. Public education already hits hardest the parents, who you want to blame further, who both (when you can find two in a family) have to work one or more jobs just to tread water to support the rest of the welfare state.

You want to hear unions howl? Suggest that secondary public education be paid for by our wonderful "progressive" income tax. Hold your ears.

Jason Theriault's picture

The root:

"Public education already hits hardest the parents, who you want to blame further"

Parents are the single biggest factor. No one here will dispute that I bet. So why aren't we going after the root cause? If kids go home to a crappy household where their parents couldn't care less, then of course they are going to fail. They have bigger issues to deal with, and no amount of union busting is going to fix that.

Raising a kid is a job. If you can't hack that, you shouldn't have kids. Stop blaming teachers for the failures of parents.

(and no, I'm not a teacher)

 's picture

The kids go home ...

... to an empty household. Is that your definition of crappy? It's empty because decades of liberal policies aimed at dismantling the family have succeeded to a disgusting level.

 's picture

Good plan.

Raising a kid is a job. If you can't hack that, you shouldn't have kids.

It would invalidate about 90% of Maine's welfare state, the basis of which currently is: If you can manage the monumental accomplishment of producing a child, we'll give you everything you need for the rest of your life. Good luck getting that passed the PC police.

Jason Theriault's picture

Sorry to bust your balloon

But if your working 2 jobs, your more than likely earning too much to qualify for welfare.

And the reply to your other post(trying to consolidate here):
"to an empty household. Is that your definition of crappy? It's empty because decades of liberal policies aimed at dismantling the family have succeeded to a disgusting level."

Again, focusing on making this a partisan issue is self defeating. You can throw mud at the Liberals, they can throw mud at you, and the end result is everyone is dirty and nothing got done.

I know your solution is make all schools private, but that wont work any more than backing up a dump truck of money to the school will. Both of the partisan solutions wont work. We need to focus where the problem is - the parents. I don't care if your work 1, 2 or 10 jobs. If your kids are failing in school, your are not doing your job as a parent. That's the bottom line. Great students and poor students graduate from both public and private schools. I think the biggest difference is parents.


Who is failing?

I'm old enough to remember when kids who did not do well in school were repeated until they got embarrasingly old and then they dropped out and went to do manual labor. Naturally, the ones who remained nearly all graduated with good academic skills since the rest had been driven out. Today we are trying to educate everybody to the best of their abilities and since NCLB we are trying to educate everybody to the level of a 12 year education. We have to do this because manual labor has pretty much been replaced with technology. The problem is twofold. Thanks to the explosion of knowledge in the last 25 years we are trying to teach 10 times as much to kids who have half the ability as those of years gone by. Amazingly while people complain of our failure to do this they also want to cut our resources and personnel and whenever they have a chance to do so they refuse to pay for a longer school year or day. We are constantly being compared with other countries where students do better but no one mentions that they have longer school days and years and they drop out students who do not do well and they usually provide better teacher resources and training. As for testing, no one learns anything from a test but some testing companies are really making good money.

RONALD RIML's picture

Richard compares 'Education" to "Manufacturing"....


A manufacturer can reject defective stock, or switch suppliers of 'raw product'

And Richard complains of 'Teachers' - Amazing!!!!


yes - I misspelled a word

gasp! here should have been hear.

Unfortunately, I didn't proofread until after posting and this site does not permit editing.


Part of the blame

As a former teacher, I know that some teachers are not performing well and are partially to blame for student achievement. BUT - a significant part of the blame also lies elsewhere and this letter is a perfect example of the problem with education today. Kids walk into the classroom bringing the attitudes they here at the supper table, in the newspaper, on the street and on television - people who can do, people who can't teach or teachers are overpaid and underworked. Communities, politicians, parents and letters to the editor writers all love to blame teachers. When a student comes into the classroom with an attitude, they are not motivated to learn and will not learn.

Sad - but true - Mr. Sabine. You are as much to blame as any teacher.

As for No Child and its standardized test. That encourages dishonesty. There is an incentive for schools to teach to the test. I worked in the same district as a 4th Grade teacher who taught to achievement tests every year. Her kids scored very high and every year those kids came into the 5th grade totally unprepared to do 5th grade work because they couldn't think. But I'm getting to much into what actually constitutes learning. It doesn't lend itself well to political speeches from a President who prided himself on earning a gentleman's C as a legacy student.

Jason Theriault's picture

The problem is that people don't know what their talking about.

If you want to improve fuel economy in cars, we need to enforce stricter emission standards.

I just made that up. I don't know if that will lead to more fuel efficient cars or not, but it sounds credible. My point is that the letter writer doesn't bring any evidence to the table. He saw a perceived problem, and then guessed a solution.

I can see many problems When people measure performance by standardized testing, there is pressure to teach to the test, and not the subject.

I'm not saying I have a solution. I am just warning against knee-jerk partisan solutions.

Edward Bulger's picture

NCLB gets the "F"ailing grade

Tests to become a teacher are difficult to pass and expensive. If the potential teacher fails he/she has to pay to take it again. When I was educated 35 years ago teachers taught class's they specialized in. Now they have to know how to master it all, or at least pass the test. That is the problem I see. I know first hand people who do great taking tests but are terrible doing the work that they are being tested for. I also know people who have years doing work better then most doing the same task that if they had to pass math to be qualified would not get the job. Granted there should be testing to a degree but it should be done locally and interviews for teaching jobs should carry more weight then they do at the present. This is especially true for teaching skills such as Industrial Education, Home Economics, Art, and Music. What may be happening with the three R’s ? That’s scary. No. Child . Left. Behind. Is a failure. All across the country we hear of teachers who pass failing children in order to keep their jobs. My guess is they are good at taking the tests but not so good at retaining and sharing their knowledge.

(We are unable to make meaningful changes; the teachers’ union is obdurately resistant and local school boards are fearful of displeasing a powerful lobbyist.)

Here we go again blaming another "Bush" failure on someone else. The Unions don't hire the workers the company’s do. Unions protect workers rights and negotiate contracts. This applies the same way with carpenters nurses state workers mill workers and teachers. With NCLB all you have to do is pass the test . That doesn't make you a teacher. Being able to share your knowledge does. On the job training will always prove more then a test.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"When I was educated 35 years

"When I was educated 35 years ago teachers taught class's"...
You must've skipped a couple, Ed. There's no apostrophe in classes. 0O:-)
Honestly, though, I believe the rule being taught in Maine schools is "When in doubt, slap an apostrophe on it".


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...