Local superintendents praise new state education plan

AUBURN — The state education chief's proposal to emphasize real-life learning and use more technology in classrooms drew praise Tuesday from local school officials.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen's report did not include any new mandates for schools but called for more flexibility to try new methods.

“I like his proactive look at education in the state," Poland-based RSU 16 Superintendent Dennis Duquette said. "I agree with him. We do need a new set of skills.” Too many students are bored in school, he said.

Bowen said in the 35-page report that Maine's high school graduation rate of 82 percent remains unacceptably low and test-based accountability efforts don't work.

He called on schools to give students more control and choice in how they learn and to make learning more individualized, with teachers acting as coaches.

He proposed more "anytime, anywhere" education, with expanded access to digital learning. Technology could help give students customized learning. Schools should implement “proficiency based-learning,” which means allowing students to learn and progress at their own pace.

Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said proficiency-based learning could end conventional grade-grouping.

“It would be a group of teachers in charge of a group of students,” Grondin said. “The vision is not having grades; you're not in grade 1 for 175 days. It's, 'What are the learning targets for you? And I'm (the teacher who's) going to help facilitate that.' It's allowing students to move at their own pace.”

Auburn is already on the path outlined by Bowen, Grondin said. “We're pleased at the direction of the state. We're doing a lot of the work he's outlining.”

The Auburn School Department has given iPad tablet computers to all kindergarten students to help individualize learning, and has implemented expeditionary "real-life" learning at the middle school.

But what Bowen is talking about “is a huge shift," Grondin said. "It's going to take time."

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster called Bowen's plan impressive and ambitious. “Whether it's all achievable is open to question, but it's a great first step.”

Webster said Bowen is calling for “mass customized learning,” which is using technology for individualized lessons.

“Giving iPads to kindergarten students in Auburn is an example of that,” Webster said.

He agreed that students need more say and choices in their education, and that is beginning to happen. Students already know their test scores and their targets, he said.

“Martel Elementary is experimenting with students leading parent-teacher conferences," Webster said. "We're also looking to expand (the alternative) Lewiston Academy, have more in-school suspension programs.”

But giving students a bigger say must come with a good deal of public education, Webster said. Parents have to be on board, “or there's going to be backlash.”

Regional School Unit 16's Duquette said Poland Regional High School is doing some of what Bowen is calling for, but there's more to be done.

The high school has standards-based learning in which students progress when they've mastered what they need. Sometimes they need more time, sometimes less. “It's like taking a driver's test," Duquette said. "You may pass the first time; I may fail the first time but pass the second.”

Standards-based learning in Poland means students meet with their advisers every day to talk about goals. “That allows them to get to know the students well,” Duquette said. Students are given individual projects and internships to meet their goals.

But Duquette said his school is hampered by regulations. Students in the 10th grade at 11th-grade levels “are still confined to that grade,” he said.

Bowen's plan would mean more online courses and technology, which would engage more students and allow greater access to more courses, he said.

But change is difficult, Duquette said, adding that his district will be working on a new strategic vision. It will involve the School Committee, staff and townspeople in the RSU 16 towns of Poland, Minot and Mechanic Falls “to really talk about what our kids need. It's going to be a huge change.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

What happens when the lights go out

About two years ago I was in a local conveniance store during a snowstom to get three cans of cat food. Just as I got to the checkout counter the electricity died. I told this very nice girl of maybe sixteen or so, no problem I have the exact change for my purchase. She then informed me that it would be impossible to do that. Why I asked. She responded that she had no idea of what the total would be. Without the cash register, all life on earth comes to a stand still.
I then did something that truly amazed her, and possibly showed her that older people are good for something afterall. Using a pencil and piece of paper, I added up the three items ,then showed her how to multiply the sales tax into the mix and there it was "my total" without the use of all that machinery.
She was totally impressed, and I was a little depressed. Don't get me wrong I'm all for new technoligy,it makes life so much easier,but math has to be taught without the help of calculators and cash registers. Sooner or later the lights are going to go out again.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

A step in the right direction

For years I have been concerned that Mainers assume the only valid education happens under the aegis of the four walls of traditional schools. I see the Commissioners proposal as a step (needing guidance from our local teachers and administrators) in the right direction. Education happens everywhere and while there are aspects which are very essential which take place at a school and opportunities on line that directly address some of our STEM focus such as MIT's SCRATCH program http://scratch.mit.edu/ (helping children learn the math and logic required for computer programing and other fields), education also takes place out in our communities, but without guidance of teachers and parents, that can be overlooked or potentially lost. I've been very involved with following the efforts of such programs as FutureLab http://www.futurelab.org.uk/ in the UK which is very skilled at linking technology with formal education and education as it happens in a childs community or travels - and in that way capturing and helping transform some of those "ah ha!" moments into a deeper understanding. I think it's within those types of educational experiences, we might, as a state and a nation, regain some of the our lost ground that has helped make this state and country great. I appreciate all those who dedicate themselves to education of our children and am rooting for them to take it to the next level.

 's picture

Learning

For years schools have talked about individualized learning, well maybe it is here via technology, but other skills like gym, playing together, etc. cannot be individualized... we have to learn to accept the diversity of others, oh God, I sound liberal..

 's picture

Changes

These changes sound like a good direction to move in, but student led parent teacher conferences in the elementary schools, I doubt it will work well, with older HS kids this sounds like a fine idea.
Letting student move through education based on proficiency-based learning could end conventional grade-grouping. Not a bad idea if the student displays enough emotional maturity to handle the social interactions. Ex. A 6th grader working at an 11th grade level, but missing the social interaction of any peers would be harmful or at least cause minor disfunctions especially where things like gym or the team sports are concerned. Should we be considering doing away with all sports because there will be no one to play these games? I hope not as life skill and social skills go hand in hand with this kind of interaction... Academics, yes, but the rest needs more thought and work. No one wants to bore any student, but repetition is good. Remember your multiplication tables practice. Yes, you can do it on a computer too.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

My son is in Martel school

My son is in Martel school and will be presenting at the next parent teacher conference. I believe it is a good idea for him to learn how to be accountable for his work, how to present what they are learning, and how his effort impacts his grade. These are things I would love him to learn now as an elementary student before he gets to the middle and high schools and adopts the attitude that it's not my fault it's the teacher's fault or they can't teach. Let him learn now the importance of his education and maybe, just maybe, we can increase the number of students who graduate and go on to further their education.

As far as grouping them based on their abilities I disagree. My son is 11 and is academically where his peers are but socially he is younger then his years. He would be out of place in either group but would be more apt to catch up socially if he remains with students his age who are going through the same physical changes he is going through.

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