During the last push to trim the state budget, the governor looked to consolidation of school districts. The drumbeat of consolidation now has the state focusing on local services even more, due to the significant funding provided to cities and towns.

While many communities are ready to fight to keep from merging their school district with neighboring communities, others have endorsed consolidating administration and will soon be creating new school boards to oversee these larger organizations.

Amid hollering in the hallowed halls of the State House to protect local control, it remained unclear how continuously reducing the number of school districts was some stroke of genius to improve how we deliver education in Maine.

The creativity to develop new approaches to public policy seems to be driven in Maine more by incentive to close massive budget holes than by innovation or entrepreneurship.

Perhaps we could look at education delivery through new lenses, the first the traditional push for efficiency – business mergers – and the second the evolution of men and women.

When one corporation merges with another, there is typically a market they’re looking to enter or trying to deliver a product in a market more efficiently. This is seen with retail stores, banks and other types of businesses.

Schools and business might not be perfect comparisons, but what else defines the market for education at the local level in Maine if the goal is efficient delivery of that service?

This sounds logical. Entities should merge to expand their markets or improve their service.

However, logic has yet to be applied to attempts to consolidate school districts. Instead, politically palatable metrics are set up to protect more powerful communities from mergers (take Auburn, Lewiston and Portland), while rural communities are forced together.

In the push for innovation, perhaps the better question for rebuilding an educational system, not just in Maine but in the country as a whole, might originate from the concept of evolution.

Look at the last 100 years or so and how much we’ve evolved as people and a society. Many amazing feats have occurred to advance the human race technologically and physically.

Changing from the telegraph to the BlackBerry and iPhone is one good example. In an instant, people around the globe can communicate with one another. Delivery and synthesis of information has revolutionized most processes that were once done by hand.

In sport, we see achievements occurring from the local youth league to the Olympics this past summer that might not have been imaginable early in the last century. This is occurring because of research and advances in training, diet and understanding of the human body.

How does this relate to education?

Even with technological advances and new approaches to physical training, we still utilize an archaic system of K-12 and the four-year bachelor degree to provide mental training.

At 5, you start school. At 18, you end school, and perhaps attend college.

This is just as it was in the early 1900’s.

Are we – as a culture – unable to create a system in which, based on regular assessment, students progress through an educational system at their pace, not the long-standing (but arbitrary) approach that is based on years in the classroom?

There is no disagreement about the need to find efficiencies by eliminating redundant administration, but at some point, a bigger school district is not better positioned to provide an effective learning environment, which is what’s most necessary.

To do this, Maine and the nation needs education innovation. Yet with a massive budget deficit facing the state again, don’t expect this to be the year for it.

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal. E-mail: [email protected]


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