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LePage: more money does not improve student achievement

Governor Paul LePage said he is extremely concerned by 20 years of education efforts that have resulted in almost no gains in student achievement. He called on his education commissioner, school administrators and teacher unions to step up efforts at implementing innovative practices focused on student learning.

“Clearly, the status quo in education is not working,” he said.

His comments were in response to a report, “Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance,” released last Monday by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance.

The study reveals what Governor LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen have said since assuming office less than two years ago: test scores in Maine are stagnant, while other states are making progress.

In fact, while Maine spent $4,000 more per student from 1990 to 2009—well above the average—student achievement gains were the second worst in the country. In the fourth grade, Maine had the smallest gains of any state in overall in the annual rate of growth in reading and math scores combined.

In 1992, Maine had the third highest test scores in the country (out of 41 states in the study), but it has now fallen to number 12. And internationally, Maine does even worse, falling farther behind each year.

It’s important to be clear: Maine’s scores are still above average for the states. But Maine has made no substantial progress in over a decade on those scores, and other states are catching up and passing Maine.

The study shows that spending more on education made little difference in student achievement results. Florida, Colorado and North Carolina increased their spending by less than the national average and all showed increases in student achievement above the national average. Maine, West Virginia and New Mexico increased spending by more than the national average, but “the results were pathetic,” Governor LePage said. “Student achievement scores are barely rising.”

“Despite some of the highest state spending per student, Maine’s schools are not meeting the needs of Maine’s kids,” he said. “This report proves that more money does not equate to better results, and we must renew our focus through reform. We must support our teachers, improve their effectiveness and hold underperforming schools accountable. Maine students are paying the price because we have held the status quo for too long.”

And while Maine spends more and more on education, student achievement is not reflected in the investment. Tweaking the status quo is not solving Maine’s problems.

“Our public school system is failing, and we are allowing it to happen. There are states that are improving at two to three times the rate of Maine,” said Governor LePage.  “The only way we will climb the ladder is to implement meaningful change, such as school choice for students and families. School choice means a choice of opportunities, including access to virtual schools, and more access to early college programs for high school students.”

“We are also working on developing teacher evaluation systems in which teachers, working with school officials, agree on tough, fair and meaningful ways to measure teacher effectiveness and then use those evaluations in making decisions about teacher compensation, ways to help teachers improve and, sometimes, to get rid of teachers who can’t perform,” LePage said. “We need more schools and teachers across the state to follow in the footsteps of those pioneering schools that are already implementing these new evaluations.”

In report after report, Maine’s test scores remain flat. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress going back over a decade show little or no movement. In fact, from 1998 to 2011, the percentage of students meeting basic proficiency in reading in grades 4 and 8 dropped by 2 to 3 percentage points.

All of this is consistent with Maine’s own data: in the October 2011 NECAP assessment, only 63 percent of students were proficient in mathematics and only 73 percent were proficient in reading. That means that over a quarter of Maine’s students could not meet the standards Maine has set for them. Maine is moving to more rigorous standards in just two years “because the ones in place now are not high enough to challenge students and to prepare them for success after high school,” the governor said.

Nearly one out of every five students who enters ninth grade in Maine will not graduate four years later. The latest graduation rate for Maine is 83.8 percent. While Maine has shown some consistent progress in this area over the past three years, the numbers are still “abysmal,” according to Governor LePage.

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