Floor remarks in favor of proficiency-based learning: 26 June 2018

Thank you, Madame Speaker.

I rise with grave concern that this bill, as engrossed, with its proposed dual and separate graduation systems selected by individual schools, severely weakens the state’s generation-long commitment to equity of educational opportunity and to greater expectations for meaningful and ambitious learning outcomes for all Maine students — at a time when this state’s prosperity and well-being critically depends on skilled and knowledgeable citizens.

29 years ago, in 1989, during the 114th legislature, Governor McKernan issued an executive order creating the Commission on Maine’s Common Core of Learning

That Order charged:

Whereas, there should be common agreement on the common outcomes and results of education for all high school graduates, the Commission shall determine the knowledge, skills and attitudes that all Maine high school students should have when they graduate.

28 years ago, in 1990, that Commission produced Maine’s Common Core of Learning which established 151 goals for student learning.
Based on the recommendations of that report, in 1993, the 116th legislature expanded the role of the state board of education and charged the board to build a long-range plan to develop standards for learning outcomes to identify what ALL Maine students will be required to know and be able to do by the time they leave school.

With that plan, the State Board established that equal opportunity to learn should be ensured by a common set of learning results which embody high expectations from ALL students.

From that plan, 22 years ago in 1996, the State Board’s task force recommended that: To receive a high school diploma, ALL students must demonstrate achievement in the Learning Results

And 17 years ago, in 2001, the 120th legislature enacted the first proficiency-based graduation requirement.

That statute said:

Each student shall study and achieve proficiency in the eight content standard subject areas of the learning results. By 2009, graduation must be determined by student achievement of the standards of the system of learning results in all content areas.

Madame Speaker, for 17 years, it has been the statutory expectation in this state that schools are obligated to represent student achievement by objective measures of proficiency.  17 years — a transition period that spans the ENTIRE academic career of tens of thousands of Maine public school students.

But, during that time, the state also acknowledged that such a significant increase in educational expectations required a concurrent contract of increased support.

Believing that equity of educational opportunity requires an equitable distribution of public funding, 15 years ago, in 2003, the 121st legislature established the Essential Programs and Services funding model which is explicitly defined as

those educational resources …necessary to ensure the opportunity for all students to meet the standards in the 8 content standard subject areas of the system of learning results.

Madame Speaker, as you and other members know, for most of my legislative career, I have worked diligently to defend and build this commitment to truly equitable school funding — and the elusive 55% state share — because this is our side of the contract that the state made with schools in 2001 and 2003 to reach equity in ambitious learning opportunity though equity in funding.

Madame Speaker, I want members to understand that if we weaken the state’s responsibility toward assuring the Learning Results, it will concurrently weaken the argument for fair funding that we here in this chamber can make to Maine’s citizens.

Madame Speaker, you certainly remember that a year ago we here in this chamber shut the state down for three days over a budget that directed an unprecedented amount of additional state subsidy to schools.

I’m proud of that effort which we here accomplished, in the end, with a an astonishing unanimous vote in this chamber.

Understanding the accomplishment that budget represented — not just here, but to the citizens and taxpayers of this state — I am concerned about the message that we send to these same citizens and taxpayers — that, this year, accompanying this $138M increase in educational allocation, with this bill we are also making a sudden turn with sharply lowered expectations for equity in learning.

Yet Section 7 of the engrossed bill simply ERASES the basic accountability requirement that accredited Maine schools — not the students, Madame Speaker, the schools themselves — demonstrate evidence of sufficient capacity through multiple pathways for students to reach proficiency in each of the content areas of the system of learning results.

How on earth can that be interpreted other than as an abdication of commitment to the Learning Results by the state itself?

Section 11 of the engrossed bill strikes the parallel requirement in the Learning Results themselves and requires that schools are obligated only to provide opportunity and capacity for students simply to STUDY in the content areas.   And it strikes outright the requirement that schools ensure capacity and opportunity for students to actually achieve proficiency in the state’s learning standards.

How is this to be understood by the public other than as a capitulation of Maine’s commitment that schools graduate students in the possession of meaningful and consistent actual knowledge?

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Madame Speaker. this here is the heart of my objection to this bill as currently engrossed:

As long as Maine public schools have the continued obligation to provide multiple pathways for students to learn — and as long as we have common educational standards by which we objectively credential student learning — the question raised by this bill in its original presentation of whether the minimum requirements for a school to issue a diploma is either a high bar or a low bar is of only secondary concern.

But. as engrossed, this bill sends an 18 pound cannon-shot through the section of statute requiring both school educational capacity and objective student learning credentials.

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I understand the struggles that local school districts are engaged in implementing standards-based learning.

I have heard and agree with widespread criticism of the state’s uneven leadership and support in the most ambitious educational effort of this century.

But I would say that the answer to poor leadership is better leadership, not abdication of responsibility.

I believe that at this time, Maine’s schools, having engaged in the hard work required by this initiative, now need our own clear and unwavering support, not capitulation.

Good teachers and good school administrators are aghast that, after years of hard work on their part — and understand that this is indeed hard work — we are contemplating a reversal of this significance at this time.

I have heard it suggested that 25% of students are incapable of success in the learning results — I’ve even heard it said, even in this building, that that is “because you can’t fight genetics.”

I reject that premise.

Certainly there are those for whom the status quo is working well — for those who thrive on distinguishing themselves by excelling in the current conventional game of school in comparison to those for whom the established system is failing.

But what are the implications to our collective souls if we accept the premise that 25% of students will never succeed?

Rather than consigning these students to the same constricted avenues of educational misery and diminished expectations, why would we not understand that as an OBLIGATION to meet their actual learning needs, to offer them multiple pathways to success and self-actualization, and to give them — in fact — MORE authority over their own learning and the liberation from the pipeline of conventional academic credits that is offered by customized learning mapped to standards?

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Last, Madame Speaker, I would hope that Members would take it as significant that Maine School Management, Maine School Superintendents Association, and the Maine School Board Association — all of whom regularly testify reflexively against state mandates — in fact today are consistent advocates for retaining this proficiency model of statewide expectations and accountability.

I would also like those in this chamber who are concerned about equity of opportunity to understand the implications of the state abandoning common expectations about educational capacity and surrendering educational leadership to the vicissitudes of local capacity, local commitment, and local control.

All students… ALL students, Madame Speaker. Not just the fortunate students in communities with the wealth to exercise all the best options for learning.  Madame Speaker, our obligation here today in the statehouse has to be in defense and support of the disadvantaged schools and disadvantaged students.

Madame Speaker, with the greatest respect for my colleagues on all sides of this issue, I ask that we defend the basic principles of equity in educational opportunity by opposing this bill as currently engrossed.

Further, Madame Speaker, given the significance of the proposed policy change, I request a roll call.

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