Half of Maine students left in dust

Just days before the election, it’s anybody’s bet. Most of us are not statisticians. In fact, according to the recently released 2014 Education Indicators report from Educate Maine, a high school diploma or even a college degree is no indication that we can do the math.

Maine has an 86 percent high school graduation rate, leaving 14 percent of our kids without a basic education. Even more alarming, of the students that do graduate, less than half – less than half – of those students are proficient in reading and math.

How is it possible for over half of our high school students to earn a diploma if they are not proficient in reading and math? Why are they getting diplomas?

Educate Maine is an education advocacy organization comprised of business leaders and educators. For the last few years, they have produced an Education Indicators report. This year, a “benchmarks” section was added.

Ten indicators of education achievement were selected for these reports. They show where Maine stands regarding each indicator, and now the benchmarks offer a state goal with a timeframe for achievement. The report covers early childhood education, elementary and high school, and the college years, including affordability.

All through the K-12 years, the story of student achievement is dismal. In 4th grade, 37 percent of students are proficient in reading, 47 percent are proficient in math. In 8th grade, 38 percent of students are proficient in reading, while math proficiency has slipped to 40 percent. In 11th grade, only 49 percent of our kids are proficient in reading and math.

Public schools take all comers. Children who have had inadequate sleep, no breakfast, who are chronically absent from school, who live in a home full of turmoil, who receive no encouragement for academic performance, are all calculated into the proficiency mix.

Still, how can it be that these students are passed on from year to year without mastering the most basic skills to prepare them for life? But they are. Can’t anything be done to improve the situation?

Enter the Common Core State Standards. Common Core is a product of years of effort culminating in the release of a report by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Note that Common Core is not a federal program. Participants included teachers, parents, school administrators and others at the state level. That Common Core is being “rammed down our throats” by the federal government is a myth.

Driven by some of the same concerns raised by Educate Maine’s Education Indicators report, Common Core standards are meant to address the high number of high school graduates that need remedial course work to fully enroll in college.

Doesn’t every parent assume that once their child graduates from high school, he or she is ready to go on to the post-secondary program of their choice? It’s not the case. Twenty percent of students entering four-year colleges and 40 percent of students entering two-year (community) colleges require remedial courses.

Since 62 percent of jobs available by 2016 will require some level of post-secondary education, this inadequacy in K-12 education is a serious handicap for the 51 percent of our high school student who graduate lacking proficiency in reading and math.

The Common Core anticipates post-secondary education readiness in all high school graduates. The standards are not mandatory, and Common Core does not provide a curriculum. States may adopt the standards voluntarily and school districts must develop their own curricula to meet the standards.

The Maine legislature unanimously approved and Governor Paul LePage signed legislation to adopt Common Core standards in 2011, as did 45 other states. The Maine Learning Results, previously developed and adopted in our state, were incorporated into the Common Core.

The basic idea behind Common Core is that learning should be proficiency-based. Seat time in the classroom is meaningless if subject matter is not mastered. Serving your 12 years in elementary and secondary school is not what should count toward a diploma. Learning the material is what should matter.

The five-year goals in the Education Indicators report don’t all get Maine students to the half-way mark where proficiency is concerned. But at least they are a measurable step in the right direction. The goal for high school graduates is 70 percent proficiency in reading and math, a darn sight better than the current 49 percent.

Though a good education has intrinsic value on its own, it also has economic implications for our state. Students who graduate work-ready are the foundation of a workforce that creates successful businesses in Maine. Kids who graduate from Maine public high schools should be college-ready, period; those who earn a bachelor’s degree earn 75 percent more than those with a high school diploma.

The Common Core is yet another education innovation that our stalwart teaching force must absorb and implement. It may further reveal the flaws of the current system, but that is no reason to abandon it. The Common Core should be given a chance to lift our children to higher educational accomplishment and brighter economic futures. Check out the full report at the Educate Maine website.

Editor’s Note: Jill Goldthwait is a member of the Educate Maine Board of Directors.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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