Tuesday August 24, 2010 | 11:02 AM

Paul LePage resurfaced on Monday in an appearance before the Waterville Rotary Club.

In his address to club members, he had a few words to say about education.

From my colleague Rebekah Metzler:

On education, LePage said Maine's 20 percent high school dropout rate is unacceptable.
"I hope to get that down at least by 50 percent and, frankly, the money is already there," he said. "Currently in the state of Maine, we are in the top third in spending and in the bottom third in results. We need to flip-flop that."

I've heard LePage recite this line before, but I've struggled to come up with the factual origin for the results part.

The common mode for comparing state results in this sense is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, taken by fourth- and eighth-grade students in each state.

There's even an easy way to compare state results online, courtesy of the National Center for Education Statistics (a project of the same U.S. Department of Education the Maine Republican Party officially seeks to abolish).

To fact-check LePage's statement, you don't even have to dive that deeply into this data repository. Simply bring up Maine's comparison to the national average, and you'll see that Maine's fourth- and eighth-grade students have exceeded it in every measure shown, in some cases going back to 1998.

If LePage was referring to graduation rates, Maine again posts numbers above the national average. Here are state-by-state comparisons for 2005-06: Maine's 76.3 percent outranks the national average of 73.2 percent for the percentage of freshman who had completed high school within four years.

If Maine students are exceeding the national average, there's no way they could rank in the bottom third in results.

When it comes to spending, though, LePage is absolutely right on a per-pupil basis. The most recently available data show that Maine ranks 15th nationwide on per-pupil expenditures.


Update, 4:45 p.m.:

John McGough, LePage's deputy chief of staff, clarifies that the results the candidate refers to are Maine's SAT scores. Here's his email to me:

Just a quick follow up to your fact check regarding the Mayor's discussion on education spending and results.  The Mayor is referring to Maine's performance in SAT scores in comparison to other states.


Of course, we recognize that Maine requires all students to take the SAT.  That obviously impacts our low average.  However, if you go back and examine the data prior to the state adopting it as an achievement test in the spring of 2006, you will see that Maine still ranked in the bottom third for performance.   At no point going back to 2001 did we rank higher than 40th on average combined SAT scores, even in the years prior to the mandated use of the test for all students.  I’ve included the data from 2004 and 2005 below for your review.


The Mayor believes that the SAT is a measure of college readiness.  That should be our goal – to have our kids ready for college.  Yet our SAT scores have ranked in the bottom third of all states over the past few years, even before we started having all students take the SAT test in 11th grade.  The simple fact is that we are spending more than most states and just not getting enough of our kids ready to go on to college, which should be our goal no matter what they choose to do.


Mayor LePage believes that our education dollars should be used to advance learning, not to fund a bloated education bureaucracy.  As Governor, he will prioritize our limited education dollars so students and teachers have the resources they need to achieve success inside and outside the classroom.


Jim Burke over at Learning in Maine has an intriguing post examining some beyond-the-surface contradictions associated with support for the development and widespread adoption of the Common Core state standards.

Apparently, Burke points out, Bill Gates is trying to have it both ways. His foundation is a major funder of the development of the Common Core state standards, and he's also a supporter of a curriculum mapping project by an organization of a similar name, called the Common Core. The curriculum mapping project takes the Common Core state standards and divides them into units meant to help teachers plan their year.

Just as the Common Core releases its draft curriculum maps, the group is publicly opposing the mission of a group called Partnership for 21st Century Skills in favor of a more classical approach to education. Gates' Microsoft, Burke points out, is among those lending their support to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. It's important to note, however, that Gates' foundation is not listed as a partnership supporter.

Where does Maine fit in this tangled web?

Well, the Maine Department of Education is planning to provisionally adopt the Common Core state standards in the coming months, and the Legislature will have the final say when it reconvenes in the winter. The state Department of Education, however, has been working toward Common Core adoption.

Perhaps some Maine teachers will embrace the Common Core curriculum maps to help plan their units around new standards.

At the same time, Maine is listed as a supporting state of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the state's movement toward standards-based education -- not to mention its embrace of one-to-one laptop computing -- adhere to the 21st century philosophical line.

Maine's full implementation of the Common Core state standards is still a few years off, but it will be interesting to see how this contradiction is resolved.

Will state education officials push schools toward using the anti-21st century skills maps while continuing to embrace 21st century skills?

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