July 27, 2012

LePage: High schools should pay for graduates' remedial college classes

The governor says the reputation of Maine's schools is suffering nationally. "I don't care where you go in this country – if you come from Maine, you're looked down upon now."

By Susan McMillan smcmillan@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday he will propose a bill in the next legislative session that will require school districts to pay for their graduates' remedial courses in college.

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HIGHER ED: Governor Paul LePage and Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen reacted to a report by Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance during a press conference Wednesday at the State House in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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"I don't care where you go in this country -- if you come from Maine, you're looked down upon," Gov. Paul LePage at Wednesday's press conference.

LePage cited the number of college students who need remedial classes as evidence of the ways Maine's education system is failing students and taxpayers.

Fifty-four percent of students entering the Maine Community College System need to re-learn basic skills, as do 20 to 25 percent of students at the state's four-year universities, LePage said.

"The parents of this state pay taxes for public education, then they have to pay a second time when their kids enter college," LePage said. "That's inappropriate."

LePage and Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen outlined their educational priorities at a news conference Wednesday at the State House, proposing new ABCs: accountability, best practices and choice.

They discussed the results of a report released last week by Harvard University's Program on Education Policy and Governance, which ranked Maine 40th out of 41 states in the study for growth in student test scores from 1992 to 2011.

The Maine School Management Association has said the governor isn't telling the whole story. The nonprofit association of school boards and superintendents said last week Maine ranks among the top-performing states on the standardized test the Harvard study used as a foundation for its report.

LePage said Wednesday the reputation of Maine's schools is suffering nationally. "I don't care where you go in this country -- if you come from Maine, you're looked down upon now," he said.

During the news conference, LePage said the College of William and Mary in Virginia, for example, requires Maine students to take a placement examination before even considering their applications.

However, college spokeswoman Suzanne Seurattan said later Wednesday said that's not true, and that William and Mary has no separate examination requirements based on a student's state of residency.

On his proposal for remedial courses, LePage said he does not know of any precedents in other states to require high schools to pay those costs, and he is exploring ways to implement it.

Last year, the Washington advocacy group Alliance for Excellent Education estimated that in the 2007-08 school year, Maine students spent $13 million on remedial courses.

"It's going to be controversial, but you've got to hold their feet to the fire if you're going to get these kids educated the way we expect them to be educated," LePage said.

Bowen said officials already knew Maine scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress were stagnant -- or, in the case of fourth-grade reading, on the decline.

"What we learned from this report from Harvard, though, is the extent to which other states have aggressively moved to improve student outcomes," Bowen said.

He said the Harvard report will guide Maine policymakers to look for lessons from the states and countries where student achievement is improving the fastest. The report's authors said there may be a connection between education reform and stronger rates of improvement, but it is "only anecdotal, not definitive."

Bowen and LePage said they think school choice will be key. Maine's first charter schools will open this fall, and Bowen said the open-enrollment policy that failed in the last Legislature is very similar to the one in Delaware, which had the third-fastest growth in scores.

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