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MEA Reacts to Commissioner Bowen’s Draft Strategic Plan

Augusta -

AUGUSTA, Maine — Stephen Bowen, Maine’s Commissioner of Education, released a 20-point plan to transform K-12 public schools in the state. In many respects, the plan is bold and ambitious. The plan addresses a wide array of topics and, in most cases, establishes ambitious deadlines to achieve the intended result. “This plan constitutes the largest and most thorough undertaking to come out of the Maine Department of Education in years,” said MEA President Chris Galgay.
Overall, the Maine Education Association (MEA) is pleased with this plan and will be supporting some elements of it. For example the MEA supports the Commissioner’s plans to coordinate health and wellness programs in the state and to develop plans to engage more families and communities in our local schools. “If kids come to school hungry, or in need of medical or dental care, we simply cannot expect them to learn and grow and thrive,” said Chris Galgay. “Making sure our students have access to the services they need to be healthy is critical to their success in school.”
The MEA also supports other elements of the plan including the Commissioner’s plan to develop rigorous standards and aligned curricula, learner-center instructional practices, and assessment systems that track multiple measures of student growth and achievement, among others.
“While at this stage the Draft Plan lacks significant detail, we feel comfortable offering our conditional support to some of his efforts, but we look forward to learning more about the Commissioner’s plans and designs,” continued Galgay.
However, just as the MEA will vehemently argue for the reforms its members support, the organization will be equally diligent in opposing those efforts that run counter to the interests of Maine’s students. For example, the Draft Plan calls for an expansion of so-called “school choice” for Maine’s students. While the term “school choice” may hold appeal as a buzzword, unbridled choice options for Maine’s students will have an extremely destabilizing effect on Maine’s public schools, particularly our rural schools and smaller districts. In addition, a large scale expansion of school choice will inevitably result in widening disparities between Maine’s school districts, thus setting up high-performing schools for the “haves” and leaving the “have nots” in struggling schools with even fewer resources. While the MEA will oppose large scale efforts to open choice broadly, it will support meaningful system reforms to insure that every student has access to the course offerings they want and need.
The MEA is most interested in learning more about the Commissioner’s plan regarding teacher evaluations. The MEA has consistently argued that teachers need regular, fair and consistent evaluations. In fact, the MEA recently adopted a position paper outlining the criteria the organization supports. The position includes using student data as one criteria for evaluating teachers and counseling teachers out of the profession if, after given time and resources to improve, the teacher is unable to meet the needs of the students and the school. To read the MEA’s Policy Statement on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability, click here: http://www.maine.nea.org/assets/document/ME/Teacher_Eval_Accnt-Adopted_10-1-11.pdf
Just a few weeks ago, the MEA invited leaders from the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) to a meeting with the Commissioner and representatives of other educational organizations in the state. In the meeting, representatives from the MTA described the next generation evaluation model they have adopted and implemented in many schools in Massachusetts. The MTA model uses the criteria described above. For a full presentation on the MTA evaluation model, see http://www.massteacher.org/advocating/~/media/Files/PDFs/CEPP/evalreport.pdf
Lastly, if any effort to improve our schools is going to be successful, stakeholders must be meaningfully engaged. For example, if the Commissioner is serious about encouraging more schools to adopt a standards-based proficiency model, teachers and other educators must be engaged in the development and implementation of such models. This is just one example among many.
“Teachers are indisputably the backbone of our schools,” said Galgay. “They are the front line professionals we entrust our children with. They must be considered key stakeholders in nearly every element of this 20 point plan in order for it to be successful. Just as collaboration is key to the success of Maine’s schools and Maine’s students, collaboration is equally critical to the success of this plan. Maine teachers are ready to work side-by-side with this Commissioner to implement the goals we agree with in this plan, and we look forward to more discussions with him concerning the areas where we have fundamental disagreements.”

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Contact Name: John Kosinski