Fri, Jul 25, 2014 ●
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The Universal Notebook: LePage, Bowen both get F's

Opinion

The Universal Notebook: LePage, Bowen both get F's

Did anyone ever benefit from being publicly identified as a total failure? I don’t think so. But that’s what Gov. Paul LePage and education Commissioner Stephen Bowen have done by releasing a completely bogus Maine School Performance Grading System report card that ranks some 600 public schools in Maine A to F.

The Maine Department of Education grades are bogus – as in arbitrary, capricious, mean-spirited and meaningless – because, with a few exceptions, anyone with a passing knowledge of Maine social geography could have graded every school in the state just by knowing where they are. Schools in wealthy suburbs get A's and B's. Schools in desperately poor communities and multicultural urban areas get D's and F's. Surprise. Surprise.

High schools in Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Kennebunk, Scarborough, Yarmouth and York got A's, along with the all-star public prep schools John Bapst in Bangor and Maine School of Science & Mathematics in Limestone. Woodland Junior-Senior High School in Baileyville, Lee Academy, Narraguagus High in Harrington, Limestone Community School, Penquis Valley High in Milo, Forest Hills Consolidated School in Jackman, Upper Kennebec Valley High School in Bingham, Telstar High School in Andover and East Grand School in Danforth got F's.

The unspoken truth about school performance anywhere and everywhere is that the primary indicator of academic success is who the parents are. You couldn’t take the faculty from Falmouth High School, put it in Baileyville, and expect it to turn Woodland’s F into an A. The DOE rubric did not take socioeconomic factors into account.

The only surprises I found on the high school listings (and I’m not going to deal with the elementary school grades because they are just too cruel) were Marshwood High School in Eliot, which earned an A, and Deering High School in Portland, which got a D, as did Portland High School. I can only assume that Deering’s grade reflects the challenges to standardized testing faced by schools with a great many students from diverse backgrounds and for whom English is a second language.

Suffice it to say that any grades doled out by Messrs. LePage and Bowen can safely be ignored. They say they only want to help poor, struggling schools, but there is no evidence whatsoever that they are sincere. They are simply indulging in the judge-and-punish mindset of the ultraconservative.

It has become painfully obvious since his election that LePage dislikes public schools and public school teachers. He has publicly called them liars and notoriously said that you can’t get a good education in Maine unless you go to a private school. LePage badmouths Maine every chance he gets, so he cannot be trusted to have the best interests of Maine schools at heart when he comes up with hare-brained schemes like school report cards.

Bowen came into office pushing a virtual school-charter school agenda. He is a champion of privatizing public education and turning it into a for-profit business. I read his report cards as a tool for condemning public schools and trying to make the case for turning over their administration and instruction to his phony cronies.

Even if LePage and Bowen did mean well by grading our schools (and that’s a very big “if”), their simplistic, out-of-date methodology invalidates the grades. To begin with, educators have known for years that letter and numeric grades do not provide authentic assessments of what a student knows and can do. Giving a letter grade to an entire school makes even less sense. But, hey, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, issues annual letter grade report cards on education in every state, so LePage and Bowen were just imitating their masters.

Then too, LePage and Bowen, as though nostalgic for the comfortable conformity of the 1950s, used a bell curve for their Maine School Performance Grading System, thus guaranteeing that as many schools have to get F's and get A's. A bell curve? Really, guys? Where have you been for the past 40 years?

These school report cards are not accurate, not legitimate, not helpful and not necessary – just like our schoolyard bully of a governor and his snake-oil salesman of an education commissioner. We need to expel them from state government and get qualified people of good will to direct our state and our public education system.