The Right View: Another education ‘reform’ targets Maine students

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Did you know that Maine stands alone in the United States as mandating a proficiency-based high school diploma beginning in 2018?

Proficiency Based Education, the newest iteration of “reform,” has been dropped on our heads by so-called education experts and bureaucrats in Augusta. Maine’s children are being used like rats in a lab, with the only difference being those controlling this experiment already know what they want the outcome to be, and it’s now the law.

For those of you not familiar, PBE works like this: Sarah is in third grade. Sarah has to demonstrate that she is “proficient” in a particular set of math skills before she can move on. You will hear that called “Individualized” or “Student Centered Learning.”

While those two concepts sound wonderful on paper, we are talking about children, who need to be free to explore and look at a concept from many angles, then perhaps go to another concept for a while, before a light bulb may go on and they will suddenly understand what was being asked of them.

Learning does not take place in a linear fashion or discrete blocks, yet that is exactly what PBE asks of children, and in fact, touts.

Talk to a teacher who has to actually teach in such a setting. What happens to Sarah when she can’t grasp that math concept? The teacher is now mandated to give her multiple attempts at understanding. Sarah cannot move from Point A to Point B unless she has demonstrated proficiency. Unfortunately for Sarah’s teacher, she also has other students in the classroom, so what of them?

Children are also not animals. They have free will, and imagination. B.F. Skinner expanded on Ivan Pavlov’s experiments, which showed that with repetition, a dog would drool at the sound of the bell that had been paired with food. With the institution of PBE, that is how our kids are being viewed: ripe for operant conditioning.

Like a rat pushing the lever for a treat, make children repeat the same concept ad nauseum, and eventually they will be marked as proficient in a task. But no real learning has taken place. No critical thinking of any kind has actually occurred (which was also the lie that was pushed when we were handed Common Core). They’ve just learned to check the box or perform that role that is being asked of them. But they are not proficient. They are compliant.

That’s the other aspect of outsiders looking at our children as fodder to be formed in a compliant, Skinnerean way. “Habits of mind” are openly discussed as part and parcel of PBE. Teachers and administrators will be psychologically evaluating our children for habits, responses and behaviors. Thoughts and attitudes will be molded according to the school’s (or funder’s) mission statements.

Those involved in PBE in Maine include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; former Maine Department of Education Commissioners Stephen Bowen and J. Duke Albanese (Albanese is now senior policy adviser for the Great Schools Partnership, in Portland); Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education; Cari Medd, the 2014 High School Principal of the Year and member of the board of Educate Maine (a self-described business-led organization whose mission is to champion their version of college and career readiness); the American Legislative Exchange Council; Nellie Mae, and many others.

I wonder, was the Promising Futures High Schools initiative – funded by the Gates Foundation amd forged under Albanese in the early 2000s – the template for PBE?

And Poland Regional High School, where Medd was named principal of the year? One of the original eight Promising Futures high schools in the 2002 Great Maine Schools Project – led by Albanese – which morphed into the Great Schools Partnership.

If Maine was first in the nation in 1997 at some grade levels for math and science, why are we turning the current education of our children over to Albanese and the Great Schools Partnership, when Maine fell so dismally in the rankings nationwide beginning with his “leadership” as commissioner? Why would we trust any of these people to sell us the newest and best thing in education “reform”?

It seems our outdated, old-fashioned local school boards are hardly relevant anymore. Outside and inside groups are salivating at the thought of molding our children into the little worker bees of the future.

But it’s the future according to those groups, the one they have constructed and want to see continued.

Sidebar Elements

Julie McDonald-Smith, a resident of North Yarmouth, is married to Maine State Board of Education member Ande A. Smith. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer, development chairwoman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee, and occasional guest host on WGAN 560AM. Her column appears every other week.

  • BradfordPOV

    Proficiency Based Diploma = Outcomes Based Education.
    Google Outcomes Based Education and read how it has failed every time it has been tried. The last two countries to dump it are Australia and South Africa.
    Follow the money folks.

  • Emily Talmage

    As a teacher and mother, I thank you for writing this article!

  • Dissapointed

    I’m sorry, but this article is ridiculous. Firstly it attacks a teaching method that’s willing to slow down and make sure a child gets the concept before moving on: This is pretty standard in any classroom. Yes, a student struggling with a concept may make for some extra review time for other students, but this is presented as a bad idea when the alternative is to just forge ahead and make sure that little Sarah has no chance of keeping up with the material or the rest of the class? Let’s not start sacrificing the education of children in the name of expediency.

    JMS also transitions to likening this approach to operant conditioning in a manner that is completely inappropriate. Rote repetition does NOT equal operant conditioning, but is a method to pair a result with positive or negative reinforcement. Asking students to repeat a lesson a few times so that everyone gets isn’t conditioning, it’s asking them to -study- and a teaching method as old as the classroom itself.

    This article comes off as an attack on child education in general, not a specific program.

  • Christopher White

    JMS continues her assault on logic & reasoning by attacking educational reforms that might lead students to themselves become capable of logic and reasoning.

    In simplest terms, ‘Proficiency Based’ requirements for moving ahead in math, which JSM used as an example, means a child who has not yet mastered the addition and subtraction of whole numbers is not proficient enough in arithmetic to be moved along to the multiplication or division of fractions. To come to the conclusion this is a ‘Skinnerean’ approach by a cabal of conspirators ranging from Bill & Melinda Gates to Jeb Bush and from J. Duke Albanese to ALEC to brainwash kids in order to make them ‘ripe for operant(sic) conditioning’ into ‘compliant’ drones demonstrates an astounding leap into the fantastic, if not truly paranoid.

    While I want to know more about how Proficiency Based Education will actually be implemented and freely recognize ALL approaches to education have faults and areas where they fail students and parents, here Ms. McDonald-Smith has simply tossed scary sounding phrases about and muddied the waters.

  • tiresias75

    Have you EVER taught school? Having students work with each other is a technique that goes back, I am sure, to the Plymouth Colony. I teach in Portland and this is what happens in my classroom; because, you are right, the teacher cannot oversee everyone simultaneously. However, by October I know who works well with whom, who is likely to “get” the assignment, and who is respectfully able to help peers succeed. That is the definition of a successful classroom, and you are an ignoramus (sorry, that last was accurate but uncalled for – i would have chastised a student who used the word in class.) Stick your head in a local classroom sometime soon – you would be stunned at the peer-driven learning that is happening every day!

    • unmannered75

      Is that what is taught in school? That it’s ok to be rude as long as you know you shouldn’t do it, apologize when you do it anyway and then explain how you would react if someone whom you should be a role model for did it. Hope you don’t teach any course that requires reading for comprehension or moral behavior.

      • tiresias75

        I teach for analytical reading of primary source materials and the ability to explain them orally and in writing. I suspect that my definition of “moral behavior” and yours differ enough that I will end here.