Democratic Weekly Radio Address by Sen. Rebecca Millett (Cumberland): We should not brandish our schools with a “scarlet letter”
For many of us, regardless of how long ago it may have been since we graduated, we still hold on to the memories of high school pep rallies, athletic events, and school field trips. There were school mascots, school fight songs, and school colors–how many of us wore our school colors even when we weren’t at school?
Perhaps it is through our school pride that we learn, as young adults, that we belong to something, we identify with something, a symbol of what and who is important to us.
As the years pass, we now know that school is much more than the bricks and mortar. We may no longer remember the words to the school fight song, but we do remember the teacher who urged us to study a little longer; the principal who remembered our name as we passed in the hall; or the guidance counselor who gave us the courage to take a class that pushed our limits.
Good Morning. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth.
As the Senate Chair of the Education and Cultural Affairs committee, it is my job to think about what is important for education today as well as for the students of our future. And for a variety of reasons, we, as a state are at a crossroads.
Just this week, the LePage Administration presented its newest school “reform” plan to our committee. The plan assigns a letter grade of “A” through “F” to Maine’s public schools.
Democrats on the state’s education committee are deeply concerned by this approach. This sends the wrong signal to our schools, teachers, students, parents, and community.
Issuing letter grades for schools is akin to brandishing them with a “scarlet letter.” It is shaming and stigmatizing–and, it seeks to embarrass students, teachers, and schools rather than motivate, incentivize, and actually help underperforming schools do better.
Additionally, this simplistic and superficial grading system aimed at evaluating school performance cannot provide an accurate picture of what is taking place at a school. It could give a false sense that all is going well at a school, or it could wrongly shame a once-struggling school that is improving.
Currently, the Department of Education has only provided raw data to struggling districts and expects them to devise and deploy improvement efforts with no additional funds. If this administration is truly interested in helping underperforming schools, they would provide the funds in addition to the data necessary for proper evaluation; they would support the efforts of our public school teachers and school principals.
Right now, our state’s budget writing committee is working on crafting a budget for the next two years. The task ahead of them is daunting. Earlier this year, Governor LePage presented his proposed budget to them. And his budget continues to fall short of the state’s promise to fully fund education and places a heavier burden on local property taxes.
Budgets are a reflection of our priorities and at a time when schools and teachers are already being asked to do more with less, we need to put our dollars behind our rhetoric. If we all agree that we are putting students first, then fund the classroom–don’t shame them for their performance.
If a student doesn’t have a pencil, they can’t possibly pass the test. If a teacher lacks the tools needed to do their job, they can’t possibly improve classroom performance.
We shouldn’t demand more of our teachers, more from our students, and not back them up. The mere threat of a failing grade, won’t magically eliminate the hurdles schools and teachers face: textbooks will still be scarce, school buildings will still be crumbling, and classroom sizes will still grow.
We believe that our teachers and principals want to succeed and are eager to do the best job possible for our students. Now it’s up to us, as lawmakers, to encourage them as we all strive for innovation in our classrooms and the strengthening of our public schools.
Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett. Have a good weekend.