08/27/2010

Acadia and Maine Shine on Education

From the Schott Foundation website

In several measures, the state of Maine and especially Mount Desert Island finish toward the top in public education. The recent release of the Schott report titled,  “The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education” shows the high school graduation rate for black males at a whopping 98% in Maine. The average for the rest of the country is 47%. This puts us at the top of the country in this statistic.

Why does Maine do so well? First of all, our non-white population is very small and this may magnify statistical variations. 98% in 2010 may fall to 89% in 2011 simply because we are dealing with a small group of  black students. The important point is that Maine performs well above the national average in graduation rates for all of our students. Here in Acadia, our MDI High School graduated 83% in 2009 and 91% in 2008. The national average for the whole country was 69% in 2007 and dropping, according to edweek.org. The 2009 rate for the state of Maine was 80.4% according to this report.

I believe there are three reasons why Maine does so well. First, we have small class sizes, rarely exceeding 25 students and usually in the high teens. Our high per-pupil cost reflects this.

Second, Mainers live in mostly small communities and tend to stay put. If there are problems, everybody knows and tries to help. Social pressure makes parents more involved and accountable.

Governor Angus King

Finally, we had a visionary independent governor, Angus King from 1995-2003. His great gift to our future was to put a laptop computer into the hands of every 7th grader in the fall of 2002. For us, this was especially timely, since our daughter was just entering 7th grade. Kids could also access the fast wireless internet connection at school any time. Fortunately, the program was quickly upgraded to allow those 7th graders to keep their laptops all the way to graduation. As usual, political tightwads slammed the program from every editorial page. From the Main Learning Technology Initiative website:

In speaking with other governors, Governor King realized that all states were undertaking very similar investments in areas like education and economic development and if Maine wanted to jump ahead of these other states it would require a sharp departure from what Maine had done in the past. Immediately, everyone recognized that education represented the most crucial area for this major change and Gov. King recalled a conversation he had had with Seymour Papert a year or two previous where the idea of how to transform education was discussed. During their conversation, Papert convinced King that a major transformation would happen only when student and teachers worked with technology on a 1 to 1 basis and that any other ratio would not produce the transformation everyone sought.

The laptop program has had widespread benefits. Almost immediately teachers noticed a drop in absenteeism, an improvement in writing and test scores. Students were excited about learning. The sophistication of their work even challenged the comfort zones of parents and teachers. Some older teachers, quite frankly, had to retire! Tests were taken on laptops and handed in with the “send” button. Reports were sent in electronically. The revolution is continuing into college and adulthood. Thank you Governor King!

My daughter points out that the laptop resource was mismanaged in the early days, the victim of clueless teachers and undeveloped and untested procedures, but she also says these problems were worked out quickly and the “coolness” of being the first in the nation to give computers to students made the program very positive for her.

Maine’s educational system has many of the problems of many other states; recession worries, aging buildings, dropping enrollments and high energy costs but still we do much with what we have; more it seems than most other states. Our graduation rates show it.

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