MSMA: Bowen outlines administration’s education agenda

Maine School Management Association
Bulletin

Jan. 18, 2011

Bowen outlines administration’s education agenda

Gov. Paul LePage’s education policy advisor told a gathering of superintendents on Friday that the governor supports a series of changes to the K-12 system in Maine, including authorizing charter schools, lengthening the probationary period for teachers before tenure is granted and a new form of school consolidation that doesn’t dictate change from Augusta.

The governor also wants ideas from school districts to make the system work better, said Stephen Bowen, a former teacher and legislator who most recently worked at the Maine Heritage Policy Center as its education advisor before taking his job with the LePage administration.

“I know it’s been awhile since we’ve had an administration in Augusta that wants to hear from superintendents,” Bowen said. “We want ideas.”

Bowen appeared at the Friday morning session of the Maine School Superintendents Association Winter Convocation after less than a week on the job. He gave a broad-brush overview of the administration’s education agenda that is still a work in progress, with no official word yet on who will be the new commissioner of education.

What is certain, Bowen said, is “the governor is committed to putting kids first.”

“He feels the system isn’t responding quickly or effectively enough to kids falling through the cracks,” be they high school dropouts or those that manage to get into college but leave because they can’t keep up with the work.

He said Gov. LePage’s proposal for a fifth year of high school is designed to address the drop-out problem, but right now it is an “amorphous” idea with the details yet to be worked out.

Bowen also told the gathering the changes the governor wants will have to be done without additional funding for the foreseeable future.

“On the issue of money there isn’t any,” he said. “You will have to be more effective with the same amount or less amount of money than you have now.”

The following is a synopsis of the topics Bowen covered:

Charter Schools

“There will be a charter schools bill and the governor will support it,” Bowen said.

There is interest in specialty-type charters, for example those that focus on the marine sciences or forestry.

He acknowledged concerns that charter schools would not have to “play by the same rules” as regular public school districts and said that needs to be addressed.

“That’s not fair. I think you’ll find the governor very responsive to that point…to give you the kind of flexibility that charters, the academies and the private schools might have.”

Data-driven Decisions

“He’s a business guy, so he’s very interested in data. He’s a data-driven guy,” Bowen said of Gov. LePage.

The governor understands the importance of the longitudinal data system that will track student achievement through high school and beyond, but is aware of the privacy issues surrounding the use of Social Security numbers to track those students, Bowen said.

He and the governor also have discussed the need to find a way to test students so the testing doesn’t consume “weeks and weeks of instruction time.”

Teacher Tenure

Bowen said Gov. LePage supports lengthening the probationary period for teachers before they can be awarded tenure, which currently is two years in Maine. Bowen said the governor could propose lengthening the probationary period to as many as five years.

He said the governor also wants to focus on teacher quality, “focusing as many resources as possible on teacher learning.”

Gov. LePage is also supportive of alternative certification for teachers.

School Consolidation

Gov. LePage believes there should be more consolidation, including on the municipal government side, but does not support the school consolidation law adopted during the previous administration, Bowen said.

“He doesn’t believe it was the right approach,” because it was too top-down. And, “He doesn’t quite understand why the larger districts weren’t required to do anything”.

Bowen added Gov. LePage is “not supportive of penalties.”

Local Control

“He’s a local control guy,” Bowen said of the governor. “His inclination is to give districts as much latitude as possible.”

He asked the superintendents what the state could do to give more flexibility at the local level and also what role the state should play in district operations.

“If we’re asking you to spend money on something that you don’t believe is helping…the governor is serious about taking down those barriers,” Bowen said.

He encouraged superintendents to email him with ideas at Stephen.bowen@maine.gov

Contact: Dale Douglass, executive director douglass@msmaweb.com
Victoria Wallack, communications director vwallack@msmaweb.com
Telephone: 207-622-3473 or 1-800-660-8484