Summer is winding down and it is officially “back to school” season. This is an exciting and optimistic time of new beginnings and fresh starts. Whether students are starting their first day of kindergarten or heading off to their senior year of college, they are probably nervous, apprehensive, and excited about the year ahead.
When students enjoy school, it is a wonderful thing. There is nothing like seeing a child engaged in a good book, working out a math problem, absorbed in the task of writing an essay, or eagerly raising their hand to answer a question in class. And the gift of a good education is a gift that keeps on giving throughout a lifetime.
But unfortunately, the joy of learning can be lost; without the support they need, students struggle to keep up with their peers, and lose motivation. Schools located in economically disadvantaged areas face the most challenges. Maine test scores in math and reading in 3rd through 8th grade have flatlined for years in a row. High school graduation rates have increased in Maine over the past few years – a good sign. But there are still around 2,000 Maine students who drop out of high school each year. We can do better.
The question of what makes students engaged in their studies and succeed in school is big and complicated, and there is no quick fix. Ensuring that children receive a strong education requires a combination of many factors: strong family and community support; adequate funding to support staff, new books, classroom upkeep, and equipment; good teachers with professional development opportunities; and the availability of healthy, nutritious school food. The list goes on.
Effective teachers are the single most important part of the equation in a quality education. Most of us can probably remember a teacher that really stood out for us, that inspired us to reach new heights, or maybe just reached out and patted us on the back when we needed it. A good teacher can be a life saver, open new doors, and give students with different skills the boost they need to succeed.
The Legislature passed a number of good bills this session to help students and teachers thrive. We passed a measure to strengthen the teacher evaluation process by ensuring that educators have a seat at the table when developing the teacher evaluation system, because they have the best insight into what goes on every day in the classroom. The bill also limits the amount that test scores can be used to evaluate a teacher, because test scores are only a snapshot and time, and do not paint a full picture of a students’ progress. This bill was vetoed by the governor, but it raises important questions about how to support quality teachers.
We also passed a measure to help ensure that kids get the nutrition they need throughout the year by expanding access to the summer food program to help feed more Maine children. If students are hungry or malnourished, they can have difficulty learning.
And finally, I am proud of the work we did on the Appropriations Committee to prioritize funding to our public schools to help ensure that they have the resources they need to improve.
Like the students who boarded the bus for the first time in the past week, I am hopeful about what the school year holds, and the future of education in Maine. I wish students, parents, and teachers all the best as they embark on this new school year.