Posted: September 17, 2011 | Senator Alfond, Weekly Radio Address

Weekly Address Alfond 9-17

Good Morning. This is State Senator and Assistant Democratic Leader, Justin Alfond.

Sen. Alfond recording the weekly radio address

For most students across our state, the school year has begun. The beginning of the school year holds much anticipation and promise of good things to come. There are lessons to be learned—both in the text book and in the school yard. Friends to be made and tests to be taken.

There was a time when we encouraged kids to “just” finish high school. Then, earning a college degree became conventional wisdom. But in these trying times of economic and financial struggle, it’s not so clear which and what is the best path for our high school students.

Our approach has broadened. We as educators and lawmakers and as a nation are also learning. And, we’re learning that the jobs of today—and tomorrow, don’t just include the studies of a bachelor’s degree. The best path may be a trade, a certificate program, a skill, or it may, in fact, be an advanced degree.

We are also learning more about how kids learn. How they succeed as students and life-long learners. We know that for many students, having the teacher lecture from the front of the classroom does not spark their interest in learning. Today, with computers in nearly every 7th to 12th grade classroom, students are often

leading their own way for learning. The old way of doing things—passing a student from grade to grade without proficiency of the subject matter—helps no one. It hides deficiencies and to that end, the demands of employers are often not met.

Without an educated workforce, jobs will be harder to get. Without an educated state, we will we struggle to fill job openings—and, attracting new investments will be even tougher. An educated workforce is our ticket to remaining competitive internationally, nationally, and locally.

When I speak to businesses across Maine, I hear time and again that there are jobs but few are able to fill them. How can this be true—especially when we know there are more than 53,000 unemployed Mainers? Well, there are jobs available. But the existing workforce lacks the skills and training needed to perform the demands of those existing jobs.

As lawmakers in this state, we must do more to shorten this divide…now.

There is no reason…no reason…that our state cannot produce the most well-prepared K through12 students ready for college, career, and community.

Educators across the state are taking the lead in re-evaluating and re-tooling how kids are taught. It’s exciting to hear about the wonderful and cutting edge things going on in classrooms across Maine. And, this gives me hope for the future.

We learned earlier this week, that Maine was chosen to lead the nation in developing the “Next Generation Science Standards”. This initiative will move students beyond rote learning of facts and, will expand science education so that students experience science and develop a curiosity about the world around them.

Additionally, organizations like the Great Schools Partnership, are leading five of Maine’s largest school districts by using personalized learning, providing effective supports, increasing graduation requirements, and establishing early college programs. As a result, they’ve increased graduation rates by 5%—in real terms, that’s fifty additional students earning high school diplomas.

Employers often tell us that there are four things that they want in an employee…often referred to as the “Four Cs”: a Critical thinker, a strong Communicator, a Collaborator, and a Completor—someone who can take a job from start to finish. They want employees with strong problem-solving skills. And the question we must ask ourselves is, how are we preparing our children to take-on and meet those challenges?

It’s not enough to say school and education is important—of course it is. And, all would agree that education should cross political-party lines. Yet, typical of the governor’s hypocrisy, he publicly touts job creation as his number one priority, but quietly has a budget proposal that not only gouges millions of dollars from higher education—a proven pathway for creating a skilled workforce—but also cuts from early childhood programs like HeadStart.

Maine’s education is the best job-creation program we have—and, lawmakers, just like in the business world, must invest in and prioritize our greatest asset.

This is state Senator Justin Alfond. Thank you for listening. And have a wonderful weekend.