Weekly Radio Address: Senator Millett says, "Investments in summer food and preschool programs will do far more to help schools than a shaming letter grade"
Earlier this month, we celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week by honoring and thanking the teachers who have shaped and guided our lives.
Ironically, the very next week, Governor LePage released his second round of school letter grades.
It is disappointing that for the second year in a row, Governor LePage has chosen to shame and blame our teachers and our schools rather than ensuring a strong public education system.
Good morning, this is State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, the Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee.
We all agree that every Maine student deserves to have the best teacher in the classroom. As parents, we want great schools. But unfortunately, Governor LePage is missing the mark.
The LePage grading system is nothing more than a gimmick that undermines public education here in Maine.
What can a letter grade, based largely on standardized tests scores, truly tell us about our schools or the education our children are receiving?
A letter grade can’t tell us about the joy we feel when our children come home at the end of the day excited to tell us about the cool experiment they did in science class, the new book they discovered in the library, or how proud they were when their teachers praised their artwork.
A letter grade can’t tell us about the teacher who changes students lives by believing in them and encouraging them to work harder and dream bigger.
And a letter grade can’t tell us how caring and devoted our community is to our local public school.
These are just some of the strengths and achievements that cannot be measured by a standardized test.
A test score can’t tell us everything we want to know about our students, and a letter grade based on those test scores can’t tell us everything we want to know about our schools.
What we’ve learned–after two years of these letter grades–is that the grades do correlate to poverty: as the percentage of students who are eligible to receive free or reduced price lunches increases, the schools’ grades decline.
As a snapshot, these grades tell us where there are more families who are struggling, not how well a school is performing.
And, again, the grades will do nothing to help our schools.
If we’re really serious about making sure our schools are performing well, we need to be serious about making the right kinds of investments in our schools: we need to invest in strong early childhood education programs, summer education, and healthy meals for our students.
Just as we are more irritable and have trouble concentrating when we are hungry, our children can’t be expected to focus on their schoolwork when their stomachs are growling.
That’s why the Legislature passed bills this year to increase access to summer food programs to feed hungry students, and create a task force to work together to determine the best ways to further reduce student hunger.
Students need to come to school ready to learn–and they can’t do that if they are hungry.
It’s why preschool programs like Head Start are so important. They help prepare our youngsters for school by providing safe opportunities to explore and play, as well as snacks and meals.
Unfortunately, little more than half of the school districts in Maine offer a pre-K program, which is why we also passed a new law to provide start-up funding for schools that don’t have a program but want to start one.
Pre-K may not be for everyone, but no child should be denied the opportunity because of their zip code.
These investments in summer food and preschool programs will do far more to help students and schools than a shaming letter grade that only highlights the struggles children and their families are facing.
We need more programs and policies that will help students and their families, rather than shame their schools.
Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend.