ATTENTION: All new pieces now at Augusta Insider

If you’re wondering why I have stopped updating the site there is a reason for that. All of my mew articles are featured in the Maine View section of the Augusta Insider. The archives will remain here for the duration. Please visit me, and all of the other contributors, over at the Augusta Insider. Update your links.

Video Conferencing a Boon to Maine Students

(Cross Posted @ Augusta Insider)

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree secured $473,000 for developing video conferencing in Maine schools.  12 vocational schools and technical centers in 11 counties will receive part of the grant.  The video conferencing technology allows a class to be broadcast to anyone over the network.  This broadcast is not one way.  The instructor can see and hear every classroom tapped in.  In a rural state like Maine, the advantages of this technology become apparent quickly. Continue reading

Guest Post: Maine Fishermen Think Outside the Net

By Braddock Spear of the Sustainable Ocean Project

Fishermen are among the most innovative people in the world. They have to be in order to make a living and survive as an industry. The Midcoast Fishermen’s Cooperative is changing the way they do business with an eye toward sustainability of their livelihood and the resources on which they depend. SOP sat down with Gary Libby, a member of the Cooperative, to talk about new approaches they are taking.

Based out of Port Clyde, Maine, the co-op of 12 fishing vessels has developed an ocean-to-table program where the fishermen sell fish directly to their customers. The program, Port Clyde Fresh Catch, is modeled after the increasingly successful farm-to-table programs broadly called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Customers including local residents and restaurants subscribe to the Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) by buying shares of the fishermen’s catch. Each week customers are guaranteed a predetermined poundage of fish or shellfish caught fresh from the Gulf of Maine. Fishermen gain from this arrangement by cutting out the middleman and getting more profit for their catch. Consumers benefit by receiving traceable wild-caught seafood at reduced prices.

By SOP’s judgment, not all seafood sold through the Fresh Catch program can be considered sustainable. However, the Cooperative’s fishermen are doing their part to work toward this goal. They have experimented with and now voluntarily use fishing gear that minimizes bycatch of small fish and non-target species. The group also lobbies for policies that are designed to achieve sustainability while allowing their members to continue to earn a living.

By getting higher returns out of less fish, the Cooperative is promoting a model that can help save our oceans. They couldn’t have set up the Fresh Catch program without the help of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Island Institute. Partnerships like these and CSFs are popping up along the coasts of the United States. SOP is on the lookout for other win-win situations like the one in Port Clyde.

Does Maine Education Make the Grade?

As Matthew Stone has reported, a new study grading state’s education innovation came out recently.  The study, conducted by the Center for American Progress, the  American Enterprise Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The study explored how well states fostered innovations such as charter schools, use of technology, and transparency to name a few criteria.  Massachusetts ranked first.  Kansas came last.  How did Maine rank?

Maine did rather well in some categories.  Maine received a B on staff hiring and evaluation as well as preparing students for college or the workforce.  The second is perhaps most important of Maine’s high marks.  Since one of the goals of K-12 is to prepare students to jump straight into the labor pool or (hopefully) head to college we should be proud of this grade.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce congratulates Maine for offering high school diplomas with specializations, effective high school exams on college and career readiness, and on offering high school courses that also count as college credit.  60% of schools offer AP course in Maine.  With our extensive laptop programs and great ITV system in K-12 and the UMaine system we should continue to expand that number to 100%.  Giving Maine students a leg up so more a likely to seek degrees beyond high school should be one of our priorities.  We have the technology.  Let’s use it.

Maine ranked among the middle of the pack in two areas.  Maine received a C, or average score, in financing and on how difficult it is to fire ineffective teachers.  The study found Maine’s funding mechanism to be simple and effective.  They likely were suffering to the Essential Programs and Services funding model.  While budget reports are available, they could certainly provide more information.  There are no budget reports online after 2006-2007.  It would also be handy if district budget reports were collected here as well.  Steps like this could be taken, making it significantly easier to follow the money.  Maine also took a hit for neglecting performance pay (or merit pay) for teachers.

I saved the worst news for last.  The study gave Maine a D in three areas: school management, data, and technology.  “Technology?  Really?” you may be asking.  “I thought we had this famous laptop program?”  You’re right.  I believe we do have one-to-one laptops in a higher percentage than any state.  You can have a Hi-Def big screen, but if your still just rocking an antenna what’s the point?  We have the technology, but if kids are just typing or doing research at Wikipedia (God help those students) then why bother spending the money?  The study specifically cited lack of computer based assessment, lack of required tech testing for teachers, and poor evaluation of how well our tech investments are panning out.  Again, we have the technology.  Now let’s put it to work.

Our longitudinal data systems were criticized for not following the P20 model recommended for the Race to the Top.  The P20 data systems (PDF warning) collect student data on a variety of subjects in order to inform teachers, parents, administrators, and policy makers a student’s progress on college readiness and reports to catch problems with material early.  A system like this would be absolutely beneficial to the Maine education system, so I can understand the D on data.

Maine nearly failed in school management for two reasons.  According to the study, 93% of Maine’s teachers say that they are bogged down by paper work and other routine duties.  Maybe some teachers out there can confirm this?  It would seem to me, that our students would be best served if teachers were freed from these tasks.  They would be left with more time for student interaction, learning new methods and innovations, and well…teaching.  The study slammed Maine for lacking any sort of charter school law.

This is only one study.  Considering it comes from a team of a liberal institute, a conservative institute, and a government organization, this may be one study Maine policy makers should pay attention to.  The study has posted their own list of recommendations.  With still looming budgetary issues, suggestions like funding reform and school management reforms should be looked into.  One suggestion made by the study should not be ignored here: High-tech tools are of little use unless teachers in the trenches can take advantage of them.  And yet again Maine takes a beating for not even considering charter schools.

Maine is at a crossroads in many ways.  Education is among the top concerns.  We have an opportunity to make a real investment in innovation, in technology, and most of all Maine students.  As in so many other areas, the world is moving forward.  We can move ahead too, and take the lead.  Or we can fall behind.  Considering who will be left behind I don’t think that can be an option.

Charter Schools: The Educational Equivalent of the Snuggie?

Charter schools are still a hot education topic in Maine.  A meeting in Augusta last month rekindled the fire.  Opponents of charter schools in Maine fear what will become of public schools.  They categorize charters as a slight to the hard work done in public schools.  Charters, some believe, undermine the public school system and must be avoided in Maine.  Charter schools are in fact public schools.  They do not charge admissions.  Charters do not have selective admissions policies; LD 1438 was quite clear on this.  Unfortunately, as a new article at Public School Insights points out, it may be overzealous charter supporters who are propagating these notions Continue reading

Guest Post: Truth Pressed to the Earth will Rise Again

By Harris Parnell (State Director of The League of Young Voters)

On the historic election day of 2008, Equality Maine, the LGBTQ rights group here in Vacationland, worked with hundreds of volunteers across the state and gathered over 30,000 signatures in favor of marriage equality.  30,000 signatures, in case you’re wondering, is an astonishing number of folks engaged in one day in Maine.  Those 30,000 people helped to launch the most extensive and impressive campaign for equal rights we’ve ever seen here—from the legislature to the governor to the educational and get-out-the-vote work.  The League, as part of the Maine Freedom to Marry Coalition, was right there with them. Continue reading

Now The MEA Wants the Glory

After a prolonged silence on Question 3 and declaring it was not important enough for a public statement, the MEA wants the glory.  A recent congratulatory email to MEA members has an interesting bit in its sidebar.  “The voters have spoken”  the email states.  Below that it reads No on 2, No on 3, No on4.  Really?  After not coming out in any way on question 3 they now want to congratulate the voters?  All the public silence and now this.  It only proves one thing.  They were for consolidation all along.  Why else would they congratulate voters for rejecting the repeal?  That is not what really gets me though.  Consolidation stays and now us with reform on our minds will move forward to work within the system.  Continue reading

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