Maine Education Project

The Maine Education Project explores student-centered learning from early childhood through college and beyond. The project is funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which is working to encourage a transformation of public schools toward places that create learning opportunities to engage and inspire all students to meet challenging standards.

Spearheaded by Robbie Feinberg, education news producer, and Dave Boardman, education program coordinator, the project seeks stories about innovative learning in Maine’s classrooms and educational institutions and connects with the voices of students, educators and policymakers as they look at solutions to the challenges facing education today. We highlight the perspectives of students through our Raise Your Voice! initiative.

Have a story suggestion? Contact the team at MaineEducationProject@mainepublic.org.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

It’s no secret that populations are shrinking on some of Maine’s isolated island communities, such as North Haven and Monhegan. More and more island residents are often older, with no kids, and present only during the warmer months.

Remember the school consolidation effort that was launched 10 years ago in Maine? Some districts would rather forget it, but the state is about to ask them to try a new initiative.

The state budget bill passed in July bolstered education funding by more than $160 million, but also established rules around the creation of a new system for sharing educational services across districts. Supporters say it will give kids more opportunities, but some school officials are having doubts.

Ten years ago, Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a law changing the structure of education across Maine, forcing districts to consolidate with schools in nearby towns as a way of saving money. But a decade later, the consolidation experiment has led to more conflict than success in many districts.

Pete Webster’s Spanish class at Whittier Middle School in Poland begins quietly enough. Webster introduces a few vocab words to his students, and they repeat them back. But about five minutes in, Webster picks up a guitar and, soon, the classroom becomes a whirlwind of sound.

The state Department of Education is proposing to shift the responsibility for providing services for 3- to 5-year-old children with disabilities back to local school districts.

The state says the current system isn’t working, but critics of the proposed change say it could place a larger financial burden on local schools.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

Teachers, like all workers, can become suddenly ill or have a family emergency. When that happens, an early morning call goes out a list of subs that have been screened and preapproved for duty. But school districts across Maine report that they are struggling to find enough subs to fill in every day.

Brett Plymale

Vocational education in Maine has evolved over the years — it’s now called career and technical education, or CTE, and the LePage administration is vowing to double the number of kids in CTE over the next two years. Many educators support that goal, but some are worried about a proposed funding formula that they say could hurt communities in Maine that are most in need of local job development.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

This week, students across the state will be hopping on buses and heading back to school. Over the past few years, some districts have made a big push to teach students about financial literacy. In the wake of the Great Recession, many teachers are adding credit cards and student loans to their curriculum.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

Nearly half of all kids in Maine qualify for free and reduced-price lunch at school. During the summer months, when school is out, there haven’t been a lot of options for those families – but that’s starting to change.

Educators and advocates are speaking out about proposed changes to Maine’s law on proficiency-based diplomas. At a public hearing on Monday, they said new rules proposed by the state Department of Education may violate federal law and could keep many students with disabilities from graduating.

The new rules involve changes to Maine’s law on proficiency-based diplomas. The law says that by 2021, students will need more than just a set number of credits in high school in order to graduate. Instead, they’ll need to be “proficient” in certain subjects like math and English.

Brett Plymale

This story was originally published Aug. 9, 2017.

For most kids, school is a focus on those three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. But more and more, educators are trying to teach students skills they’ll need on the job, too, such as work ethic and teamwork. At one coastal Maine school, that curriculum includes real work.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

Over the past 15 years, refugee and immigrant students have transformed the city of Portland and its public school system. However, teachers have remained overwhelmingly white, and there are efforts to increase the diversity of the staff — by encouraging Portland students to eventually become teachers.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

Summer school — it’s a long been a dreaded rite of passage for students who are falling behind. Movies have been made about it, and some districts now refuse to even call it “summer school” because of the stigma.

But now, some schools are finding that some of the traditional ways they’ve approached programs in the past aren’t working, particularly at younger levels. That’s forced some districts to make changes.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

Maine schools have long said they need more money. One reason, educators say, is that they are taking on responsibilities they’ve never had before: providing extra food, medical services and even washers and dryers to clean students’ clothes. Schools in rural Maine need the most help, but often lack the tax base to pay for it.

Students at Snow Pond Arts Academy spend the morning studying theater, music and dance before using an online curriculum in the afternoon.
Snow Pond Arts Academy

The Snow Pond Arts Academy charter school in Sidney had an ambitious goal — to be the first public school in Maine to use a model called “blended learning,” in which most of student work takes place in an online platform. But after only a year, the school is abandoning its virtual approach.

When the Snow Pond Arts Academy launched last fall, it was the first charter school with a performing arts focus, but it also embraced so-called “blended learning” where some learning occurs in a classroom, but much happens online.

Almost any teacher will tell you that they’ve got more on their plates today than they did 15 or 20 years ago. New initiatives, tests, teacher evaluations — and then there’s the new state mandate that every student graduate with a “proficiency-based diploma.”

That means that many teachers are now rethinking how they work, and that takes time. More schools are now trying to create weekly “early release days” to give teachers more time to work together, but some parents are aren’t happy.

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