AUGUSTA — To ensure all Maine students are ready when they graduate from high school, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Educate Maine have released a list of strategies, beginning with advocating for preschool.
The “College and Career Readiness for Maine” report was done to give guidance on how students can be better prepared for their futures, especially those from low-income families who may be less likely to succeed than students from higher-income families.
The strategies would improve the lives of children and strengthen Maine’s businesses and economy, Maine State Chamber President Dana Connors said.
Ed Cervone, executive director of Educate Maine, a business-led education advocacy organization, explained each strategy and why it’s important. Many of the recommendations are ongoing in Lewiston-Auburn schools.
1. Enroll children in prekindergarten.
Parents need to prepare their children for the best possible outcomes, “and you can’t start too early,” Cervone said. Offering prekindergarten programs in public schools and providing access to preschool for more 4-year-olds are keys to success.
About 75 percent of Maine school districts offer some pre-K programs, Cervone said. By 2017-18, all districts must provide pre-K availability, he said.
“Without a doubt, the data on this is just so strong,” Cervone said. Preparing children to enter the K-12 system through preschool prevents remediation. “Down the road, there’s a direct correlation to avoiding the criminal justice system.”
2. Help schools offer different ways for children to learn.
“There’s a lot of great examples of this happening,” Cervone said. “Smart educators are figuring this out.” Schools should offer multiple pathways for students to learn, including out-of-classroom projects, visits with professionals and hands-on learning.
“It doesn’t all happen at a desk,” he said.
Students need more availability to career and technical education such as what’s offered at the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, and more experiential learning.
“To make that happen, schools and teachers need help, coordination and cooperation to bring in mentors, give opportunities and exposure to students, Cervone said. “In this one, there’s a role here for everyone. ”
3. Have students start making their post-high-school plans early.
The most effective time to begin talking about college and careers is while students are in elementary and middle school.
“Show them the importance of graduation and college at an early age,” Cervone said. “It’s great if they want to go to college. Not everyone will go to college, but everyone needs a plan: college, a trade, the military.”
To help broaden horizons, bring students to a college campus, a work site, talk about different careers. High schools should offer early college courses to give students experience and confidence about college. Career and technical programs allow students to graduate with certificates in fields such as electrical engineering, which offers job opportunities and good pay, Cervone said.
4. Enroll students in summer and after-school programs.
When students have two to three months off in the summer, “they’re going to lose learning gains they’ve made,” Cervone said. “They start the next school year behind. If you look at learning losses of lower-income families, it’s really profound. They’re already behind their peers.”
A structured summer program that teaches subjects or life skills “engages the kids,” he said. “They’re able to maintain the level of the year before.”
After-school programs during the school year help students who are behind gain some ground, Cervone said. One example is Lewiston’s Tree Street Youth drop-in center across from Longley Elementary School. Another is the Lewiston School Department’s summer and after-school programs.
5. New proficiency-based diplomas, still in progress.
Maine has a high school graduation rate of 87 percent, but “only half of them are reading and writing at grade level,” Cervone said. “We’re not doing them a service” allowing them to leave without needed skills, he said.
Maine is one of the first states to build proficiency-based diplomas to ensure students don’t complete courses until they’ve mastered what they need. But it will take more time to develop the new diplomas and standards, Cervone said.
“Educators came forward last year and brought forth a lot of issues they’re having,” trying to implement proficiency-based diplomas, Cervone said. “The outcome is the Legislature reviewed that law. They right-sized it” with a delayed implementation of 2025 instead of 2018.
6. Stop absenteeism.
When students aren’t in school, they can’t learn, Cervone said. Schools exploring why students are constantly not in school “are opening the doorway to addressing the issues behind it,” Cervone said.
“Something is going on at home,” he said.
Keeping track of a student’s absenteeism and communicating with the family “allows the school to ask what’s going on, look for ways to help and engage the family back in school.”
7. Fund targeted needs.
Promoting programs such as pre-K and anti-absenteeism can’t be done without more spending. More should be spent on proven programs.
A Blue Ribbon Commission to Reform Public Education Funding and Improve Student Performance in Maine should be given enough time to analyze how Maine should invest from preschool to college.
“How does all of that work together to really ensure the greatest potential?” Cervone said.
He said the state should create “a pot of money to allow educators to say, ‘I’ve got a really cool idea to help the kids in school.’” On a competitive basis, money could be awarded to test ideas that could help all students.
8. Pay attention to your child’s schooling.
This strategy isn’t in the report, but Cervone said it’s critical to all of the above ingredients. A parent’s involvement — or lack of — is among the biggest factors in whether or not a child succeeds.
Children need parents who pay attention to what their students are doing, Cervone said. Engaged parents are those who talk to their children about their schooling, parents who ask questions about what’s happening in class and participate.