Monday, June 8, 2015

Public Input Comment for School Committee June 8

On May 20th, Acting Education Commissioner Tom Desjardin stated the following in a Priority Notice:

"Local school districts in Maine have the authority under state law to place requirements on students and not award a diploma if the student does not meet these requirements. This could include things such as community service, a senior year graduation exam, or participation in statewide or local assessments.

While parents and students have the right to refuse to fulfill these requirements, they do not have the right, for example, to force the district to award a diploma after they refuse."

I agree with Mr Desjardin that actions have consequences, and I agree families cannot expect districts to haphazardly overturn policy.  So, I am preemptively asking for you to not change Lewiston's graduation requirements.  If anyone suggests Lewiston require students sit the state exam in order to earn a diaploma in the name of protecting funding, I beg you to stop the motion in its tracks.  I have three reasons why.

First, Acting Commissioner Desjardin causually mentioned that it is within local control for districts to require participation in the state exam.  Participation, not passing.  (I have issue with a diploma contingent on passing the exam, too, but let's put that aside for now).  All sitting the exam demonstrates is compliance and seat time, which are directly in opposition to the current direction for the state and district.  We cannot work towards proficiency based diplomas and then tack on a graduation requirement unrelated to mastery of content. 

Second, consequences need to fit the crime, so to speak.  We are not talking about a student being barred from an ice cream social or other such reward.  This is the culmination of over a decade of work for student, family, and community and the key to unlocking high paying jobs and continuing education.  The consequence of no diploma because how a students spends several hours out of a decade is absurd. 

Third, almost all high school students slated to take state exam are minors.  Ultimately, the parent gives permission for a student to refuse the exam.  Students should not be punished for their parents' choices.  Neither should teachers, schools, or districts be punished for parents choices.  It is not the job of the state or the district to convince parents out of their convictions. Parents exercising their right to opt out should rather be clear signal to that district and state to listen, discuss, debate, and make change. 

Recently, my husband and I were talking about our future.  I plan to return to teaching and we plan to move to a larger home using my pay towards the mortgage.  These last five years I've been able to speak my mind about education without concern for losing income my family needs.  But after we move, if I lose my job for sharing my professional opinions publicly, it directly affects my family and my future.  As an adult, thinking about the conflict of doing what I know is ethically right and doing what I must to for practical reasons was induced a suffocating, anxious, helpless feeling.  I'm an adult who has chosen this profession.  Its a somewhat fitting cause and effect.  But, how could we ask our high school students to engage in that debate? Or our parents?  We shouldn't.  Loss of diploma is not a fitting consequence; its a threat designed to strikes fear right through the heart of parents and students and give them little choice but to change districts or comply. 


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