Social-Emotional Education Mandate Repealed for Maine Schools

8/16/18, Maine First Media Staff Report,

Before the mandate of so-called proficiency-based education was ever fully implemented, the policy has been repealed.

Thanks to legislation championed by Republican Rep. Heidi Sampson of Alfred, each Maine school district now has the option to either stick with the failed proficiency-based education model, or replace it with a new system.

Proficiency-Based Diploma mandates were passed in 2012 and were supposed to take effect state-wide at the start of this past school year. But problems with implementation and general misunderstandings of the complex system pushed the timetable back for many districts. Now, instead of seeking another extension to the mandate — the mandate is gone.

For years, education groups like Educate Maine and Great Schools Partnership have been pushing for proficiency-based education and claiming their agenda is “evidence-based.” But according to Rep. Sampson, there is no such evidence.

“Evidence-based is hogwash,” Rep. Sampson said. “There is no evidence that proficiency-based education or diplomas even exists as a recognized standard-based strategy. Proficiency-based education has never been vetted for its effectiveness in raising student achievement. It is not a ‘system’ of teaching, learning, and assessment. It is merely one approach, among many, which primarily implements assessments of student achievement.

In fact, calling it “proficiency-based” is misleading, a more accurate description is “compliance-based education.” And since it is so important not to let the Left win the language war, that’s what Maine First Media will call it from this point on, “compliance-based education.”

Republican Rep. Heidi Sampson is leading the charge to make education in Maine great again!

“Compliance” is the more accurate term because the system is the opposite of “proficient,” focusing much more on complying with standards set by feel-good Leftists. The fact is, compliance-based education (CBE) doesn’t award A’s or F’s based on Social Studies, Math, English and other subjects. Instead, CBE focuses on feelings.

“Compliance-based education — with its endless micro-assessing of students — is primarily focused on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL); Attitudes, Values, Belief Systems, Attributes,” Rep. Sampson said. “If a student is not ‘proficient’ in these areas, they will be re-mediated. For example, a child who does not score well on empathy will then have to be re-trained.”

Under the CBE model, students are awarded a 1-4. But what many parents don’t understand, the number students are assigned have nothing to do with a grade point average.

“The 1-4 scale to categorize student proficiency has not been proven as a superior grading method,” Rep. Sampson said. “It is a highly subjective method.”

Rep. Sampson tells Maine First Media, the 1-4 scale is not really a grading system at all. Instead, it’s simply a way to place students into categories — similar to in swimming where swimmers are categories where Level One is a Guppy, Level Two is an Eel, etc. With this 1-4 scale comes many disadvantages.

  • The numbers are placeholders for categories — they have no arithmetic value (no more than any other symbols);
  • The symbols or categories number cannot be averaged;
  • They cannot substitute for a GPA;
  • They cannot be converted to a 0-to-100 grading system.

“And anyone who says otherwise didn’t pay attention to their statistics or research courses, or failed to do their homework,” Rep. Sampson said. “Or, they are deliberately misguiding people.”

The 1-4 categories act as tracks for students. Early on in her educational career, if a student placed, for example, in an arts track, then all of her other coursework will reflect that track — even if she prefers STEM learning. And there’s nearly nothing the child can do to change the assigned track.

With school districts facing a decision that will have massive implications of the future of all Maine students, Rep. Sampson is offering an alternative — classical education, combined with tech education.

“I would say reaching toward more classical approaches is the best method,” Rep. Sampson said. “Because of all the issues kids deal with today, blending that with plenty of physical activity, and hands-on learning experiences would be a huge improvement. Get back to teaching children to be able to decode words through phonetic instruction would be a healthy start. Teaching math and memorizing math facts would also be a step in the right direction. Memorizing for young children is actually a positive brain developmental activity.”

Rep. Sampson believes we should look to America’s brightest times to find the model for educating our children.

“Where’s the evidence from when this country has a 98% literacy rate and put a man on the moon,” Rep. Sampson said. “When we were creating life-changing inventions and technology — what were the methods in place? It was a classical approach. Critical thinking, phonics and grammar, vocabulary, classic literature with elevated language.”

According to Rep. Sampson, many Maine superintendents want to go the opposite direction and remove classic pieces of literature because they might be deemed “offensive” by today’s standards.

So, what does the difference between compliance-based education and a classical approach look like in practice? To answer that, let’s take a look at how both methods would handle a lesson on the Gettysburg Address.

Under the classical education model, students would learn about the conflict of the Civil War. They’d receive background on President Abraham Lincoln and what he was facing in his presidency. They’d understand the address was recited during what was essentially a memorial service for the highest number of casualties in U.S. History. Not only would the students learn more, but the associated information adds great weight to the document.

Whereas under the compliance-based method, students would simply receive a “close reading” assignment. There would be no background on the author and no historical context. Compliance-based education turns the Gettysburg Address into nothing more than a reading assignment.

“Not only are students learning less, but if you ask me, the close reading assignment sounds boring,” Rep. Sampson said. “How are teachers supposed to keep students’ attention under those circumstances?”

But we don’t have to rely on anecdotal examples to know CBE has failed Maine students. Cold hard numbers tell the story.

In the early 90’s, Maine was #1 nationally in math and science and #3 in ELA. What has happened since then? 1997 was the beginning of the
revolving reforms in the state educational reforms with the advent of the Maine Learning Results. MLR is the precursor to CBE — mandating so-called standards. The next wave of MLR led to Common Core Standards and Social-Emotional Learning.

No longer the education standard bearer, Maine is now in the middle of the pack in reading, and math and science. In fact, we sit at 27th in the nation. We’ve been jumped by states like Massachusetts. We replaced a system that was succeeding with a system that has failed us. From 1999-2009 Maine SAT scores dropped 39-points in critical reading and 36-points in math.

“It’s time to stop this merry-go-round of perpetual change in the schools,” Rep. Sampson said. “We still operate with the Maine Learning Results — we still have these standards. We have added layer upon layer of change, ending in a crescendo with the Proficiency-Based Diploma law passed in 2012. Six years later, the results have been paltry at best.”

Rep. Sampson listed for Maine First Media her Myths of CBE:

  • CBE improves student learning and achievement (there’s no evidence in any published educational research to support this claim);
  • CBE has been successful in Maine schools that have implemented it (the schools that were first adopters show no increase in state test scores that are used to report proficiency — in fact, many scores decreased and were below the state average);
  • CBE leads to higher graduation rates (while some CBE schools have reported higher graduation rates, there is no guarantee that uniform state standards were met and no guarantee students were “college and work ready” when they graduated);
  • CBE has strict curriculum standards (a teacher from one of the first adopters has testified she allowed a student to discuss a video game instead of a work of literature to meet a READING LITERATURE standard);
  • CBE is the only way to ensure that students meet standards (there are multiple ways to approach standards — in fact, the most efficient, validated, and trusted way is the most traditional).

“Ever since the standards were put in place, our ability to perform on a national level has slipped,” Rep. Sampson said.

And that is why Rep. Sampson is hopeful most school boards and superintendents will decide to return to a classical approach to education — now that schools have the option.

And those decisions will be made at individual school board levels — showing the importance of your school board vote. Unfortunately, while many school board members are starting to see the light, too many are lost in the haze of a promised “vision.”

“Shame on the school boards for adopting this proficiency crap without looking at the curriculum and instead approving of the so-called vision,” Rep. Sampson said.

Rep. Sampson tells Maine First Media she’s already heard from a district that has decided not to continue CBE. She said parents in that district have been fighting to remove the faulty system for four years now. However, she also knows of another district, where despite questions from some school board members and many parents, the superintendent is trying to force a permanent decision to solidify CBE.

“Parents are getting engaged, and that’s where it has to start,” Rep. Sampson said. “Some are working their school boards hard now.”

Maine First Media asked Rep. Sampson if there was legislation she could advocate for to help institute a classical education approach in Maine schools. She said she is very cautious about imposing mandates on schools. However, she does believe the Department of Education should encourage schools by providing resources and help with implementation.

“It’s time to go back to the basics with education,” Rep. Sampson said. “Have teachers evaluate student progress toward the explicit learning objectives they set and make those objectives public to students and parents.”

Combined with a focus on tech and expanding School Choice, it sounds like a return to a classical education approach could make Maine education great again.