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 and educators, and provide curriculum resources for writing about education and finding success through our Raise Your Voice! initiative.

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

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.

Brian Bechard / Maine Public

Fifteen years ago, Maine launched an ambitious experiment to give every 7th- and 8th- grader in the state their own device, under a new program called the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. Maine was the first state to try such an expansive program, and experts say it’s still the largest program of its kind. The results of the program vary from district to district, with some teachers adopting the technology and others still resisting it today.

Brian Bechard / Maine Public

After 15 years, Maine's program to provide technology to every 7th- and 8th-grader is changing. A new structure puts more responsibility and control in the hands of local districts.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

When former Gov. Angus King began an effort to give every 7th- and 8th-grader a laptop in 2001, one of the goals was equity, a way to ensure that students have access to the same kind of technology whether they live in Cumberland, Washington or Oxford County.

Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

Head into any 7th- or 8th-grade classroom in Maine, and you’ll see something you won’t see in any other state: every student holding a laptop. The free laptops, provided under Maine’s Learning Technology Initiative over the past 15 years, have been expanded to most high schools, as well. But has it changed learning?

Robin Fleck / Auburn School Department

The issue of mental health is generating more and more discussion in Maine schools. Studies have found that it’s of particular importance to refugee and immigrant students, who have often experienced trauma, both in their home countries and as as they resettle in a new culture.

Thomas College

This month, college seniors from across Maine will walk across the stage to accept their diplomas — most after four or more years of classes. For more and more students, however, graduation day will come much sooner, a trend designed to make college more appealing and affordable.

Every year, kids in Maine schools have to take all kinds of standardized tests, each with its own acronym — MEA, SAT, NWEA. Students who are still in the process of learning English have to take a test called the ACCESS for ELLs, or “English language learners,” which gauges English proficiency in other subjects, such as science and math.

Maine’s standard for this test is the highest in the country, and some teachers believe it’s hurting students emotionally and academically.

Courtesy United Technologies Center

On both the state and national level, there has been a call for increased emphasis on career and technical education, or CTE. The intent is to teach more students skills such as business management, manufacturing and computer science.

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