Maine’s once-great public schools have fallen behind, research reveals

Once the premier state for public education, Maine has since fallen to below the middle of the pack.

The Maine Policy Institute (MPI) set out to discover why.

Its new report charts major…

Once the premier state for public education, Maine has since fallen to below the middle of the pack.

The Maine Policy Institute (MPI) set out to discover why.

Its new report charts major reforms in public education from 1984 to the present, examining a wide range of issues from teacher satisfaction to Common Core to the introduction of social justice issues.

“Maine used to be one of the shining examples of what a state should be,” said Matt Gagnon, CEO of MPI. “Many states were looking at the state of Maine and trying to ascertain what we were doing.” 

But now, the state struggles alongside everyone else. 

“The number of reforms, the pace of change have gotten out of hand,” the report’s author, Jonah Davids, explained. “The people who run Maine schools simply cannot keep up with the ever-increasing demands placed upon them and are being asked to fix problems they have little to no control over, like childhood trauma and systemic racism.”  

According to National Assessment of Educational Progress data, Maine’s ranking has plummeted over the past 30 years.  

Davids noted the decline in math “coincide[d] with Maine’s adoption of Common Core State Standards and proficiency-based education. These were adopted by other states as well, and indeed Maine’s trajectory looks similar to national and New England trends.”  

Maine’s students had some of the worst pandemic-era outcomes as well, with 10% average decline in math and 6% in reading. 

MPI’s report also highlights the contribution of left-wing reforms in student discipline, which center around restorative justice and racial equity.  

“Since 2014, the number of violence-, drug-, and weapon-related behavioral incidents reported by Maine schools has nearly tripled,” Davids wrote. “Empirical research conducted in Maine backs up the ineffectiveness of restorative practices: a 2019 study of 14 Maine middle schools found no difference in outcomes between schools that adopted restorative practices and those that did not.” 

He further noted the increase in seclusions (isolating a student to prevent harm) and restraints (physically limiting a student’s movement to prevent harm to themselves or others).  

Methods of seclusion and restraint are disproportionately used among disabled students, and Maine uses them more frequently than any other state, which also has the third-highest proportion of special needs students.  

Even apart from the increase in student misbehavior, Davids argued educators are increasingly being held to unrealistic expectations. 

“[Traditionally], there was not an expectation that teachers should be held accountable for students who performed poorly in their class,” Davids wrote. “Instead, the student was held accountable for their performance, with the natural expectation that students would perform better or worse depending on their effort and intellect.”  

He continued:  

“Today, [superintendents] are asked to raise test scores and college attendance rates while shrinking identity-based achievement gaps; keep schools safe without disproportionately disciplining students; make informed selections of curricula, teacher evaluation systems, and professional development; improve their students’ mental health; maintain a balanced budget; and be responsive to their school board and community. This is too much work for a single individual, even with the help of supporting administrators, the school board, and the community.” 

But that’s not to say the education system hasn’t caused problems too.  

In a survey of Maine voters, just 16% thought schools should spend more instruction time on “gender, sexuality, and race,” while 77% wanted teachers to focus on “the basics like math, reading, and writing.”  

And a nationwide survey of recent high school graduates revealed how liberal ideology has snuck into the classroom.  

Large numbers of graduates reported being taught that America is systemically racist (36%), that white people have white privilege (41%), that American is built on stolen land (45%), or that gender isn’t related to biological sex (31%).  

Alongside DEI and CRT, most public schools are adopting curriculum focusing on SEL (social-emotional learning).  

However, a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Education found SEL “did not increase academic achievement or reduce behavioral problems.” 

Other literature reviews of dozens of studies again found no significant improvement to “academic achievement, interpersonal skills, disciplinary outcomes, or other outcomes of interest.”