From the Intern’s Desk: As our Economy Evolves, So Must our Schools

This is part of a weekly series of posts by Roy Ulrickson III, our Master of Social Work Intern. Opinions expressed may not reflect those of MCA, but we want to encourage an open dialogue with our readers.

Brunswick High School circa 1930-1945.  Image Source: The Tichnor Brothers Collection| Boston Public Library, Print Department
Brunswick High School circa 1930-1945. Image Source: The Tichnor Brothers Collection| Boston Public Library, Print Department

As Mainers, we are proud of our small town heritage and our commitment to our neighbors. Our schools have been centers of our communities since they were formed in the late 1800’s. To meet the needs of the local economy, community public schools were established to educate our children. These schools were funded by local property owners and businesses. Residents were incentivized to invest in local, high quality education because as their children grew up and became productive citizens, they contributed to the local economy.  Return on investment was clearly visible as these well-educated individuals entered the workforce. Local control of funding, administration and delivery of educational curriculum was important because it supported the industries of the community.

But as the structure of the economy changed, the structure of local school funding and administration has largely remained unchanged for the last 150 years. As our local shoe shops, textile mills, paper mills and small town factories close, it may be time to reconsider how we pay for the administration of our schools. Sometimes there are no returns on the investments that we make in our children because they must move out of town to find work. Does this mean we stop educating the children in our community? No, of course not. With education being the foundation of our long-term economic success, it may be time for our education system to evolve to meet the needs of our global economy.

This image is from EdBuild's interactive map which shows student poverty in every school district in the U.S. Check it out to learn more about Maine's school districts.
This image is from EdBuild’s interactive map which shows student poverty in every school district in the U.S. Here you can see the different levels of student poverty in Maine school districts.

With much of our K-12 education funded by local property taxes, areas of prosperity will continue to thrive simply because they will have more to invest in education. Areas that lack prosperity or have lost industry overseas will have less to invest in their children. As a result, students who live in communities facing economic challenges may not receive the high quality education afforded to others. To overcome these disparities, why can’t we fund 100% of our educational costs with state and federal resources? That way, each child in the state has the same amount of investment in their future and has an equal opportunity to succeed.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, Maine recently incorporated proficiency-based diplomas. In order to ensure that every child receive the same education to meet these proficiencies, we need to better standardize the curriculum around the state. In theory, a child that moves to a neighboring town could receive a completely different curriculum from different textbooks simply because it is in another school district. Though teachers need some flexibility to cater instruction toward their students, do we really need to have dozens, if not hundreds, of different approaches to education that we have now? Greater collaboration between schools and districts could establish a more consistent delivery of instruction to all students.

To succeed in a highly competitive global environment, we must focus our priorities on the students. Instead of the Pony Express, we communicate with text message on mobile devices. Instead of riding in a horse and carriage, we travel in computerized vehicles that can communicate with satellites. Like our communication and transportation systems, our educational system must evolve to meet the needs of a global economy. No longer should we accept cuts to the arts, sports and other extracurricular activities. It’s time that we invest our educational resources in children and teachers. Only then will every child in our state be able to realize their full potential.

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