AUGUSTA – The idea of grading Maine schools like schools grade their students could backfire on Education Commissioner Steven Bowen, who learned this week that he could have his salary reduced, or possibly be fired within a year under the No Child Left Behind Act if the grades don’t improve.
The Maine Department of Education released its report card for Maine’s schools last week, scoring most of them between “average” and “shittier than a cow pasture.” Under NCLB, school administrators can lose their jobs if scores do not improve.
Bowen argued that assessing his job performance on test scores alone is not fair. “There’s a lot more to being Education Commissioner than preparing schools to take these tests,” he said. “I’m molding young schools to become the scholastic institutions of tomorrow. You can’t do that with just a number 2 pencil and some paper.”
For instance, Bowen said, he is responsible for making sure schools develop moral character. This was evident when he chaperoned the prom this year, making sure that Lewiston High School and Belfast High School didn’t gross everyone out by grinding their private areas against each other like porn stars. He also kept an eye on Schenck High School to make sure that it didn’t get taken out into the parking lot and taken advantage of by one of the horny young jock schools, like Hermon or Cheverus.
“I deserve a raise just for that,” Bowen said. “Look, this type of thing is not easy – to be able to keep these schools in line without embarrassing them or scarring them for life or causing a lawsuit.”
An education commissioner must also bring a level of expertise and passion into his job to inspire schools to become robust seekers of knowledge, Bowen argued, desperately trying to save his pasty little hide. “Leading Maine’s schools takes a lot more than drilling them with test prep. You have to build relationships. You have to care. That’s the only way some of these neglected schools can find their way into society as productive institutions, and hopefully, find what truly makes them happy.”
Bowen’s views are shared by the Alliance of State Secretaries of Health, Operations, Labor, Education, and Science (ASSHOLES), the nation’s leading lobbying group for upper-level bureaucrats in state government. “We categorically reject the idea that school performance data are a valid reflection of any education commissioner’s job performance,” stated Marvin L. Jenkins, a spokeshuman for ASSHOLES. “There are too many variables that are out of a bureaucrats control here.”
For example, Jenkins cited the fact that Winslow Elementary School is not able to concentrate on its homework because it has to listen to its parents fighting every night. Also, on the rare occasions when Loranger Middle School in Old Orchard Beach does show up, it’s always either drunk or high on paint fumes. Countless other schools arrive every morning without having consumed an adequate breakfast of heating oil or faculty prep time. “Every state has cases like these, of course, but in a small state they skew the sample more, and there’s not a thing the education commissioner can do about it.”
“Would I like to have more John Bapsts and Cape Elizabeths on my rolls? Of course. But I can’t just make that happen,” said Bowen.
Republican lawmakers said they were not persuaded by these kinds of excuses. “School leaders must be held accountable to the public,” said Sen. Brian Langley, the ranking G.O.P. member of the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education, Cultural Affairs, and Furniture Rejection. “The private sector would never put up with any of this foolishness, so I don’t see why government should, either.”