Schools Trying to Solve Challenges Creatively – My testimony on LD 938

Tough times for schools (not even counting the current anti-labor climate). Budget cuts. Struggling to increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates. Under-motivated students.

Some schools are trying to work on some of those challenges creatively. What if we could make some interesting educational opportunities for our students by recruiting some out of state students or foreign students to participate in our online learning programs while bringing a revenue stream into the district?

That’s the idea behind Maine LD 938 An Act To Permit Public School Online Learning Programs To Accept Nonresident Tuition Students.

Today, I testified to the Education Committee at the State House. Below Re my comments.

Hello. My name is Dr. Mike Muir. I am the director of Maine’s virtual project-based program for at-risk and dropout youth, and soon will be Auburn School District’s Multiple Pathways Leader, responsible for working with staff to find ways to better engage students and customize learning opportunities. I am also Director of UMF’s Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning.

We live in interesting times.

If we start by looking at the student context, what probably jumps out at us first is the degree to which technology is integrated into students lives, and how technology impacts how they do their everyday work, learning, and socializing. Educators are struggling to catch up with young people so that we can teach in ways that match the world they live in outside of school. Many students “power down” to come to school, and even though we have technology in the schools and are using it in our classes, our struggle is trying to figure out how students use their technology so that we can avoid that potential problem of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of these young people.

Technology also opens up the world to students. We can give them virtual field trips, and they explore the country and the world on their own. They make friends the whole world over. Even a student who has never been south of Portland can get a feel for the world beyond their home in a way our contemporaries who never traveled south of Portland never could.

And in these interesting times, educators have a better understanding of how students learn. We understand that students learn at different times, at different rates, and in different ways. Education has had a system that forces everyone to learn the same thing, at the same time, and at the same pace for so long, that it is a challenge for us to uncover how to become flexible, and better meet the needs of students (including, of course, through online learning opportunities).

In terms of interesting times in the school context, there is enormous pressure to increase graduation rates and decrease dropout rates. We have a system that has always worked well for a portion of our student population (even a large portion), but for only a portion. That may have been fine when there were plenty of jobs for people without a high school diploma, or even a college degree, but not today. Educators realize that we need to develop ways of reaching other students.

All this within the context of enormous budget cuts. We have had repeated years of huge budget cuts, followed mid year by one or more curtailments. Schools are struggling to do more with less.

In the context of the economy and job market we also live in interesting times. Jobs are changing and employers are looking for students to be educated for different skills. At least one small part of Proctor and Gamble calls Auburn home. One of their employees recently told school officials that they are hiring differently than they ever have before, and that they have much better luck hiring outside the US than they do in the US. That’s because US schools train students to know facts or have skills, for example, to be an electrician. But Proctor and Gamble doesn’t want to hire electricians. They want to hire someone who can learn to be an electrician to accomplish that one project, and then can learn to be something else for the next project.

In the past, it may have seemed that schools have had what they needed. But that wasn’t at a time when schools needed to be successful with more students, when students are different, the job market is different, and there is less and less money to make big changes and accomplish more goals.

For the first time educators are forced into trying to be entrepreneurial in several ways:
• Inventing ways of reaching more learners:
• Inventing ways to teach the skills employers want;
• Inventing ways of teaching so that they more students can succeed;
• Inventing ways to overcome budget cuts.

This Act To Permit Public School Online Learning Programs To Accept Nonresident Tuition Students is one way the State can support schools being entrepreneurial:
• It provides students the benefit of enriched learning experiences, interacting with students from across the country and around the world.
• It provides schools the opportunity to try to recoup funding lost in numerous cutbacks and budget cuts.
• It removes an unfair competitive advantage that private schools have had, having been able to recruit and charge nonresident students for years.

This bill has several vital components:
• It allows schools to charge tuition to out-of-state students, similar to how the law currently allows schools to charge tuition to out-of-district students.
• It allows entrepreneurial schools to use the funds in an entrepreneurial fashion by not counting it again state funding for residential students.
• It allows the direct contact to students to be a learning coach working under a certified teacher, instead of requiring only a certified teacher, since most of the work is learning progress management, not curricular design.

So I implore you to please consider recommending and passing An Act To Permit Public School Online Learning Programs To Accept Nonresident Tuition Students. Thank you.

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