Monthly Archives: February 2014

Why a moratorium on virtual charter schools is integral to providing Maine students with access to online learning through their existing schools

27 February 2014
Representative Brian Hubbell, Bar Harbor
On motion to indefinitely postpone House Amendment ‘B’ to Committee Amendment ‘A’ to LD 1736

Mr. Speaker, Women and Men of the House:

I realize that, at this moment, it appears that the good Representative from Augusta and I are standing on opposite sides in this chamber.

But, Mr. Speaker, I want to assure you that I regularly share his frustration at what it takes here to advance good policy by forging alliances of variously committed and reluctant interests.

I do know that many across the spectrum in this House have real reservations about the unequivocably poor record of virtual charter schools in other states and who doubt whether virtual schools represent a wise and effective use of increasingly scarce public funding.

But I also know that many with those reservations also struggle along with the Representative from Augusta with sincere misgivings about whether a temporary pause in the implementation of virtual charter schools really advances the best interest of Maine’s students.

Because I believe those misgivings deserve an honest airing, I thank the Representative from Augusta for putting this matter before the House for consideration and I will do my best to directly explain why the moratorium is integral to the bipartisan comprehensive merits of this bill.

But first let me remind the members that the first phase of this bill immediately makes available content from the same providers that propose to serve Maine’s virtual charters schools via New Hampshire’s established virtual learning academy. This content will become available in September to all Maine students, not just those who see virtual charters as their only option.

Second, let me restate that we don’t have unlimited public resources and that it is our responsibility as legislators to ensure that public education dollars are spent as effectively as possible to the benefit of all Maine students.

Third, I implore those, like the good Representative from Biddeford — who have argued here passionately and forcefully that competition between educational options can drive educational improvement — to recognize the evidence of progress that is before them and which arguably validates their own position.

Mr. Speaker, three years ago, when this body was debating the implementation of charter schools in this state, how many here would have predicted that we would now have local school superintendents like Ken Coville from RSU 74 passionately leading by example and advancing a state-wide virtual learning exchange to share blended virtual content between all Maine students — in public schools, charter schools, private schools, and homeschoolers?

How many here would have expected the MEA to recognize and commend the success of innovative state-run virtual academies like those in New Hampshire, Vermont and Ohio?

How many here would have expected to find Maine School Management proposing to expend its own local resources to develop a partnership with a charter school in New Hampshire?

As a state, we have called on our public schools to innovate and broaden opportunities for Maine students. With this initiative, they are responding.

Ironically, in the subsequent three years since Maine introduced charter schools, the frame of the status quo has shifted to the point where those throwing sand into the gears on this bill are the representatives now protecting a different set of hard-won special entitlements.

Most disappointing to me — two years after the Chief Executive’s order to expand digital learning to all Maine students — was hearing testimony from staff at the Department of Education that they currently doubt their own ability to implement such a state-wide vision. despite the successful examples in states that are moving forward elsewhere.

So I believe this moratorium is necessary because it provides incentives in both direction to move us off a current, different status quo.

We’ve had two years under the Chief Executive’s Executive Order to give all Maine students broad access to digital learning and two years later that promise remains unrealized.

Here, our obligation remains to ensure that all Maine students have access to the promise of expanded digital learning — even those whose parents lack the luxury of serving as full time learning coaches within the virtual charter programs.

We need to be able to answer the blended learning needs of the community of all Maine students, not merely offer digital learning via isolated virtual charters and then empower public schools and their taxpayers to do nothing more than foot the bill

Unfortunately the moratorium is necessary to bring together the stakeholders to move digital learning forward in Maine. This bill already has brought together productive efforts from the school boards, superintendents, and public school teachers that some here have characterized as reluctant defenders of the old status quo.

But to be successful we need even broader commitment from the Department of Education whose representatives have told us that they lack the ability on their own to implement a digital learning exchange similar to what is moving forward successfully in other states like New Hampshire, Vermont, and Ohio.

Women and Men of the House, change is hard and it takes both leadership and partnership.

It’s time to light a fire to reenergize the Department of Education’s efforts on digital learning for all. This bipartisan support behind this bill recognizes the value both the promise of digital learning and the value of providing an incentive to motivate real accomplishment.

We owe it to all the students across this state — on Frenchboro, Islesford and Matinicus, in Calais, Jonesport, Biddeford, Sanford, Auburn, Augusta Skowhegan, Embden, Greenville, Houlton, in Caribou — we owe it to all Maine students to move forcefully and deliberately, comprehensively and equitably, to realize the promise of the Chief Executive’s original exectuve order and expand the digital learning opportunities for all Maine students.

Please join me in support of preserving that comprehensive effort in the current bill.

House floor speech in favor of LD 1736: Resolve, To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Representative Brian Hubbell of Bar Harbor
House floor speech in favor of LD 1736: Resolve, To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts

Mr. Speaker, Women and Men of the House:

Just over two years ago, our Chief Executive issued an Executive Order giving the Department of Education one year to develop a plan to expand digital learning opportunities available to Maine students.

Unfortunately, constraints of resources and time have kept the Department from realizing the Governor’s vision and the greater community of 180,000 Maine students is still missing the real promise of accessing the growing world of digital learning opportunities through Maine’s public schools.

This bill will kickstart that effort by charging Maine’s schools immediately to negotiate an agreement with New Hampshire’s successful Virtual Learning Academy to provide content to students through Maine schools and under the oversight of Maine teachers.

This bill further charges the Department of Education and Maine’s public education stakeholders to collaborate in developing a state-wide exchange — informed by those already in operation in other states — for Maine schools to access and exchange both locally- and globally-produced digital content — from single lectures and units to full term-length classes — in order to more efficiently meet the greatest range of student learning needs.

As this Chamber well understands, we owe it to Maine taxpayers to employ state funding for education as efficiently and effectively as possible. For less than the 3 million dollar cost of a single virtual charter school which would exclusively educate only a handful of specially interested students, this bill offers access to digital learning to all Maine students — full time, part-time, private-schooled, and homeschooled.

Please join me in support of this bipartisan bill and in support of the Chief Executive’s vision for broader more customized learning opportunities for all Maine students.

Testimony in support of LD 1736 and implementing a public virtual learning collaborative

February 4, 2014

Senator Millett, Representative MacDonald, esteemed colleagues on the Education Committee, I am Brian Hubbell, representing House District 35, Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, and Mount Desert and I am here before you as the lead co-sponsor and earnest supporter of LD 1736, A Resolve, To Create a State-run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts.

Like you, for many years I have been alternately excited and concerned about the prospects of virtual learning in Maine.

Back sometime in the early 90s, I registered for an adult ed class at Narraguagus High School that gave me access to a bewildering frontier of DOS-based distance learning and for many happy evenings I wandered essentially at random through a variety of remedial Latin exercises with no apparent beginning or end.

Over the past few years, as a school board member and a parent, I’ve observed intelligent and highly-motivated students who had tapped out local high school offerings flounder with frustratingly limited success to navigate advanced independent virtual classes on their own without the association or assistance of live teachers.

Most recently, in MEPRI’s objective evaluation of charter schools, we have received confirmation of our concerns via the 2011 CREDO study about the subpar performance of virtual charter schools.

And yet, there is no doubt that the proven success of blended learning offers real promise and compelling incentive for Maine to implement a thoughtful and comprehensive model for collaborative virtual learning.

So, with gratitude to Senator Langley, I am deeply committed to the success of this bill because I believe that Maine students need us to provide them with an effective platform for online learning.  And I believe that we can learn much from the proven successes of public virtual collaboratives in our neighboring New England States.

By broadening blended learning opportunities for all students — not only those who are struggling or limited by traditional classes but also those who are home-schooled or traveling — a state virtual academy would serve many more students than a virtual charter school.  Most importantly, students would benefit from having a Maine teacher available to them at both ends of the wire.

We are offered unique opportunity here to build on the successes both of Vermont’s Virtual Learning Collaborative and New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy.  New Hampshire has expressed interest in exploring a partnership with Maine which offers promising opportunity for quick implementation.

Beyond that, this bill offers Maine the chance to thoughtfully develop a truly collaborative model that suits a wide range of students and a promising way for Maine school to efficiently share good practices in effective distance learning.

Please join me in support of this bill.

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