EDUCATIONAL REALITY - State grant to fund media, not schools

In a press release today, the Maine Department of Education cleverly misspelled the active word in its own name: "Educaiton." About 90 minutes later a "corrected" release came out, spelling the word right, but with no less clarity on what it was announcing, except that it appears to have gotten nearly $720,000 for something.

The release seemed to be telling people to watch the Oprah Winfrey show tomorrow afternoon to catch an "exclusive" interview with Bill and Melinda Gates - you know, the software mogul whose company name may describe his personal equipment, and his wife, a former employee who led the project group for "Microsoft Bob," intending to create a "computer experience" where you could talk to "Bob" and just ask him things and he would do them.

Now, however, the Gateses have been giving "more than one billion dollars to support the creation of more than 1600 high-quality high schools," according to the state's press release. That's just over 5 percent of all the public high schools in the nation, of which there are 27,468 according to Newsweek. There's no mention of what happens to the rest of the schools.

And the release says "Maine has been recognized as a leader in high school reform," though its main success appears to be a grant from the National Governors Association (though the Department makes that middle word possessive, suggesting there is only one governor and he or she has an entire association). The purpose of the $720,000 NGA grant? "Develop and implement a statewide media / public relations campaign to support the the need to ensure that every student has the right to be college ready and prepared for the 21st century workplace.  Contract with the Maine Coalition for Excellence in partnership with the Compact for Higher Education."

So the "big get" for the Maine Department of Education is money to persuade Mainers that students need to learn in school. It sure doesn't bode well for the people in those schools that the state would rather spend money telling adults something they already know, than actually educating students.

This is in an era where Maine's high school graduation rate is termed "impressive" by Governor John Baldacci but never actually specified in the press release. (It's between 75 and 78 percent, around 13th in the nation.) And where Time magazine is projecting that one in three high school students will not graduate. (We are just squeaking past that, at one in four, you see.)

So when state budget dollars are being shaved every which way, and education funding is as at risk as everything else, we just got $720,000 and we're not going to use it on our schools. Or our universities, or our community colleges. We're going to use it on PR.

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