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### Analyzing Maine’s K-12 Education Decline Over Decades

Disclosure: The Maine Wire is an initiative of the Maine Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization under section 501©(3) that is dedicated to enhancing individual freedom and economic liberty in Maine.

Maine, once a prominent figure in the realm of education, is currently grappling with a series of obstacles within its K-12 public school system. These challenges encompass a decline in reading and math proficiency, a surge in behavioral and mental health issues among students, and a critical shortage of teachers, as outlined in a report published by the Maine Policy Institute on a recent Tuesday.

The comprehensive 91-page document, titled “The Decline of Maine K-12 Education,” was penned by Jonah Davids, an education fellow and social science researcher at the Maine Policy Institute. It sheds light on the significant drop in student performance, teacher contentment, and classroom security in Maine schools over the past four decades.


By utilizing the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rankings to gauge academic success in math and reading, the report reveals a stark reality. While Maine consistently held the top one or two positions for math and reading in the 1990s, its rank has now plummeted to an average of 36th place nationwide by 2022.

Despite a 20% rise in the inflation-adjusted expenditure per student in Maine schools from 2006 to 2022, the proficiency levels in math and reading have either stagnated or declined.

Graph from “The Decline of Maine K-12 Education”

The report attributes this decline partly to a transformation in educational policies prompted by state and federal directives that have eroded local authority over education. These mandates have burdened educators with various adverse consequences resulting from new teaching methodologies, testing requirements, and classroom management protocols.

Among the repercussions highlighted in the report are educators being compelled to embrace new, often unproven, teaching approaches that have failed to yield consistent enhancements. Schools are now grappling with a myriad of intricate responsibilities, ranging from elevating test scores to addressing students’ mental health issues.


Citing national data, the report underscores that the typical American teacher spends only 50% of their time on actual teaching, while 27% is allocated to grading, planning, and administrative tasks.

Davids argues in the report that these “top-down, centralized, and bureaucratic” policies have led to a notable surge in administrative obligations, consequently reducing the time available for actual teaching. The delineation between teacher, therapist, and activist has become increasingly blurred.


The report references statistics indicating that only 32% of experienced teachers in Maine express being “very satisfied” with their profession, with 56% contemplating leaving the field recently.

Davids points to a 2020 study highlighting low pay as a significant source of job dissatisfaction among public school teachers, particularly in Maine where salaries lag behind the national average and those of neighboring New England states.

Graph from “The Decline of Maine K-12 Education”

The repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have been keenly felt in Maine schools, with the report showcasing one of the most substantial declines in test scores during this period.

Maine is currently grappling with one of the most severe teacher shortages in the nation, with 1,311 educators resigning and 927 retiring in 2022. The surge in resignations among public school educators commenced in 2020, according to the report.

Graph from “The Decline of Maine K-12 Education”

The report also underscores a recent surge in behavioral and mental health issues within Maine schools.

Incidents involving violence, drugs, and weapons have nearly tripled in Maine schools since 2014, with Maine educators resorting to restraining and secluding students at a higher rate than any other state in the country.


The mental well-being of students, particularly girls, emerges as another concerning aspect in the report. Nearly half of Maine high school girls reported feelings of hopelessness or sadness in 2021, with a third engaging in self-harm and 11% attempting suicide.

Graph from “The Decline of Maine K-12 Education”

Furthermore, Davids highlights the escalating influence of gender ideology in schools, noting a threefold increase in the number of female students identifying as transgender between 2017 and 2021, alongside instances of guidance counselors operating without parental involvement.


Davids underscores the growing ideological stance in Maine education, with schools prioritizing initiatives such as social-emotional learning and diversity, equity, and inclusion over traditional academic subjects.

“While differing opinions on these matters are valid, schools that advocate divisive ideological viewpoints breach public trust, alienate numerous students and staff, and divert attention from fundamental educational functions like teaching mathematics, science, and history,” Davids articulates in the report.

Read the complete “Decline of Maine K-12 Education” report.

Access the Maine Policy Institute’s press release and report summary.

Davids engaged in a discussion with Matt Gagnon, CEO of the Maine Policy Institute, on Newsradio WGAN to delve into the findings of the report and the factors contributing to Maine’s decline in national education rankings.

Davids remarked, “Maine has historically been at the forefront of education reform, but recent reforms, particularly in the last decade, have been detrimental. Leading the pack isn’t always beneficial if the areas of leadership are subpar.”


Highlighting the impact of top-down educational reforms and standards, Davids emphasized that while some elements may hold merit, the implementation necessitates a bureaucratic structure that encroaches on the time and capacity of regular teachers striving to educate their students effectively.

“Now is the opportune moment to critically assess the situation, engage with your local school district, and initiate dialogues on how we can enhance our educational institutions,” Davids urged, stressing the importance of schools reverting to fundamental teaching principles.

Listen to Jonah David’s segment on Newsradio WGAN with Matt Gagnon below: