Posts Tagged ‘Pender Makin’


Happy Arts Education Month

March 1, 2021


On Wednesday, February 17 Arts Education Advocacy Day was celebrated during a zoom a plenary session provided by the Arts are Basic Coalition (ABC) and the Maine Alliance for Arts Education (MAAE) working with the Maine Department of Education and the Maine Arts Commission. All of Maine’s professional arts education organizations leaders are members of ABC and presented along with amazing student voices. I’m sure many of the Maine Arts Education blog readers attended.

Commissioner of Education, Pender Makin, participated in the event and I think her message is a great place to start March – Arts Education Month. I encourage you to share her message with your colleagues (visual and performing arts educators and all others), with parents, school board members and your community members. The archive of the plenary session will be available and provided by MAAE in the very near future.


We (MDOE) value the arts in education extremely highly and perhaps above everything else and here’s why: it’s more than the pragmatic use of the arts to build the architecture, the neural pathways within brains that their engagement in the arts definitely develops, allowing them to better learn and more deeply learn all of their other content. That’s important but it’s not that, it goes beyond the creativity, the self-expression. Even goes beyond the social emotional pieces. It goes beyond the power of the arts which is so critically important at this time above all other times to heal a broken society, to find and create unity in divisiveness. It goes beyond that even. And here’s what I think it is. Arts in education, especially in public education, where every child is supposed to have their very best shot provided for them is critical because it ultimately makes life worth living. The arts make all the other business we do worth doing. It is critical now and always has been but we really need to move forward that we provide equity of opportunity, equity of access, and make sure that all of our arts opportunities are widely available and represent the demographics in the surrounding community.”


Arts Education Advocacy Day

February 16, 2021

Don’t miss it!



In the News

April 16, 2020

Portland Press Herald

This is reprinted from the Portland Press Herald written by Pender Makin, Commissioner of Education, State Department of Education, April 14

Maine education chief: Teaching your kids at home is tough – we’re all finding our way

Across our nation, headlines and social media are announcing that “schools are closed” because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Maine, our schools continue to provide educational services, social and emotional support and child nutrition, even though we are unable to provide in-person classroom instruction during this public health emergency. With very little notice, school and district leaders made extraordinarily difficult and courageous decisions based on the health and safety of their students, staff and communities. Educators have set aside years of careful preparation, materials and plans, stepping into brand-new roles as providers of remote emergency education – literally reinventing their practice overnight.

The impacts of the pandemic reach across every aspect of our daily lives, and many families are struggling with lost jobs, lack of child care and lack of access to even basic provisions. We recognize that remote/distance education may create an additional hardship, as your kitchen tables have suddenly become combination home offices and classrooms, and parents and caregivers are likely feeling overwhelmed. It is extremely disorienting when familiar businesses, supports, services, social interactions and regular activities are suddenly, collectively absent from our lives. Prioritization can be difficult in such circumstances, because everything we’ve temporarily lost feels so very important and even small frustrations can become inflated.

Maine families, you are not in this alone. We hear you, we are with you and we will all get through this together. You have always been your child’s most important teacher, and the critical lessons you’re teaching them now include resilience, patience (with self and others) and adaptability. Your schools and teachers are providing learning opportunities to help create routine, to maintain connections and to provide grade-appropriate materials for engagement and enrichment. We know, however, that many homes lack internet connection, sufficient space or materials for projects and other amenities to support some of the learning activities that our schools are providing remotely.

We know that many students have had to assume adult responsibilities – like supervising younger siblings or taking a job at the grocery store to supplement a parent’s lost wages. We know that some parents and caregivers are arriving home exhausted from essential work responsibilities to face the prospect of somehow reproducing a school day for children in different grade levels, sharing one computer. Social media often adds even more pressure, with posts that offer idyllic (and likely heavily edited) versions of the successful home classroom.

If you are struggling with the management of emergency education for your child, please note the following:

• You are surviving within a state of emergency. Take a deep breath and prioritize health and safety above all; then prioritize relationships, emotional well-being and mental health; take some time to recognize the small gifts in this situation and point them out to your child.

• Learning will happen. It is happening every minute in your child’s magnificent, fast-wiring brain – children and adolescents are constantly building the neural architectural structures that will later house unimaginable ideas, innovations and solutions (perhaps even the cure for coronaviruses)!

• In a state of emergency, academic content is secondary to thinking skills – and these can be taught and practiced in any setting. (In fact, “real world” situations create the ideal conditions.) Encourage imagination, curiosity and creativity; encourage critical thinking by asking open-ended questions, and – without even thinking about it – you’re encouraging collaborative problem solving as you let your children argue over who goes first or whose piece was bigger!

• We are here for you. Schools are using emergency education plans that have been developed under the unprecedented circumstances we face together. These plans are different in response to unique community needs, and are under continual revision as this dynamic situation unfolds. Teachers, counselors and social workers, school staff members and administrators are available to support you and your children, so please reach out as needed – communication between families and schools is more important now than ever.

• Your children are likely experiencing symptoms of the grieving process. They have lost familiar routines and supports, and are likely feeling that same lack of predictability and control that has all of us reeling. As you practice being patient with yourself and with them, you’re modeling important coping skills that will serve them well on into the future.

• Families of the Class of 2020 graduating seniors: Yes, the rites of passage will look very different this year and it is both normal and OK for them (and for you) to be feeling angry, sad, cheated and confused. Please take comfort in the fact that Maine students and educators are especially resilient and innovative; the alternative celebrations they’ll design will be among the most unforgettable in all of history. Maine seniors will be joined by 3.8 million others in this extraordinary experience, and the legacy of our nation’s 2020 graduates will serve as a source of pride, strength and hope for all of us.

Maine Department of Education and the dedicated leaders, educators and staff at Maine schools have your back as you and your children find your path through this unprecedented experience. Please check our growing website for supportive resources at, and please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. We will get through this together.


Maine DOE

April 8, 2020

Guidance from Commissioner of Education for remainder of school year

Dear Champions of Education,

As you may know, US CDC guidance recommends an 8 to 20 week timeframe for avoiding large group/in-person instruction once there is evidence of community transmission of COVID-19.  Therefore, I am recommending, with the support of the Governor, that you begin to plan to replace classroom/group instruction with remote/distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

It is difficult to make such a recommendation, recognizing the profound challenge of reinventing public education and the many culminating events and rites of passage that educators and students anticipate all year long. I also realize that this recommendation will be difficult for families to hear, given the challenges of childcare and managing school expectations on top of the other significant impacts of this state and national emergency.

That said, I believe it is extremely important for school leaders to have as much information as possible in order to best prepare educators, students, and communities for a longer period of remote learning and to promote opportunities for redesigned celebrations and alternative ways to provide both continuity and closure.

Please know that you’re not in this alone. The DOE team is available Monday through Friday – with daily “office hours” for discussing and sharing challenges and solutions; free professional development offerings; an enormous list of online and “unplugged” resources for every possible subject/content area, topic, and grade level; and as many resources as we can make available to you and your schools.  The schedule can be found here.

Here are some additional updates, requirements, and recommendations:

SAT and student grades:  

As you know, the SAT was used as part of our ESSA accountability assessment system, and we have received a waiver exempting us from the ESSA assessments.  We will not be requiring, nor offering, the SAT to this year’s 3rd year high school students, and we intend to invite educators and school/school administrative unit (SAU) leaders to assist us as we redesign a state assessment system that will authentically measure school success and student achievement in a more useful and meaningful way.

We have confirmed that the SAT is not required for admission, nor will it be required as a screener for any program, at any Maine college or university.  In addition, we are hearing that colleges and university across the country are following suit. NPR reported about this last week.

We also learned that UMS will be using a pass/fail system this year, including prerequisites for competitive and advanced courses, and that they recognize that students from the current cohort of applicants may also be receiving pass/fail grades. They are developing innovative and flexible admissions criteria and processes.

We have heard from many SAUs and schools who are using a variety of grading practices during this emergency education situation: some schools are maintaining grading practices, while others are implementing Pass/Fail. Some schools are only providing feedback instead of grades, and some are only including grades that improve a student’s overall GPA or academic standing. Ultimately this is a local determination, however we would encourage SAUs and regions to discuss and determine a system that holds harmless students for whom conditions are outside of their control.

Enrolling new students:

There are many students whose families are experiencing housing disruption or changes during this COVID emergency, and we’ve had several calls regarding whether schools are expected to register new students if they move into a SAU. The answer is, “Yes.”  It is important to ensure there are directions that are publicly available on how new students can enroll during this pandemic.

Commissioner’s Conference for superintendents:

We apologize for this inconvenience, but we will be postponing the Commissioner’s Conference that had been scheduled to take place in June.  We are looking for another date and will share this as soon as possible.

Providing meals during April Break:

We have applied for and received approval for a waiver that will allow for SAUs to continue approved Unanticipated School Closure meal service operations during April Break. You can claim reimbursement for meals served at approved sites over the break on the days of the week you have been approved to serve.

Continuity of Education Plans:

SAUs do not need to send us your plans – only the minutes from the board meeting at which your continuity of education plan was approved by your board – in order to receive the waiver on the minimum required school days. If you need assistance or resources for ensuring learning opportunities for your students, please reach out to the Department.  A copy of the minutes should be submitted here.

Take care of yourselves and your people:

Unlike the well-defined grief of a definite and specific loss, the nebulous impacts from COVID-19 are disorienting and hard to describe; we’re experiencing the loss of our basic and reliable systems and structures.  While the economy, health care, and education systems are disrupted, and when the fabric of our social habits and traditions disintegrates into forced isolation, people understandably lose the comfort of predictability and control.  I mention this here because it can be helpful to acknowledge grief for what it is and to remember that the process actually helps us to adapt to new conditions and to become resilient.

Collectively, Maine schools have provided a much-needed sense of security for students, families, and communities during this extraordinarily challenging time, and all of us at DOE continue to be in awe of your leadership and your commitment to providing the best educational services possible for your students.

As always, thank you for everything you do on behalf of your students and our education system!

–  Pender Makin

Pronouns: she, her, hers

Commissioner, Maine Department of Education

Posted April 7, 2020


Message From the Commissioner of Education

March 24, 2020

Pender Makin


Commissioner of Education

January 6, 2019

Pender Makin

Governor Janet Mills nominated Pender Makin for the position of Commissioner of Education for the Maine Department of Education. Until the legislator approves the nomination Pender will be Acting Commissioner. Pender was a teacher at Westcott Junior High School in Westbrook, principal of the REAL School in Freeport and most recently has served as the Assistant Superintendent in Brunswick. She has been recognized for her work in education receiving the Milken Educator Award in 2001 and named Principal of the Year by the Maine Principal’s Association in 2013-14.

Press Herald photo by Andy Molloy

Quotes from the articles linked below from Pender Makin:

  • “Our work must start with rebuilding trust, first in the Maine Department of Education, and then, of course, in our schools, our educators, our administrators, certainly in our students,” Makin said, “and ultimately in the institution of public education overall. For too long, a negative culture has been crafted around public education.”
  • “Our work must start with rebuilding trust, first in the Maine Department of Education, and then, of course, in our schools, our educators, our administrators, certainly in our students,” Makin said, “and ultimately in the institution of public education overall. For too long, a negative culture has been crafted around public education.”
  • “The truth is that miraculous successes are taking place in our public schools and in our classrooms every single day and public education in Maine outperforms any reasonable expectation, especially given the magnitude of our responsibilities and the scarcity of our resources,” she said.

Sun Journal

Portland Press Herald


One Person’s Voice

December 4, 2011

Bell Curve – The Shape of a Lie: Standards Based Education – what is it?

Last week I saw colleague Pender Makin, Director of The Real School in Falmouth, and she shared that she had been part of a recent conversation discussing standards based education. I asked her to write a blog post on the topic. Not only did she write the following post but she started a blog called Alternative Education – Topics and Solutions for Nontraditional Learners. Pender is not only an educator who takes action making a difference for students but, as you can see for yourself, is articulate and passionate! I urge you to pass this link onto your colleagues to read this post and of course, provide feedback by commenting below the post.

To be more competitive globally – in an authentic way – our public education system must abandon the illusion of competitiveness based on academic comparisons among students and their peers. Competition in schools is great when it comes to the debate team, the spelling bee, the soccer field, the jazz band finals … Athletes and mathletes alike should enjoy activities and venues for demonstrating their exceptional skills (and for receiving recognition for their specific superiority).

When it comes to the classroom, however, our goal is to help all students to meet state and national (or even international) standards in academic content and skills. And to do that, we have to let go of our desire to rank, sort, classify, and line students up from best to worst, using peers as benchmarks.

True standards-based education in a competitive, capitalist society is a very uncomfortable concept, when you think about it:  A hockey dad learns that his daughter (the center on the school team) meets a standard in Geometry.  By how much did she meet it?  Who met that standard a little bit less than she did? Would that be considered an “A+”?  Or would it be a “D-” because she dragged her achievement across that line between not meeting the standard (an “F”?) and barely making it (a “D”?)???  What do you mean someone else “exceeded” that standard?  By how much??  Who gets to be on the Honor Roll?  How do we find the Valedictorian? Who will salute her?

We crave that bell curve – a nice normal statistical distribution that lets the world know that some people are great, most are average, and some just don’t measure up.  A mother might reasonably feel that her son’s “A” in English Literature only means something because other kids earned B’s and C’s – or lower. Cognitively, we want everyone to achieve the standards – but viscerally, we want to know who’s the best.

Even after decades of school reform aimed at embracing a standards-based approach, many educators and administrators (and MOST community stakeholders, families, parents…) are unable to relinquish that white-knuckled grip on the idea of measuring students against each other rather than against the learning standards.  Most schools go so far as to explore and experiment with changes to curriculum and instruction to support standards-based learning (usually taking a diluted form involving “standards-referenced” practices), and then abandon ship entirely when it comes to exploring standards-based assessment and reporting.

“Standardized testing” is an insidious term that creates abundant confusion here – the root word, “standard”, does not refer to “learning standards” at all.  The “standard” in “standardized” simply means that the assessment is implemented in a consistent way (same or similar questions, same format, same testing conditions, same time limits, etc).  There is no reason to standardize an assessment if the goal is to measure student achievement of the learning standards!  Certainly, many “standardized” tests are also criterion-based (meaning that the tests measure the degree to which a student demonstrated knowledge/skill in specific learning standards); however, the only conceivable reason for “standardizing” a test at all is to ensure a norm-referenced comparison among test takers (in order to score student against student, in accordance with The Curve, the results of which guarantee that comfortable illusion of some high achievers, some low achievers, and a whole lot of mediocrity in between).

The entire distribution curve itself is, of course, completely relative.  When nobody “meets the standards” on an assessment, the curve simply slides down until there are excellent scorers who don’t meet the standards and average scorers who are well below the standards.  And if everyone meets the standards … well … that would squish the bell flat.  There would be no hierarchy, no Top Ten, no Honor Roll… Imagine.

People do not demonstrate their knowledge, skills, expertise in standardized ways in this world.  We synthesize, modify, extend and express ourselves uniquely; we move at varying paces with inconsistent enthusiasm and aptitude under the very non-standard, organic, fluid conditions of “real life”.  True standards-based assessments will take into account the multiple pathways through which students can gain knowledge and skills, and the multiple formats by which they can demonstrate their achievement.

Our purpose is not served in the ranking and sorting of students; we are less competent (and less competitive) when we placate ourselves with the comfortable, familiar bell curve illusion.  All of our students need to meet the content-based and skills-based standards we’re serving up in our public schools – and this requires us to knock it off with the competition already when it comes to learning, because everyone has to win.

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