Gary Sasse: Rhode Island’s Students Need an Education Bill of Rights

Tuesday, September 25, 2018


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Gary Sasse

If the laudable educational ideas being offered by Rhode Island’s gubernatorial candidates are to advance they must be built on a solid foundation of an Education Bill of Rights and fiscal reality.

The National Governors Association reports that education was by far the most popular theme of governors in their state of the state addresses. Governors highlighted early childhood education, school performance, school funding, educational choices, and career technical education.

Since the 1970’s many of the nations' governors have become leaders in formulating educational policy. Republican, Democrat, liberal and conservative state chief executives were among the first to make the connection between educational performance and the economic development of their states.

Currently, Rhode Island’s gubernatorial hopefuls are outlining programs they believe will improve student outcomes. They are proposing plans aimed at preparing our kids for meaningful careers. While there are nuanced differences, the common themes include early learning, ensuring children who enter the fourth grade can read, vocational and workforce training, providing appropriate facilities, and enhancing STEM programs.

While these suggestions are commendable, their implementation depends upon building them on a solid foundation. This foundation should be expounded in an Educational Bill of Rights for students and their parents. The Educational Bill of Rights would provide that all students have the opportunity to secure the skills and competencies needed for successful careers and active participation in civic life.

The precedent and value of an Educational Bill of Rights is embedded in our history. A Bill of Rights was added to the United States Constitution to protect certain inalienable political rights that were not enumerated in the original Constitution. Over 150 years later President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed an “Economic Bill of Rights”. He said, “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” A key tenet of Roosevelt’s “Economic Bill of Rights” was the “Right to an education”.

Speaking at the recent 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, President George W. Bush commented that the United States educational system favors white children over minorities, the poor and the disabled, making it “one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our times. “ President Bush’s statement has particular relevance to Rhode Island given the stringent standards for academic advancement mandated by state education policymakers.

Public education has historically been the responsibility of state and local governments. Thus it would be entirely appropriate for Rhode Island’s political leadership to promulgate and enforce an Educational Bill of Rights. The salient features of an Educational Bill of Rights for students and their parents might encompass the following guarantees.

1) The right to be taught by effective teachers. Effective teachers are trained and certified in the subject matter being taught. They are knowledgeable about their discipline, use state the art teaching strategies, and respect and respond to student inputs.

2) The right not to be taught by teachers who, after due process evaluation, fail to meet standards established by state and local education officials.

3) The right to appropriate academic materials and resources. This would include materials necessary to support all instructional programs, access to computers and the internet, and modern facilities to support rigorous science, technology and mathematics instruction.

4) The right to safe, clean and environmental-friendly school facilities.

5) The right to emotionally supportive schools that do not tolerate harassment, discrimination or abuse.

6) The right to attend a school where funding is based on student need with the goal of providing access to adequate educational opportunities.

7) The right to a pathway out of a failing school. This requires the availability of options to attend schools that best enhance a student’s opportunity for academic achievement.

8) The right to a fair, accurate and transparent assessment system that measures student performance and need. The assessment system should include multiple measures for students to demonstrate their competencies and clearly state what students are expected to know and accomplish.

9) The right of parents to current and reliable information about their child’s progress and performance.

Coach Vince Lombardi observes that “some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist, but football is only two things- blocking and tackling.”Adopting an Educational Bill of Rights can provide the next governor with the blocking and tackling fundamentals that will enable him or her to advance an educational agenda down the field given fiscal realities.

Who will be the first gubernatorial candidate that pledges to work for an Educational Bill of Rights?

Gary Sasse is Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University. He is the former Executive Director Rhode Island Public Expenditure and Director of the Departments of Administration and Revenue.

This piece was first published 4/23/14 6:20 AM.


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