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RI Experts on the Biggest Challenges Facing Public Education

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 

This Friday, education experts, along with leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors will convene at the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University for a symposium on what is being billed as "the civil rights issue of the 21st century -- adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

The event will feature as its keynote Michael Rebell, Columbia Law School Professor and national expert in equity in education, the role of the courts in institutional reform litigations and social reform.  Rebell will be addressing "why constitutional changes are the next step in creating adequacy and equity" and raise the question as to whether the right to a quality education should be more formally protected by special legislation in the state constitution.

"I think using the word "constitution" is a provocative way to look at how we fund, implement, regulate education in Rhode Island," said Anna-Cano Morales, Chairwoman of the Central Falls Public Schools Board of Trustees and Director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

Pawtucket Schools Superintendent Deborah Cylke, who will be joining Cano-Morales on the panel on Friday, said that equitable funding was at the core of the issue. "The reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code."

GoLocal spoke with representatives from the Rhode Island education community taking part in Friday's symposium, including the Hassenfeld Institute's Gary Sasse, Tim Duffy with the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, and Eva-Marie Mancuso, RIDE Chair of the Board of Education - and asked what they saw as the most pressing challenges currently in public schools in the state.

Education Leaders on 3 Biggest Issues Facing the State BELOW

Early in November, the Rhode Island Department of Education reported that for "the first time in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Rhode Island students scored above the national average in all four assessments in mathematics and reading, based on the percentage of students who performed at or above the proficient level."

RIDE however acknowledged, "Despite the positive results for the state as a whole, significant achievement gaps remain in place among Rhode Island students. Although Black students, Hispanic students, and economically disadvantaged students have improved significantly over the past four years, particularly in mathematics, their performance on almost all assessments remains approximately 20 percentage points below the state average, based on percent proficient or better. Over the past four years, the performance of students with disabilities and of English Learners has either declined or improved at a much lower rate than the state average."

Cano-Morales spoke to the recent gains being made in Central Falls, in light of challenging circumstances. "There's a difference between educating a student in Central Falls, and educating a student in the suburbs," said Cano-Morales.

Addressing the financial needs of the school district, Cano-Morales said, "I think that the funding formula is going to be a topic of discussion Friday, and seeing if when it's full enacted, it's equitable. For instance, our funding formula doesn't take into account schools, like Central Falls, that are in transformation."

Cano-Morales, Cylke, Sasse, Duffy, and Muncuso will take part in a panel discussion on Friday entitled, "Does Rhode Island Have the Resources Necessary to Meet Educational Goals?" The symposium will be addressing whether the current education system creates inequities in civil rights issues -- and whether the state constitution reflects the needs of the education system. 

Constitutional Questions

Keynote speaker Rebell touched upon his talking points for Friday's presentation with GoLocal.  

"I'm going to be speaking about the important role that courts should play, in conjunction with the legislature and the executive branch, in developing and implementing fair and adequate school funding systems," said Rebell, who serves as the Executive Director for the Campaign for Educational Equity,

"I'll also be reviewing constitutional language in a number of states and some experiences with the use of constitutional amendments to improve the language in state constitutions in order to ensure that all students receive a meaningful educational opportunity."

One of the nation's foremost authorities on the education adequacy movement in the United States, Rebell has pioneered the legal theory and strategy of educational adequacy.  In the last 15 years, this legal strategy has "proven successful" in almost 75% of the cases challenging a state's failure to provide students with a sound, basic education. Mr. Rebell has also litigated numerous class-action lawsuits 

In addition, former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders will be giving a history of education legal reforms in Rhode Island to open the symposium.  

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Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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