Roach: Targeted Providence Schools Should Close
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
There was a rally in Providence on Monday. Those in attendance were pleading for the Providence School department to not shut down four schools in the community. The four schools are Flynn Elementary, Messer Elementary, Messer Annex, and Windmill Elementary. All four schools are considered in poor condition and per links are “not making adequate progress”. The Messer schools appear to be the “best” performing of the four schools slightly lagging behind state averages on some of the standardized tests. The Flynn school appears to be performing the worst with 32% of 3rd graders proficient in reading in 2010 as compared to approximately 51% in 2008 according to the statistics available at the RI DOE website.
This isn’t anything radically new for Providence schools as most schools perform well below state averages. Even so, there were hundreds of protestors at Monday’s rally who want to save these underperforming schools. I ask why? Why is a school that performs as poorly as these have worth saving? Why is the community showing up to rally against a closing but not rally for improved test scores – scores that demonstrate proficiency levels of the actual students being taught?
Community shows up too late
In my opinion, the community is showing up too late to fight for these schools. The time to rally isn’t when a school is slated for closure but when your school can’t teach your child basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. For many of you reading, the preceding line is probably offensive. My point is successful schools should be preserved and failing schools should be closed in times of crisis. Failing schools have not shown an ability to educate a majority of students while successful schools have. Failing schools consistently underperform resulting in students who consistently underperform while high performing schools consistently produce higher performing students.
In other words, if there are not enough dollars to keep all schools open, it does not take a rocket scientist to determine that keeping the best performing schools is the top priority. The schools targeted for closure simply don’t measure up. And they have not made the grade consistently for years. Parents and community activists should have been rallying all of these years for improved resources and more importantly results for students before Monday.
Again, many of you will find this commentary offensive, but let me ask you why keep a failing school open above a better performing school? I don’t see one compelling reason perhaps you can provide one.
More money isn’t always the answer
Several years ago, I worked for an after-school program in Providence. I taught English, Math, & Reading to middle school children who were lagging behind. I almost became a teacher out of Brown, having student taught at Central High School, and a few years later wanted to test the teaching waters again. I felt then and still feel now the educational ceiling in Providence is set far too low and I wanted to teach to success.
The students I encountered ranged the gamut and many could not speak English. I was in shock that in March/April of the school year I was teaching middle school students who had been in the classroom for several years how to speak English at a rudimentary level. I wondered then and now, how these students could move from grade to grade without being able to understand a simple sentence in English? And more importantly, I wondered how beneficial my teaching program was to the students? We were teaching age equivalent material to an array of students who simply were not at age equivalent levels.
So, more money, after-school programs, etc. aren’t always the answer. Providence needs to address the fundamental flaws in its educational system and to use a Bush-era phrase make sure no child is left behind.
Parents and Activists fight for better schools!
In turn, parents and community activists alike should make that their rally cry, not just trying to save a school that’s failing their children. One parent stated the following about the school closings, “This will have a disproportionate effect on minority students and the poor.” What’s the disproportionate effect? That they’ll head to better schools a bit further from where they live? That they’ll leave a school that is unable to consistently educate the majority of its student population? If that is the disproportionate effect for minorities and the poor, then I’m all for it.
I grow so weary of rallies like Monday’s that have become so perfunctory whenever anyone “attacks” an “institution” housed in the minority community. Rather than focusing on the education of the children in the schools this parent makes a sweeping subjective statement that does not serve as anything but the stereotypical response to closing a school in the minority community. And the point of an educational system is to teach the children, not ensure that a school is within walking distance of our homes. My admonition to the folks who attended this rally and are concerned about disproportionate effects on minorities and the poor: fight for better schools not inadequate schools in your neighborhood.
Many schools are not worth saving
At some point and with some schools, the effort to save outweighs the positive impact such change would bring. Providence has reached such a tipping point because of the financial situation it finds itself (Thanks, Congressman Cicilline). The schools targeted for closure by the Tavares administration must be closed. Providence simply cannot afford to continue to support failing schools in the face of its economic situation. The money is just not there.
In addition, this should serve as a warning to other schools to improve the educational results of the students therein. It is no longer sufficient to have underperforming children year after year after year. With the deficits the state and cities are facing today and in the future, school closings may become the norm and not the exception. If you want to save your school, start today. Check out your school’s assessment reports and if your school isn’t making the grade, do something about it. Don’t wait until the 11th hour as these community members have done.
By then it will be too late.
Hold a rally at your school if your school isn’t performing better than the average school in Rhode Island. Create parent-led tutoring sessions so that you can have a direct hand in making sure your children are educated.
Let me be clear on one thing, there are numerous top notch teachers and administrators in these schools, I’m sure, but these schools are FAILING. Each school has not shown enough progress over the years in improving the proficiency levels of its students. That isn’t an opinion, but fact based upon each school’s test score data.
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