Don Roach: My Education Crusade - An Interview with Deborah Gist

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

 

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A couple of months ago, I told you I was beginning an educational crusade. I soon as I wrote that, I was inundated with a number of e-mails from parents, teachers, and I reached out to a few students. I quickly realized that such a crusade will take some time and need more planning than I initially thought. My first action item was to speak with Commissioner Deborah Gist and I did so in September. I was even able to include a question that was straight from the Providence Student Union. I’d like to thank Commissioner Gist for taking time to answer a few questions.

Enjoy.

What do you believe is the number one reason why such a large number of our students are not succeeding within our present school system?

That’s difficult to answer because education isn’t made up of just one thing. Education is made up of family support, broader school experience, opportunities in the community, etc. What we know for sure is that what happens in the school – it’s the quality of the classroom teacher. This is where the kids are spending their time thus teachers must be highly qualified and trained.

Why do you believe that the use of tests, such as NECAP, is the right method to determine if a student has learned enough to graduate?

I don’t believe this. This is a big misconception. However to get at the heart of the question, what we know is that we have had students move through our system where we give them a diploma and they are not ready. The idea of adding the state assessment was to ensure that at least the basic skills of reading and math were where they needed to be.

People see that and do not believe it’s enriching to student’s learning. Nationally, if you have a really bad standardized test that is filled with just multiple choice questions, then it can narrow the curriculum. Here in RI, our state assessment is one of the most respected in the country. It requires you to think and to analyze - explain what you know.

The response to testing comes from people’s experiences that were not positive. When educators do not have a lot of tools in their toolbox they do not know how to deal with kids who are falling behind. They don’t trust that a rich educational system will result in a passing test score. However, if the school doesn’t make that connection then a “teaching to the test attitude” develops. The good news is that the best way to do well on the test is to have great in class experience.

Some schools have air conditioning and some do not. Some schools get new books while others use old ones. How can we ensure that all schools have the tools needed for students to succeed?

Regarding facilities maintenance, school facilities are managed by the municipality. It takes a community that is willing to invest to support renovations within the school.

Books come from operating budgets which is a combination of local, state, and federal resources. Overall, the state has a high per pupil spending but the distribution of the state resources was previously inequitable. An example of this was two RI communities that are contiguous with very similar demographics and the community with the slightly lower socio economic level was getting twice the aide.

Question from the Providence Student Union: How do you think funding plays a part in education? Right now, the status quo is under achieving. What do you think can be fixed in funding and policy to improve this?

We spend an adequate amount on education in the state. I believe we are not using the resources as effectively as we could have. In some states, high poverty communities are under resourced relative to other students. This is not the case in RI. The question we need to answer is, how are we making sure that that money is being used for the students and teachers for instructions?

I am excited about seeing superintendents being more thoughtful about resource allocations.

Why do you believe surveys amongst teachers suggest that they don’t like the reforms you have been implementing?

We have done a lot of surveys and have used that feedback extensively. One of the themes that I hear is “I don’t listen” and that people don’t feel I respect them. I was a teacher and it concerns me that people don’t believe that I will use the feedback. There is a disconnect between what we are trying to accomplish and how that is being perceived. I don’t know how to explain it but I have to address it. There’s no way to carry out the work without the teachers feeling like they’re a part of it.

Don Roach can be reached [email protected]. You can follow Don on twitter @donroach34.

 
 

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