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Jean Ann Guliano: What Gist’s Supporters Are Forgetting—Students

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Last week, many members of the Rhode Island business community and many school committees sent letters to Governor Chafee in support of Education Commissioner Gist. For the most part, many business leaders will admit they appreciate the strong stand the Commissioner has taken towards unions and union practices such as seniority and tenure. This has enabled school committees to win back many of the management rights that have been lost over the years when school committee members have not been savvy enough to negotiate with unions. She has also set goals of rigorous standards, intervention protocols, accountability, data driven decision making, focus on effective teachers and leaders, etc.

Business leaders and many political leaders like these goals and tend to believe that schools should be run more like a business. For example, using charter schools as a market incentive to improve quality, or using standardized tests for teacher evaluations and graduation requirements, fill the need for demonstrating accountability and return on investment. Good, sound business practice. They believe we need to produce students who represent the best and brightest of our state so they can start their own businesses or rise within the ranks of domestic and international commerce. Schools should be able to take these raw materials (our students) and mold them into outstanding workers and leaders. Businesses will then have their choice of the best and brightest to work for and run their companies. In fact, their success depends on hiring excellent employees. Excellent schools = excellent teachers = excellent students = excellent employees.

As a former school committee member, business person and interested parent, I was an early supporter of Race to the Top and Commissioner Gist when she came on board in 2009. I also signed off for my district on the RTTT application. The goals sounded promising. Who wouldn’t want every child to receive an excellent education? Many of the numerous high profile goals of RTTT, especially those that have appealed to the business and political community, have been vigorously addressed. These include areas such as funding reliability, increase in charter schools, elimination of seniority-based promotion, teacher evaluation systems, data gathering, progress monitoring, accountability, etc.

However, with all of these accomplishments, the one thing that has not improved is the outcomes for our most vulnerable students. The original goals of both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top were not about turning schools into businesses or testing companies into a cottage industry. They were about improving the educational outcomes for those students on the fringe - those who are economically disadvantaged, have limited English proficiency and special needs. These students generally don’t have powerful lobbyists. Businesses don’t necessarily line up to hire these students, and even schools even know that these are the students who bring down their test scores.

With 83% of the state’s special needs students and 90% of the state’s limited English students scoring substantially below proficient on the last NECAP math test,* even with remediation many of those students will likely not graduate in 2014. Even more troubling is that the gap between these students and ‘average’ students has actually increased over the past 4 years; as has the gap for low income students.** Let’s be honest, many people, including several in the business community, aren’t that concerned whether these kids graduate or not. These aren’t the young people they will want to hire. Those who do care, the students and their parents, are confused, bewildered and genuinely afraid for their future – and many are close to giving up. Teachers who work with these students have been so overwhelmed with data reporting, effectiveness ratings, outcomes, forced curriculum, test prep and standardized tests (which they know are not valid or reliable assessments for these students***), are close to giving up, too.

So, while everyone is rallying around the Commissioner and the current policies, I’d like to ask that someone think about what is happening to these particular children. And, not just what is happening to them right now, but what will happen to them in the future. Schools can’t send back defective ‘raw materials’ nor do they only get the best and brightest to work with. I guess that’s the difference between businesses and schools.

Everyone always says ‘it’s about the kids.’ But, apparently it isn’t about “all” the kids. Maybe someone in the business community will write a letter of support to the Governor for them. Someone. Anyone.

Jean Ann Guliano served as School Committee Chair, East Greenwich, served on the Rhode Island Special Education Advisory Committee, and is proud parent of a special needs child.


*Fall 2012 - Beginning of Grade 11 NECAP Tests, Grade 11 Students in 2012-2013 Rhode Island

Disaggregated Mathematics Results

**Rhode Island’s NECAP Math, Reading, and Writing Results for Grades 3-8 & 11

October 2012 Test Administration, Table 14. Student Group Achievement Gaps by Grade Level on the NECAP MATHEMATICS Test: 2005 to 2012

***Digital Test Delivery: Empowering Accessible Test Design to Increase Test Validity for All Students, Michael Russell, Vice President of Innovation, Measured Progress, Inc. www.measuredprogress.org/test-accessibility

***Reaching students in the gaps: A study of assessment gaps, students, and alternatives www.measuredprogress.org/rhode-island-enhanced-assessment

Rhode Island Enhanced Assessment Instrument 2004-2006, provided with the consent of the New England Compact (2003-2007)


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Carcieri was going to run this state like a business. What happened? His “leadership,” with help from the power brokers in the GA, brought us to where we are today. But it seems the chattering class practice selective amnesia. Everyone is responsible except those who were actually responsible. At what point will these people be called out for what they did.
Carcieri brought in this rising star, Gist, - an intellectual lightweight - to transform education. Carcieri made a mess of this as well. He and his policies have never been criticized and the business community is calling for more of the same.

Comment #1 by Johnny cakes on 2013 05 21

The Teacher’s Union and the teachers themselves have lost credibility with the public. There was a time when teachers worked for very little and didn’t get many benefits other than short hours and summers off. Their work was really a gift to the communities in which they worked. Over the years this was largely corrected with public support but the pendulum continued to swing—way too far on benefits and salaries. The unions got involved and bribed the politicians to give higher and higher salaries, more generous retirement packages with COLAs and now we are at a point where teachers are retiring with unsustainable and overly generous pensions.

The Unions are the attack dogs for the teachers and religiously stand guard not giving a fraction of an inch—not only when it comes to money but also not willing to give an inch on work conditions. Try to ask a teacher to do a little extra work and the Union will set things straight.

So while we have many great teachers who think first about the students, we also bad ones and the bad ones focus not on the students but on their salaries, their days off, their pensions and their COLAs.

That’s why Gist has overwhelming public support.

Comment #2 by James Berling on 2013 05 21

James, I don't have a dog in the fight.....However you might want to check that overwhelming support quote. According to the Pro-jo, some 76% of those that took the poll, want her gone. Is that the overwhelming support you are talking about?

Comment #3 by Stephen DeNinno on 2013 05 21

James: Do you know any corporate Board of Directors who would keep a CEO when 85% of the workforce votes no confidence in the Chief?
I know it is hard to think clearly when everything you read is intent on dumbing you down, but try.

Comment #4 by Johnny cakes on 2013 05 21

Okay,,,Gist doesn't care about the kids.

National union representatives have stated that the teachers unions don't care about the kids. Ergo, the union members don't care about the kids. The members after all elect their representatives.

And we know a great many parents don't care about the kids.

Sounds like the kids are screwed.

Comment #5 by Redd Ratt on 2013 05 21

Folks, remember ... the entire Rhode Island Education System is simply a vehicle to deliver excessive salaries/employee benefits to a politically powerful organization ... Education? We don't need no stinkin' education!

Comment #6 by PO Taxpayer on 2013 05 22

Stephen, my impression is that Gist has overwhelming support but I could be wrong about that. Maybe it’s just the folks I talk to. I don’t read the ProJo so I don’t know what their poll was all about or who the respondents were. I do understand that the teachers and their Unions don’t support Gist. But the fact remains that the teachers and their Unions have lost credibility with the public.

Johnny, sometimes a CEO has to make policy that the employees don’t like. Some Board of Directors will actually hire a “hatchet man” to come in to make the hard decisions. And the fact remains that the teachers and their Unions have lost credibility with the public.

Time will tell but in the meantime I wouldn’t bet the mortgage money that there will be an outpouring of public support for the teachers and their Unions.

Comment #7 by James Berling on 2013 05 22

OK, now I will tell you what I really think. Ever since the federal government started telling local school committee's what to teach, how to teach, the downfall of education started. Remember inclusion? Bill Clinton's foray into public education. No longer would your children be in classes with their intellectual pairs, but every special ed, behavior problem child etc, were in the classes. This took up valuable time and well the smart student's suffer. No idiot left behind was next. What did that do? Not one idiot was left behind. Now we have race to the bottom (so we can have corporations take over public schools). Another failed federal program. Ms Gist is one of the ardent supporters of RTTT so I say ADIOS!

Comment #8 by Stephen DeNinno on 2013 05 22

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