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Russell Moore: Attack of the Anti-Education-Reformers

Monday, August 03, 2015

 

The latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Rhode Island Defenders of the Status Quo trying to prevent much-needed reform is unfolding in northern Rhode Island, according to a report from GoLocal's Stephen Beale last week.

(I call the entrenched special interest groups that seek to block reforms that would benefit the vast majority of the state because the way things are now happen to benefit them very nicely, the Defenders of the Status Quo.)

Leaders from three communities in Rhode Island--Woonsocket, Burrillville, and North Smithfield--have filed a lawsuit in Rhode Island Superior Court seeking to prevent the opening of a new charter school in Woonsocket. The new charter, RISE Prep Mayoral Academy, will serve children in grades kindergarten-through-eight. (RISE stands for Respect, Integrity, Self-Determination, and Excellence.)

Technicalities 

The districts are claiming that the new school "did not satisfy the statutory and regulatory requirements for a charter and that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) did not follow its own rules when it granted final approval by state authorities on June 9," according to Beale's report. In other words, the districts are looking to block the opening of the school based on a series of technicalities. 

Furthermore, the Woonsocket City Council claims it is concerned with losing roughly $2.4 million from its school district to the new charter school over the next five years. It's interesting that city and town councils only seem to be concerned with spending money when it's going to charter schools. When the money is being spent on more powerful political interest groups, they're always willing to spend like drunken politicians. (Why pick on sailors?) 

Here's the real reason why the people who hate the education reform movement and love the old system of failing schools have doubled down their efforts in attacking charter schools: education reform is working. And the teachers unions, and the politicians who owe them fealty thanks to their endorsements, campaign cash, and canvassing efforts, fear this because they think it will weaken their power going forward.

Blackstone Valley Prep

Blackstone Valley Prep, the first Mayoral Academy style charter school to open and which RISE will be modeled after, boasts some of the best test scores, and improvement on test scores in the state over the last few years. In 2014, the 8th graders at Blackstone Valley Prep boasted the highest test scores on math in the state. In 2013, the school found, when analyzing its standardized test scores that 81 percent of all students there were proficient or better in math and 78 percent of all third, sixth and seventh graders were proficient or better in English Language Arts. Those levels were 21 and 7 percentage points higher, respectively, than proficiency levels for the same grades statewide.

Here's another thing we need to keep in mind. The parents in the communities where Blackstone Valley Prep is located are desperate to get their children enrolled in the school. The Valley Breeze reported last year that more than 1,700 applications for 189 open seats. That means less then 10 percent of the parents who want their children enrolled in the school will be able to send them there. That's heartbreaking.

The school, which was created thanks to the leadership and vision of former Cumberland Mayor, now Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, has been a resounding success. And similar schools should proliferate around the state. 

A Resounding Success

So even though Blackstone Valley Prep has been a resounding success story, and the parents want it, public officials in Woonsocket (and Burrillville and North Smithfield) are seeking to block the opening of a similar school over a relatively small amount of money when the total budgets of those communities are taken into account.

Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones. This year, the state legislature was considering passing pieces of nefarious legislation that would’ve basically prevented the opening of any charter schools going forward.

Let's give Governor Gina Raimondo some due credit here: she stood up to the state legislature this year and said that she wouldn't sign any legislation that would curtail or end the creation of any new charter schools in Rhode Island. Thankfully, that stopped the legislation dead in its tracks, which is where it belonged.

Pandering

The political pandering in Rhode Island, in this case, to the teachers unions, has to stop. Teachers unions oppose school choice and charter schools because they don't want to see their monopoly on education destroyed. 

But schools don't (at least shouldn't) exist to please teachers unions. They exist to educate students. That's what Blackstone Valley Prep is doing. And that's what RISE will do when it opens next month (assuming this lawsuit isn't allowed).

None of this is to say that there aren't great traditional public school teachers in Rhode Island. Of course there are. I personally know many of them and find their dedication inspiring. 

Provincialism

The state however, cannot afford to ignore innovation in education, and continue its one-size-fits-all model of education. The state needs education reform like blood.

As long as we have cowardly politicians sitting around trying to figure out which special interest group is the strongest, so they can pander to said special interest group, the state is never going to see the changes it needs to move itself forward and into prosperity. Only when we elect politicians that have the courage to serve the interests of everyone, not just the powerful, will the state begin to move into the right direction again.

Fortunately, there have been success stories in recent years, with Blackstone Valley Prep being one. Let's not let small-mindedness and provincialism, which has plagued us for so long, get in the way of similar success stories.

Russell J. Moore has worked on both sides of the desk in Rhode Island media, both for newspapers and on political campaigns. Send him email at [email protected]. Follow him on twitter @russmoore713.

 

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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