Chariho School Parents’ Forum

February 10, 2007

Is it time for reform yet?

Filed under: Budget,School Choice,State-wide,Student Performance,Unions — Editor @ 11:24 am

From the Providence Journal

Carcieri’s school reforms

01:00 AM EST on Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rhode Island’s public schools are underperforming. The problem is not a lack of money, but a decades-long strategy of spending so much of the available money on adult compensation and entitlements, without insisting on strong accountability. (In 2003-04, the most recent Census figures available, Rhode Island continued to lead all states in the percentage of its per-pupil spending going to salaries and benefits.)


That is catching up with us. Students here tend to perform poorly on standardized tests. Business leaders complain that many students are ill-prepared for the job market. While state taxpayers provide tens of millions of dollars in school aid to local communities, much of that is siphoned away — often going out of state — in the form of superb retirement benefits for teachers and administrators.


At long last, leaders are recognizing that this is a serious problem. Whether they have the gumption to do more than talk about it is, of course, the question. Governor Carcieri, in his State of the State address, called for several long-overdue reforms to spend tax dollars more in the interests of students:


•Shrinking the number of school districts from the current 36. So many districts encourage waste and inefficiently.


•Reining in very expensive special education. Rhode Island leads America with 19 percent of students in special education.


•Changing teacher-contract language that hurts students. The governor, for example, mentioned “bumping” rules, under which the least experienced teachers are often assigned to the neediest students, rather than the best and most experienced teachers.


•Trying merit pay, by paying the best and most needed teachers more than others.


•Improving training and support of administrators, especially principals.


•Promoting English immersion for children who speak only a foreign language.


•Lifting the state’s moratorium on new charter schools.


These proposed reforms are all excellent ideas. He also announced that he, House Speaker William Murphy, Senate President Joseph Montalbano, and representatives of labor, business, local government and other interests will work together to formulate what he called “Rhode Island’s 21st Century Education Plan.”


That’s a start and consensus is fine, but it’s a safe bet that endless talk will only produce a mush of reform, pretty much protecting the interests of those whose power created the status quo. What is truly needed is a vocal leader who will go over the heads of the special interests and fight doggedly for the interests of students.


Rhode Island needs to move aggressively toward practices that work well whenever they are tried: parental choice, competition between schools for students, rewards for the best teachers and accountability for the worst, contract language that allows administrators to manage and be held responsible for performance, and spending on benefits that is sustainable.


The governor should use his bully pulpit to criticize, by name, those who block student-focused reforms. (The legislature would have little choice but to go along.) If the Board of Regents fails to muster the will or energy to make changes on behalf of Rhode Island’s students, the governor should appoint new leadership there.


Veteran state Rep. Paul Crowley (D.-Newport), appearing recently on the TV program Channel 12 Newsmakers, recalled how aggressively former Gov. Bruce Sundlun fought to improve Rhode Island, overcoming the power of special interests by convening meetings, demanding changes, and sometimes even pulling legislators off the floor. “I want to see that from the governor” in reforming education, Mr. Crowley said. “He’s got to be completely engaged or we’re not going to make a dent in this thing that we have today.”


The recommendations are sorely needed and many have been identified by a survey done by Education Parnership.  The RI school committee members surveyed wanted the following reforms.

Enable principals to more easily remove ineffective teachers.  Staffing sssignments based on subject expertise..not seniority.  Principalship applicants demonstrate performance-based leadership.  Preventing “bumping” of high quality novice teachers.  Make it easier to recruit through alternative certification.  Replace tenure with multi-year renewable contracts.  Added compensation to “hard-to-recruit” teachers.  Recruit more leaders from business community .  Assign most qualified to most challenging classes.  Reinforce leadership flexibility – K-12 certification.  Rewarding pay for performance.             

When parent dissatisfaction reaches critical mass, perhaps we will actually see them. As a state, our students do “perform poorly,” especially when compared to our neighbors.

8th grade math – RI 41, MA 1, CT 23, VT 3, NH 7, ME 24

8th grade reading  –RI 33, MA 1, CT 25, VT 8, NH 5, ME 4  4th grade math – RI 40, MA 1, CT 9, VT 6, NH 4, ME 16

4th grade reading – RI 37, MA 1, CT 7, VT 2, NH 3, ME 10 

Are these numbers enough to reach critical mass?  How about when I remind you that ”Rhode Island continued to lead all states in the percentage of its per-pupil spending going to salaries and benefits.” 

However – there are other problems on the horizon. 

While I agree in substance to testing and the NCLB, there are some problems with it.   

I think we can all agree that IQ is a characteristic that can be measured on.  It falls on the normal curve where some have a higher IQ while others do not.   

If all students are to become proficient by 2014, and some students fall in the lower realm of IQ (not including those below 70ish who are classified differently), then the only way to have everyone “proficient” is to lower the standards.  This does a disservice to those in the higher IQ range – resulting in what has often been labeled the “dumbing down of America.” 

We are running the risk of our education traveling like a military convoy.  It can only travel as fast as its slowest member.  This will inevitably lead to constrained results (if it hasn’t already).   It is the fastest and smartest that bring society forward.   If we set our goal at the lowest common denominator, well,,, we all know what will happen (or is happening).  

Research on the lowering of our standards is being done by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.  We received a “C” grade for reading and science standards, an “F” for math and RI (believe it or not) has NO standards for history (how does that saying go again?  “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” h/t Edmund Burke)   

 PS.  I know, I know, there was an article in the Westerly Sun about the building committee.  Commentary is coming (but I still appreciate your email reminders, it shows you are concerned).



  1. If Rhode Island scores are not “critical mass”, then I’m afraid that critical mass does not exist on this issue. Clearly we are not getting what we pay for.

    As for dumbing down, one of the authors of the Bell Curve had an excellent aritcle about this topic in the Wall Street Journal about this very thing.

    Comment by Curious Resident — February 12, 2007 @ 11:23 am | Reply

  2. […] a national level, Rhode Island ranks somewhere between #32 and #41 in student performance, compared to the other states (depending on grade and subject).  And when […]

    Pingback by Academic Achievement - an overview « Chariho School Parents’ Forum — April 8, 2007 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

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