Chariho School Parents’ Forum

September 23, 2008

School Committee & Board of Regents meetings tonight

Filed under: 1 — Editor @ 1:16 pm

The Chariho meeting is at 7  – here is the agenda.

Today at 5 is the meeting at the Board of Regents.  We are in the last stretch to get true accountability – they need to hear from parents.  If you have not signed up for Angus Davis’ email alerts, they are a  good way to keep in the loop.  Sign up information at the bottom – here is the latest email,

Important Hearing Tuesday to Bring More Great Teachers to RI SchoolsImageFew things are more important in raising student achievement than the effectiveness of that student’s classroom teacher. One of the most exciting programs in recent years to bring great teachers into our highest-need urban classrooms is Teach for America, a highly competitive Americorps program attracting our nation’s top graduates from our most selective and academically challenging universities, and asking them to commit to teach for two years in a low-income school. Corps members do not have a traditional education degree, so the TFA program helps a Harvard Economics Major gain the skills she needs to be an effective High School Math teacher in Harlem, NY or Washington, DC, through pre-service training and extensive in-service supports.

The program has been a huge success. TFA teachers have been shown in multiple studies to be more effective in raising student achievement than traditionally certified teachers. After spending 2 years teaching low-income kids in the classroom, more than 60% of TFA alumni are still involved in education. Those that go on to other fields become fierce advocates for educational reform, informed by their experiences teaching in a low-income school. Recently, one TFA Alum, Michelle Rhee, was named Chancellor of the DC Public School System, where she has won national praise for her leadership.

New York City is now hiring almost 10% of its new teachers through the program — says NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein: “Generally, the TFA teachers are much less excuse-bound and more entrepreneurial and creative. I’ve got 1,000 teachers [from TFA] affecting 70,000 or 80,000 kids, and I keep ramping it up.”

Last year, more Brown University graduating seniors — about 40 — entered the Teach for America corps than joined any other single employer. But every one of these brains drained right out of Rhode Island. Why?

In Rhode Island, a failed regulation on Alternative Certification first adopted in 2004 makes it illegal for TFA corps members or other alternatively certified recent college grads to teach in Rhode Island schools. In fact, the Alternative Certification regulation has failed to certify more than a grand total of four (4) teachers since inception! The regulation did little to challenge the monopoly on teacher preparation held by RIC, which certifies more than 80% of new teachers in our state. That monopoly is defended fiercely by forces for the status quo.

That is about to change. The Rhode Island Board of Regents is poised to approve a new Alternative Certification regulation, one that would allow programs like TFA and The New Teachers Project and others to apply to the Rhode Island Department of Education for approval to operate here in Rhode Island. The next step of this regulatory process is a public hearing, which will be held Tuesday night at 5:00 pm in downtown Providence at the Shepard Building — 255 Westminster Street.

Protectors of the status quo will turn out to oppose this. They will claim TFA and similar programs only help for 2 years, or that they are no better than traditional programs. But data suggests otherwise. And really, what’s the harm in keeping 40 of our brightest college graduates right here in Rhode Island where they can make a difference?

Please come to the hearing and voice your support for this important new regulation. I need your support to get this one over the goal line!Those who come to the hearing will be invited to a reception at my home later this year to meet this year’s amazing TFA recruits from Brown University and learn more about this and similar programs (like the MATCH school corps, and The New Teacher Project). With any luck, by then we may be welcoming some of them as new teachers in our own schools, instead of watching them leave our state. Please email me if you can come to the hearing.

To learn more about Teach for America in Rhode Island, click here.

Obama, McKee and Democrats on EducationImageIn case you missed it, Barack Obama recently gave a major speech on Education in Ohio, where he called for:

  • Doubling federal funding for charter schools and touting his record of doubling charter schools in Illinois;
  • Rewarding excellent teachers with “merit pay” or “pay for performance”;
  • Replacing ineffective teachers, even if they are tenured

Doesn’t this sound a bit like a Mayor we know from Cumberland, Rhode Island? That’s right, these are the same tenets of Mayor Dan McKee’s education plans. McKee and I worked together with a broad coalition of community leaders last session to expand Rhode Island’s charter school law. The most controversial elements: those that will allow charter schools to offer “merit pay” and those that will allow charter schools to replace ineffective teachers.

The powerful NEA union decided to make McKee their enemy #1 as a result, vowing to take him out in a primary election and going on record with Education Week that McKee would “Pay at the polls.” They even resorted to juvenile attacks on me personally as someone who had supported McKee’s plan.

But last week in Rhode Island’s primary campaign, McKee beat his primary challenger by an even bigger margin than he did in the last contest he faced with the same opponent, despite all the opposition smears of McKee’s stand on education. The Valley-Breeze summed up McKee’s big win this way:

With money and copywriting help from teacher union political action committees, Iwuc, a retired police sergeant, made the race a referendum on the Mayoral Academy concept McKee has championed for the past two years.

It didn’t work.

The full article is worth a read, as it goes into detail on the tactics that were used to smear McKee’s good record on education.

This will serve as a powerful lesson to those who were intimidated by the NEA for standing with children in pushing for the expansion of charter schools in Rhode Island: the emperor has no clothes. Indeed, the direction of the Democratic party is shifting, as reported in this USA today article that highlights the work of Democrats for Education reform, an organization I have supported:

A funny thing happened to the Democratic Party on the way to an education platform: The party has visibly split with teachers unions, its longtime allies, on key issues.

The ink is barely dry on the official document, which outlines the party’s guiding principles, but it shows that in this fall’s general election, Democrats will stake out a few positions that unions have long opposed.

“We have to understand that as Democrats we have been wrong on education, and it’s time to get it right,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker. He said unions have pressured him to reject charter schools, vouchers and other ways to broaden urban students’ access to better schools.

“Ten years ago, when I started talking about school choice, I was tarred and feathered,” he told the crowd. “I literally was brought into a room by one of the union officers. … He threatened me that I would never win in office if I kept talking about school choice and kept talking about charter schools.”

Doesn’t Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s story sound a lot like what the NEA tried to do to Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee?

The reason for Democrats for Education Reform, a federal PAC, is to support people like McKee, Booker and Obama, who dare to challenge the status quo within their own party and thus don’t have a NEARI-PACE type of fund to support them. Education reform is no longer a “red or blue” issue. This will be a very interesting development to watch unfold in the coming years.

The big question: would Obama be half the reformer that Booker and McKee have shown themselves to be? Time will tell. 

Learn more about Democrats for Education Reform

NECAP ControversyRecently, the Rhode Island Board of Regents took steps to update Rhode Island’s secondary school regulations. These regulations included new rules around granting high school diplomas designed to make sure the diploma actually means something.

In the final weeks of a multi-year process that led to these regulations, a parent group in Exeter West-Greenwich called the SIT Collaborative organized parents across the state to oppose the new regulations. Their main gripe was with the section of the regulations that addressed the graduation requirement, and specifically the accountability measure that called for the NECAP test to count towards graduation eligibility.

The NECAP is a test of 10th grade skills. It is given in the fall of 11th grade. The cut score for the test as a graduation measure will “Partially proficient” which means below grade level, i.e. 9th grade proficiency. So the concern was that the Regents might require a graduating 12th grader to have demonstrated an ability to read and do math at the 9th grade level. Some were concerned this bar was too high, and we should not prevent a student from graduating 12th grade with a Regents-approved diploma just because his math skills are only at, say, a 7th or 8th grade level.

However, the regulations as approved allow the student to graduate, even in that case. That’s because the NECAP counts only for a portion of a student’s overall graduation eligibility profile.

A student must demonstrate proficiency in six core subjects: math, English, social studies, technology, art and science. There are three ways to demonstrate proficiency: grades, NECAP and a project. But since the NECAP today exists only for 2 of those 6 core areas, the NECAP would count only in those areas, i.e. math and English, and soon, science. There are no plans to have a NECAP test for technology, social studies or art.

So, let’s say your child fails his art project, but has excellent grades in art classes. Your child’s overall proficiency in art might be at risk; it depends on how good those grades are and how bad that project is (it’s up to the district to decide). Let’s say your child fails his math NECAP, scoring at an 8th grade level, but he completes the math component of his senior project satisfactorily and his math grades are passing. Which is a bigger risk to his graduation — the math NECAP or the art project?

Math and art are each one of the six core subjects in which a student must demostrate proficiency to graduate. But in this case, the Math NECAP counts for 33% of the student’s Math proficiency and the art project counts for 50% of the student’s art proficiency. So actually, your art project counts more than your Math NECAP!

Further, the regulations state the NECAP can never be used as the sole means to prevent a student from graduating. The new graduation requirements are a system of “multiple measures” that looks at a combination of grades, work and state assessments.

I thought the most hypocritical part of the entire debate was when the leader of the opposition group accused me and my fellow Regents, who passed the new regulations unanimously, as putting these requirements in place due to a “political agenda” asking us to face up to the fact that what we are doing was “not good for kids.”

She is an elected member of the Exeter-West Greenwich school committee.

The graduation requirements for schools to help all Rhode Island high school kids gain the skills they need to be successful will take effect with the Senior Class graduating in the spring of 2012.

Thanks for listening, and I look forward to keeping in touch. Please feel free to forward this email; if you received this email from a friend and would like to be added to my list, simply drop me a line and I will add you.


Note: Although I serve on the Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, the views expressed herein are my own, and not those of the full board.

For an archive of posts on RI education reform issues, see the Best for Kids blog, “Passing Notes,” at:

1 Comment »

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