Portsmouth educator named to RIDE strategic plan team

The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education last night selected 26 Rhode Islanders to serve on the "Ambassador Design Team," which will develop and write the next strategic plan for elementary and secondary education in Rhode Island, according to a statement from the RI Dept. of Ed. Among those named is Portmouth resident Amy Mullen, who teaches in the Tiverton school district.

“I am very proud that we have selected such a diverse and talented group of people to develop and write the next strategic plan for Rhode Island public education,” said Eva-Marie Mancuso, Chair of the Board of Education. “I am so grateful to every single person who applied to join this team. The team has the balance, the talent, and the expertise we need to develop a great strategic plan. With this team in place and ready to begin work, I am confident that we will have a plan that will advance learning and achievement for all Rhode Island students.”

“The design team we have selected represents much of what is great about both our state and our educational system,” said Patrick A. Guida, Chair of the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. “It is highly racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse. It includes people with many different educational and professional experiences. It includes people who have been educated internationally and people who have received all of their education in our public institutions. It includes elected officials, business people, and representatives of postsecondary education. And, perhaps most important, it includes students, parents, and educators from throughout our state.”

About 300 Rhode Islanders submitted initial applications to join the Ambassador Design Team, with 156 people completing the application process.

“I want to thank everyone who applied to serve on the design team,” Chair Guida added. “Everyone who applied is going to be invited to join in the process in another meaningful capacity. We are going to do our best to keep this incredible pool of committed individuals involved in this process.”

“As many of us have said from the outset, we want our next strategic plan to be a plan that all Rhode Islanders can embrace and support,” said Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “The design team members whom the Council members have selected represent a wide range of views, but they share a commitment to our schools and to our students. We all have a role to play when it comes to improving our public schools, and the tremendous interest that Rhode Islanders have shown in the development of our strategic plan is very encouraging and heartening. I believe that the plan this team develops will guide our work and inspire us as we continue to transform education in Rhode Island.”

The members of the team will begin meeting this month, with the goal of presenting a plan to the Council for approval in June. The plan will guide public education in Rhode Island over the next five years.

The team will base its work in part on the results of the survey on public education, which is underway and will run through the end of the year. A link to the survey is here:

The survey is available in six languages in addition to English, and all Rhode Islanders are encouraged to participate.

The design team comprises two groups: a core team of 12 members, which will do the research and writing toward development of the strategic plan, and an extended team of 14 members, which will engage in school visits, outside research and readings, and other activities to support the thinking and the work of the core team.

David Moscarelli, the 2015 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year, and Jeremiah Newell, a doctoral student in education leadership at Harvard University doing a residency at RIDE, will facilitate the meetings of the design team.

A list of the members of the Ambassador Design Team (core team and extended team) follows.

The Members of the Ambassador Design Team – Core Team

Michael Barnes
Superintendent of Schools, Foster-Glocester Regional Schools
I hope to contribute to the creation of a strategic direction for RI schools that ensures each graduate is globally competitive, technologically fluent, and can demonstrate proficiency with 21st Century Skills and work habits needed for success in post-secondary education, careers, and life in a knowledge-based society. I hope to see a plan that strengthens, statewide, the focus on personalized, relevant, and collaborative digital learning experiences and the creation of flexible college and career pathways that purposefully prepare students for local and global labor markets.

Colleen Crotteau
Teacher of English Learners, Newport Public Schools
I am eager to contribute my 23 years of teaching experience to the Ambassador Design Team. Through my participation, I hope to help transform education in Rhode Island. As a parent and an educator, I think we can do better for our kids and I am 100 percent invested in Rhode Island schools.

Doris De Los Santos
Executive Director, Partnership, Development & Community Engagement, Providence Public Schools
It will be an honor to serve as an Ambassador Design Team to address one of the most important policy issues we face as a State and as a nation. As a mother of two, as a professional in the field, and as an active community advocate, I do not think there is a better way to affect systemic change than to be part of such a privileged team.

Adam Flynn
Assistant Director, Title I Coordinator, William M. Davies Jr., Career and Technical High School
As an administrator at Davies Career and Technical High School, a former classroom teacher, and more recently as a parent of a kindergarten student in the Cranston public schools I feel so

strongly about the need for a clear, well-articulated, ambitious, and attainable plan to continue the improvement of the public education system in Rhode Island. I look forward to the opportunity to work with others who are passionate about education and to have a collective positive impact on our students.

Mike Grey
Vice President of Operations, Northeast Region, Sodexho School Services, member of Governor’s Workforce Board
As a member of the Ambassador Design Team I hope to offer my support and skills to help create strategy for public education improvement. Our public education system is the best resource and most important lever for improving the quality of life and well-being of Rhode Islanders and Rhode Island communities.

Candace Harper
Family Engagement Coordinator, College Crusade of Rhode Island
Quality education is important to ensure a successful future for all children. Through my participation on this Ambassador Design Team, I will strive to help to shape an opportunity for generations of future students. It will be an opportunity to grow professionally and to connect with others in pursuit of a common goal that will have a lasting, positive impact on our community and state.

Yolanda Nazario
World-languages teacher, Lincoln Public Schools
I am eager to be part of creating a plan that promotes the success of both our students and teachers. Through my service, I hope to have meaningful and achievable goals that will inspire our teachers and students to strive for their best.

Brian Rowe
Student, North Smithfield High School
I look forward to contributing a strong and well-informed student voice to the strategic-planning process. Serving as a member of this team will also further prepare me to be an educated voice in my school community; I look forward to devoting my time and energy to improving public education in Rhode Island.

John Santangelo
Mathematics teacher and vice-president of the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance
I hope to bring the voice of practitioners to these very important deliberations; I’ve had a 25+ year career as a teacher, union leader, and parent, and I am committed to the successful implementation of the plan we will develop together.

Earl N. Smith III
Assistant Dean – Student Affairs, University of Rhode Island
I hope to share my experience of marginalization as a student and administrator so we do not continue to exclude and/or oppress others. More significantly, I expect to set an example by taking responsibility and not just complaining.

Lisa P. Tomasso
Served on Coventry School Committee, in House of Representatives, on Race to the Top Steering Committee
Fifteen years ago, I volunteered to help in my son’s kindergarten classroom; I fell in love with public education and discovered the importance of success for all of the students. As a member of the Ambassador Design Team, I hope to provide strategic input and guidance on issues facing our public schools, educators, and students. Our cooperative effort will ensure that all children will be prepared to lead successful and fulfilling lives as productive members of a global society.

One additional student member to be announced.

The Members of the Ambassador Design Team – Extended Team

Brian Baldizar
Assistant Principal, Classical High School Providence
As a member of the design team, I hope to help shape the future of Rhode Island public education. From my first-hand knowledge of youth and community engagement, my time as a teacher, my work transforming schools, and now as a school administrator, I am aware of how urgent and critical this work is for our young people, cities, towns, and our state as a whole.

Ana W. Barraza
Adult Basic Education instructor, Providence
I hope to gain a better understanding of Rhode Island’s vision for serving our Pre-K through grade-12 population and to impact that vision through my own knowledge and experience.

Dana Borelli-Murray
Executive Director, Highlander Institute
As a native Rhode Islander with deep family ties to the city, I hope to contribute my personal and professional expertise and passion to the Rhode Island educational landscape: creative thinking, innovative design, social justice, and a deep belief in dismantling convention in order to meet the changing needs of all learners in this digital information age.

S. Kai Cameron
Facilitator for Community Partnerships, Providence Public Schools
As a native Rhode Islander and long-time resident of the city of Providence, I believe that my personal and professional experiences with students and parents will offer insight that may be “missing” at the table. I strongly believe that each and every day is an opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute; participation on the Ambassador Design Team provides me a means for living this credo.

Christopher Haskins
Head of Paul Cuffee School
I hope to contribute my knowledge, experience, and vision for what a great public K-12 school system can do for Rhode Island students.

Robert Jones
North Kingstown School Committee, Director of Strategic Planning and Research at Bryant University
As an ambassador, I hope to play a part in developing a strategic plan for our state that reflects my passion and commitment to our public school system. I hope to learn from other team members and bring new expertise back to North Kingstown.

Piedade Lemos
World languages teachers, Providence Public Schools
Being part of the Ambassador Design Team will give me the opportunity to share the knowledge that I have accumulated these past years in my role as a teacher and parent, along with an understanding of the issues facing urban students. I hope to contribute to the creation of a cohesive plan with achievable, aggressive results and, at the same time, learn from others on the team.

Amy Mullen
President, Tiverton Teachers

Tyler Nettleton
Student, Chariho High School
As a current student, I hope to gain more knowledge about the public education system and the ways it can support students. As a Rhode Island high-school senior, I look forward to giving back to this system by contributing the knowledge I have as a student and to bring the voice of students to the team.

Jeannine Nota-Masse
Assistant Superintendent, Cranston School Department
I am completely invested in public education as both a parent and an educator. As a member of the Ambassador Design Team, I hope to contribute a tenacious work ethic, honest and thoughtful opinions, and the perspective that spans the full breadth of my experiences as an educator, and look forward to devoting my time to making education better for all children in our state.

Jo-Ann Schofield
Co-chair, The Mentoring Partnership
Now is the time to work toward creating a meaningful strategic plan for Rhode Island public schools. I will contribute my passion for and enthusiasm in the belief that every student is capable of success with the help and guidance of a positive adult in their lives. As a dedicated team member I will embrace the shared goal of an improved public education system that will build a brighter future for Rhode Island, its children, and its families.

Chris Semonelli
Co-director Newport County Mentor/Co-Op Group
I want to improve Rhode Island’s economy by supplying a well-trained and interested workforce that meets our business needs while at the same time providing a rich, rewarding, and fulfilling education for our students.

Andrea J. Spas
Assistant Director of Special Education, Chariho Regional School District
I want to be a part of a team that considers the unique and varying needs of all students and, in particular, students with disabilities. I look forward to helping craft a strategic plan that focuses on closing achievement gaps and providing all students with a rigorous educational experience.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Full disclosure: I was an applicant in this process, and while I wasn't selected for either of the core teams, I'm delighted to have been picked for the "Strategy Review Team" which will be reviewing the documents produced by the core team at several points.

02871, Localblogging, RIDE, education

RI Dept. of Ed seeks input on strategic plan process

The RI Dept. of Education and the RI Board of Education have kicked off the process of creating the next state-wide education strategic plan, and you can provide your input on the web. Here's the note announcing the process that went out from Commissioner Deborah Gist this morning:

Dear Friends of Education,

We want to hear your voice as we begin to develop Rhode Island's new strategic plan for public education!

Our new plan will be for, from, and about all Rhode Islanders, and we will build this plan through a statewide conversation. The first step of this conversation is underway: we are asking all Rhode Islanders to share with us their views on education through a short, anonymous survey that will take no more than five minutes to complete. In the first two weeks, we have received a tremendous response of more than 4,000 participants - but we have another six weeks to go and want to hear from as many Rhode Islanders as possible!

I am seeking your help to ensure that your voice is part of this conversation. You can see the overall results in real time on our web site at

I would be very grateful if you would please take the survey and share this link with everyone in your networks:

Here is a link to the Spanish-language version of the survey:

A brief summary of the entire design process for the strategic plan is posted on RIDE's website at

We have embarked on an ambitious project, and, with your help and participation, I know that we can develop a dynamic and ambitious strategic plan that will improve the lives of our students and their families for years to come.


Deborah A. Gist

Editorial note: Written from an e-mail.

02871, Localblogging, RIDE, education

RIDE launches blended learning initiative

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a nonprofit organization supporting the implementation of high-quality blended learning, today announced an ambitious initiative to make Rhode Island the first fully “blended-learning state” in the nation. Blended learning is the combination of traditional, face-­to-­face teaching with elements of personalized, online, competency­-based education that leads to improved student engagement and achievement.

“Through our laws and regulations on digital learning, our Innovation Powered by Technology Model School grants, and our Wireless Classroom Initiative, Rhode Island demonstrates our state’s unwavering commitment when it comes to using technology to advance teaching and learning,” said Rhode Island Board of Education Chair Eva-Marie Mancuso. “We are very grateful that The Learning Accelerator has recognized our commitment and will work with us to take digital learning to the next level in our state.”

“This partnership with The Learning Accelerator recognizes and furthers our commitment to basing instruction on the needs of every individual student,” added Deborah Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Digital learning in all of its forms provides, literally, unlimited educational resources for every classroom, allows our schools to design flexible instruction schedules, and enables students and teachers to work closely together at a pace that is right for each student. With these funds, we will continue our commitment to innovation powered by technology.”

The partnership will initially engage in two major initiatives:

  • Development of a an integrated Five-Year Strategic Plan for Rhode Island that will position blended learning as an engine for system change, and
  • Creation of a communications campaign intended to fully accelerate blended learning throughout the state.

“States and state actors create conditions—beyond policy— that are critical to high-quality blended schools and innovation,” said Lisa Duty, Partner at The Learning Accelerator. “Together we are pursuing system-level changes and identifying the resources and critical shifts necessary to lay the foundation for more personalized, blended learning.”

Both TLA and RIDE agree that pursuing a student-centered vision of learning and transformative outcomes, with explicit goals in mind, is key. States will need to wrestle with the problems they’re trying to solve, and get clearer about operationalizing the relationship between blended learning — still in development — and their desired outcomes.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

02871, Localblogging, edtech, education

Gist reacts to kneecapped NECAP

Following the announcement this afternoon that Gov. Chafee had allowed to become law a bill that deferred NECAP testing as a graduation requirement, RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist released the following statement to the media:

Statement on legislation on standardized assessments and graduation decisions
Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner
July 1, 2014

Student readiness for college, careers, and life remains our highest priority, and we will continue working with our school districts to prepare all students for success.

Based on regulations put in place in 2008, we expected students in the Class of 2014 to attain the level of at least partial proficiency or show significant improvement on state assessments in order to be eligible to earn a diploma. As a result, students, families, teachers, and community members stepped up to ensure that our students received additional support to improve their skills, particularly in mathematics. Because of that effort, more than 2,000 students significantly improved their performance in mathematics and at least 95 percent of all high-school seniors met the state-assessment graduation requirement.

Given the change in law, we will continue working with school leaders and teachers to make sure students still receive the support they need to improve their achievement levels and to be ready for success in college and in challenging careers.

During the many public discussions of our Diploma System, every voice raised called for high expectations and extra supports for our students. We all agree on this point. This legislation states that Rhode Island shall use standardized assessments “to promote school improvement and to target remediation programs to individual students and groups of students.” We will remain constant in our commitment to setting high expectations for students and to providing students with the instruction, support, and resources they need to meet these expectations.

–Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

02871, Localblogging, RIDE, Gist, education

Learning tech conference slated for May 19 in Providence

Rhode Island educators will have an opportunity to learn about best practices in technology integration at a day-long conference on May 19, sponsored by the Higlander Institute in Providence. The theme, organizers say, will be "blended learning," the term of art in educational tech for the ideal mix of online and face-to-face instruction.

“Integrating technology with tried-and-true classroom instruction is not always intuitive or easy, but when it is done well it helps the teacher understand a student’s abilities at a whole new level," Shawn Rubin, director of technology integration at the Highlander Institute, said in a release.

On Wednesday, RIDE sent an e-mail to participants in February's Tech Innovation conference, calling the event an "opportunity to further explore and understand blended learning."

The conference web site offers a look at the sessions, which will include include Jennie Dougherty from edUPGRADE, a nonprofit that brings beta technology to teachers in exchange for feedback; Melissa Pickering, recent manager of Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, and founder of iCreate to Educate; and Mohit Midha, cofounder and COO of Mangahigh, a test prep math teaching resource.

There will also be a hands-on area where teachers can “tinker, test and explore” applications and software on iPads, SMARTboards, and Android tablets, and sponsor displays from Broadband RI, Educreations, Engrade, K12, Learn Zillion, Lesson Writer, and Metryx.

Teachers can register for the event through the web site, and there is a $40 early-bird rate through May 7 (after that, rates go up to $60).

The conference was organized by the Highlander Institute, a nonprofit which designs and provides research-based, high quality educational services and professional development opportunities to educators.

Said Rubin, “At Highlander, we understand the integration of technology for some educators and schools will be a gradual process. But the trend is moving quickly. This conference offers a comfortable environment to learn about these tools, and jumpstart the process.”

Editorial note: Written substantially from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, education, edtech

Tell the RI Senate Education committee not to give Town Councils funding control of schools [Update]

The Senate Education committee will hear a bill — S2239 — introduced by Sen. John Tassoni (D-Smithfield) which would strip control of budgets from local school committees and give that power to the Town Council. From the bill:

[C]ity and town councils shall have direct control over the direct financial aspects of the education, including total budgets to be expended, the amount of salaries, the interior maintenance of the school buildings and capital improvements, including, but not limited to, maintenance, and any other direct expenditure of money. — S2239

Tassoni explained his rationale to the Westerly Sun : "Every school department is in trouble financially. All you have to do is look at the [news]paper and every school has financial issues. The budgets are tight. There's not enough money to sustain what we’re doing. Something has to change."

Let's igore for a moment that the one of the drivers of these financial issues is the new funding formula coupled with the Senate's own S3050 tax cap, which has put districts in a "we won't fund you but you can't make up the difference" Catch-22.

Leaving that aside. Give control of school budgets to Town Councils?

Unlike School Committees, which are agents of the state elected locally to ensure that the district provides free and appropriate public education (while complying with a doorstop-sized book full of education laws), Town Councils are inclined to see schools as a the thing that slurps up all the tax dollars.

Let's look at a little history. What have Portsmouth Town Councilors proposed when discussing school budgets?

Making big cuts. "I'll be the voice of the taxpayer," said former Councilor Jeff Plumb

Reducing curriculum for fiscal reasons. "We're going to have to [...] get back to the basics [...] reading, writing, and arithmetic. That's the way it's gonna be," said former Councilor Karen Gleason.

Making arbitrary decisions. "I motion that we level-fund all departments, including the school department," said current Councilor Judy Staven.

And, of course, telling the schools to just accept what they propose. "And don't cry and whine," said former Councilor Karen Gleason.

Under the tax cap, every dollar that goes to the schools is a dollar that the Council does not have. That's not a situation which encourages dispassionate analysis. We elect school committees to make budget decisions, and changing Rhode Island law to circumvent their authority serves no legitimate interest.

If you think, as I do, that this is a very bad idea, you might drop a note to the Senate Education Committee, which will be hearing this bill. You can cut and paste these addresses for Chair Sen. Hanna Gallo, Vice-Chair Sen. Harold Metts, and the members of the committee:,,,,,,

And you might wish to copy Portsmouth's Sen. Chris Ottiano as a courtesy: I also cc'd Sen. Tassoni,, just to let him know my concerns.

I hope you'll join me.

Update, 3/6/12, 3:19 pm: Just had a chat with Sen. Chris Ottiano (R-11) who said he shared my concerns about the impact this bill would have on School Committees. He said that he had talked with one of his colleagues on Education, and the sense was that this bill was not likely to advance. He thanked the constituents who had reached out to him with a heads-up. Thanks, Senator!

Full disclosure: I have a student in the Portsmouth school system.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, education, GA

The second coming of Hypercard: Apple introduces iBooks Author

At a press event at the Guggenheim Museum in NY, Apple yesterday introduced a new, free application for creating electronic books called iBooks Author, and while it has some notable limitations, it promises the kind of step-function increase in user empowerment not seen since the days of Hypercard. Seriously, it gave me flashbacks to 1987. And I don't say that lightly.

The iBooks Author software is essentially a page-oriented multimedia creation tool; that is, you can imagine PowerPoint on steroids, or for those familiar with high-end production, Quark or inDesign. But in addition to allowing you to easily create pages with rich media assets, it takes you to the next step, automatically packaging everything up in an electronic publication format distributable on the iPad.

In half an hour, I was able to build a basic e-book including pictures, interactive widgets, links, and alternate layouts for portrait and landscape. Another hour and I was up the curve enough on the developer back-end tool, Dashcode, to create a little custom HTML widget, integrate, and deploy the whole thing to an iPad.

This could give everyday users — like, say, Apple's stated target market of educators — the kind of tablet-publishing capability that will drive an explosion of diversity and experimentation.

Yes, to take full advantage of the interactivity, you need to use Apple's iBooks app on the iPad, although you can also output as an Adobe Acrobat PDF, readable across devices, which preserves some functionality. But that's clearly not its sweet spot.

For anyone who's tried to build e-pubs using existing tools, iBooks Author is a "glass of ice water in hell." Existing free or low-cost apps all aim at creating sturdy, validating, cross-platform epubs; the high-end extensions of tools like inDesign support rich media, but are expensive and often require proprietary deployment systems. Apple has lobbed an enormously powerful tool into this mix, and by giving it away, they are clearly aiming to amp development for the iPad. Vendor lock-in is always a Faustian bargain, but considering the terms of the license — if you give iBooks away for free, there's no cost; any sales must go through the Apple store where they take a reported 30% cut — many might find it reasonable.

Hypercard flashbacks. Big time. Anyone with a Mac now has a tool you can learn in an afternoon that can create a professional-level ebook. This is exactly the feeling we had in 1987 when Hypercard gave everyone the ability to build interactive screen-based applications point-and-click style. Do I miss the ability to control the entire UI? Do I wish there was a more fully-integrated scripting language like HyperTalk? Am I concerned about deploying on other platforms and open standards? Yeah, sure.

For those inclined to worry about Faustian bargains, just remember that publishing tools have unintended and unimaginable consequences. Once you give people access to the means of production, it's very hard to shove the genie back in the bottle. Hypercard may have died out as a platform, but the ripples of hypermedia read-write enablement are with us still. Will iBooks Author do the same for publishing? We shall see.

Full disclosure: Our family owns Apple stock.

Localblogging, 02871, media ecology, education

Portsmouth students among RI Foundation scholarship recipients

Two Portsmouth students were among the recipients of the Rhode Island Foundation's "Miss Swinburne Fund" awards, the foundation announced today. Portsmouth students receiving scholarships were Meredith Fitzgerald (URI) and Lorna Ashmore (New England Tech), placing them among the Newport County students and nonprofit groups that received $55,000 from the foundation this year.

There were 5 other scholarship recipients in Newport County towns. Middletown: Suzanne Pellerin (CCRI), Kajsa Mashaw-Smith (Rollins College); Jamestown: Alexandra Brown (Cedarville University); Newport: Kaori O’Neil (CCRI); and Litttle Compton: Kate Tierney (University of British Columbia).

The fund memorializes Elizabeth H. Swinburne, a civic-minded woman of the early 1900s who established a school in her Newport home to educate young women. Following her death, the Civic League of Newport continued her mission and, nine years ago, established the fund in her name. The Miss Swinburne Fund has provided nearly $500,000 in scholarships and grants to benefit young women from Newport County since 2002.

The Foundation also announced organizational grants to several Newport County nonprofits:

Friends of the Jamestown Philomenian Library
$1,000 to support the Arts Redux Project, a week-long camp for girls.

Literacy Volunteers of East Bay
$2,500 for the Newport County Women's Outreach Program earmarked for advertising costs and partial support for staffing.

Boys & Girls Club of Newport County
$5,000 to support the establishment of the Community Candles Project earmarked for supplies, transportation, fair fees, packaging, and partial support for staffing.

Child and Family Services of Newport County
$2,000 to support the Ophelia Sessions earmarked for staffing.

Star Kids Scholarship Program
$4,500 for tuition expenses and tutoring support for one Newport County Star Kids girl student to attend a non-public school of her choice for the 2011-2012 school year.

Women's Resource Center of Newport
$7,500 to support the Court Advocacy Program.

East Bay Community Action Program
$3,000 for the Sheroes of the Future program to support the costs for a facilitator.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center
$5,000 to support the Strong Woman Series of workshops for women in Newport County.

The Miss Swinburne Fund will seek scholarship applications from Newport County women again in spring 2012. A full list of scholarships offered through The Rhode Island Foundation is available at the Scholarships/Scholarship Opportunities section of the Foundation’s website,

The Miss Swinburne Fund is one of more than 1,100 component named funds at The Rhode Island Foundation. Last year, the Foundation and its donors made $29.2 million in grants to nonprofit organizations. Whether your interest is education, health care, the environment, or a particular nonprofit organization, you can have a significant, far-reaching impact in the state. To discuss becoming a donor, please call (401) 427-4027.

Editorial note: Written from a press release. Congratulations to all the recipients, and a big tip of the hat to the Foundation for all your support of critical local groups and our students.

Localblogging, 02871, education

RI reports mostly improved student scores on "Nation's Report Card"

Rhode Island students performed at or above average on all four math and reading tests on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the RI Dept. of Education (RIDE) announced this morning. Results released today for the NAEP, sometimes referred to as the "Nation's Report Card," show that Rhode Island students in grade 4 scored above the national average in both mathematics and reading, and students in grade 8 scored at the national average in mathematics and above the national average in reading.

Rhode Island was one of only 3 states (plus the District of Columbia) to improve in both grade-4 and grade-8 mathematics, and Rhode Island is the only state (plus the District of Columbia) to improve in both mathematics assessments on the previous (2009) and the current Report Card.

This year, 34 percent of Rhode Island 8th-graders were proficient in mathematics, an increase of 6 percentage points. In grade 4, 43 percent of Rhode Island students were proficient in mathematics this year, an increase of 4 percentage points.

“For the first time since the NAEP assessments began, more than 20 years ago, Rhode Island students have met or surpassed the national average in all reading and mathematics tests,” said Governor Lincoln D. Chafee. “This is great news for our state, and it shows that our schools are moving in the right direction and advancing student achievement across the board. I congratulate all of our students, teachers, and administrators who have made all Rhode Islanders proud of their achievement.”

Reading results released today show that 35 percent of Rhode Island 4th-graders were proficient, a drop of 1 percentage point – but still higher than the national average. In grade-8 reading, 33 percent of Rhode Island students were proficient, an increase of 5 percentage points.

“I am very pleased at the progress our students have made on the NAEP assessments, particularly the strong gains in mathematics over the past four years,” said George D. Caruolo, Chairman of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. “Today’s results show that our strategic investments in developing curriculum, improving instruction, and ensuring educator excellence will benefit our students and our state for years to come.”

Among the 52 states and jurisdictions, Rhode Island ranked 23rd in grade-4 mathematics, 21st in grade-4 reading, and 30th in grade 8 (in both mathematics and reading). Each ranking is an improvement over the 2009 results.

Achievement gaps remain a significant problem in Rhode Island, with black and Hispanic students, students living in poverty, students with disabilities, and English-language learners scoring below state averages on all four assessments.

Some student groups did make significant progress in the percent who achieved proficiency, however, particularly in mathematics, including a gain of 6 percentage points for students in poverty in grade 4, a gain of 4 percentage points for students in poverty in grade 8, and a gain of 5 percentage points for Hispanic students in grade 8.

Hispanic students in Rhode Island are no longer the lowest-scoring in the country, as they were in 2009.

“All Rhode Islanders should be proud of the progress our students have made in mathematics and reading over the past four years,” said Deborah A Gist, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “Until this year, our mathematics scores have never been above the national average, and our grade-8 reading scores have been below the national average since 2007. While I remain concerned about our achievement gaps, I am confident that we are on the right path and that, with excellent teachers in every classroom and excellent leaders in every school, we can close these achievement gaps and prepare all of our students for success.”

A selected sample of 4th-grade and 8th-grade students (about 11,800) from across the state took the NAEP mathematics and reading tests from January through March of 2011. NCES releases statewide results for grades 4 and 8 only; it releases no results at the school or district level.

The R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) will post further information on the Rhode Island NAEP scores on the RIDE Web site:

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has posted information about the NAEP reading results on its site:

Editorial note: Written from a press release.

Localblogging, 02871, education, RIDE

Waiting for Superman: Devastating indictment, convenient truth

Waiting for Superman
Waiting for Superman

On our way out of the Loews Lincoln Center theater in New York yesterday after watching Waiting for Superman, my 10-year-old son, Jack, made this unprompted observation: "That was really two movies," he said. "One about the kids trying to get into schools, and another about evil teacher unions." I thought he noticed something important about this film, and in this review I'll try to explain why the first of these movies is a searing call for social justice, while the second ultimately falls prey to the same lack of rigor it decries.

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth, illuminates the troubles of America's education system through the stories of five kids: Anthony, who lost his father to drugs and is mired in the awful Washington, DC system, Daisy, an LA fifth grader who wants to be a surgeon, Francisco, whose family sees school as the way out of the Bronx, Bianca, a Harlem student being failed by the local parochial school, and Emily, a middle-class kid whose suburban school may track her out of college prep. All five pin their hopes on lotteries to gain entry into nearby charter schools where things will be better. Without spoilers, I will just say that the odds against all five kids in a documentary coming up winners are high.

And from the very opening frames, where we watch Anthony painfully work percentages, this is a film about odds. We are constantly reminded with subtitles as we see the outstanding charter schools — and make no mistake, they are exemplary — how many applications there are for each slot. We are presented with the grim statistics on the "dropout factories" concentrated in the inner cities, where a large percentage fail to graduate, and of those, even fewer are prepared for college.

Guggenheim interviews Robert Balfanz, co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center and a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, who identified the nation's 2,000 dropout factories, high schools that graduate 60% or fewer of entering freshmen. "He sees a pattern," Guggenheim narrates, "Failing elementary and middle schools feeding poorly educated students into the local high school where they last one or two years."

In the past 40 years, one high school in LA has failed to graduate 40,000 kids. "They're fifteen-year-old dropouts," says the principal. "They aren't going to be writing screenplays." It should come as no surprise that education theorists have begun to ask whether troubled communities produce poor outcomes in school or if it is the failed schools that are producing these troubled communities.

The final sequence, watching these kids, from what are incontestably bad schools, sitting at their lotteries, hugging their parents, crossing their fingers, and, in some cases, going home empty handed is so sad that it makes me tear up just remembering it. No parent can watch this film and not cry. If you can watch these children and not commit to fight this inequity, you have no heart. There is no excuse in our America for this. It is a social justice issue, full stop.

But as Guggenheim lauds the work of charters, and education visionaries like Geoffrey Canada and his Harlem Children's Zone, his "other" movie falls into the trap of looking for easy solutions. While Canada notes that his school's success depends on full-lifecycle involvement (he launched a "Baby Academy" and promises parents to stand with kids through the end of college), the film offers explanations for failure and prescriptions for cure that are substantially less holistic.

"It should be simple," says Guggenheim, as a cute animation shows a perky teacher opening children's heads and pouring in alphabet soup. "A teacher in a schoolhouse, filling her students with knowledge and sending them on their way. But we've made it complicated." What makes it complicated, in this film, are bureaucracy and unions.

Let's start with the insulting and discredited notion of education as a wise teacher pouring content into the blank slate of children's minds. We have known, since Dewey and Vygotsky, that learning is a transactional process. Even the word, education, comes from a Latin root meaning "to draw out," a deeply interactive metaphor. Guggenheim has no excuse for starting from such a flawed premise.

And of course, bureaucracy is an easy target. The "14,000 autonomous school boards making school governance a tangled mess of conflicting regulations and mixed agendas" become a numinous villain, literally described as "the blob, like something out of a horror movie." Washington, D.C. Superintendent Michelle Rhee shares her convictions about the creeping bureaucracy and its fundamental failure. "The central office," says Rhee, "Proceeds to screw everything up." By implication, the solution is charter schools, unfettered by red tape. (I will leave the typical consequences of deregulation as an exercise for the student. Parallels with the financial industry, particularly if they involve alphabet soup and trephination, receive extra points under my rubric.)

But the film reserves its harshest criticism for teacher unions. Where Rhee is depicted as a hypercompetent administrator, juggling no less than two smart phones and a laptop as she bustles from meeting to meeting, working long hours, and yet still finding the time to whisper to a student as she observes a class, asking how he likes his teacher, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten is shown in a political context, standing before what is likely a union meeting, amplified and projected. Like the many shots in the film of student's feet — notice, as you watch it, the subtle reinforcement of this motif of plodding along — the visual cues associated with these two figures are part of the filmmaker's art.

No question, there are legitimate questions about some contract terms. In the clip you will have seen on "Oprah," union contracts are blamed for the "dance of the lemons," where charmingly animated Milwaukee principals, stuck with teachers they are unable to fire, dance to the "Blue Danube" as they cycle them from school to school. And it is contractually specified grievance procedures that keep hundreds of New York City teachers sitting in "rubber rooms" for up to three years as they await administrative resolution, at a cost of $100M a year.

I think we can agree that the combination of due process rights and bureaucracy makes public education more sluggish than the private sector in responding to low-performing staff. And we can agree that the most important goal is a great teacher in every classroom. But I truly wish that Guggenheim had asked the next question. Assume, as one of his interviewees asserts, that if we could eliminate the 10% of "worst" teachers, we could bring our nation's education system up to the best in the world. If unions were no obstacle, and you could wave a magic wand and fire all those people, where would the new teachers come from, and what would guarantee the distribution of their skill levels would be any different from those they replace?

If we're truly after root causes — and not just convenient truths — we have to ask why we are not doing a better job attracting, developing, and retaining truly great teachers. One possible answer: While countries with world-class systems recruit all their teachers from the top third of college graduates, in America, that number is only 14%, according to research cited in a New York Magazine story about the film: "The report makes clear that in the countries with the best schools, teacher quality is a national priority: Educators are paid competitively; education schools are highly selective; jobs are guaranteed for those credentialed; and professional development is ample and subsidized. In America, none of that holds true."

Since unions have, at best, limited input on some of those factors, why should the failure of the entire system be laid at their feet?

As Newark Mayor Cory Booker noted in the second of the two hours Oprah devoted to the film this past week, creating villains helps absolve us of blame. "When you blame somebody, you almost try to forgive yourself of any responsibility. 'It's not my fault, it's the dirty unions!'" said Booker. "But that will never solve this problem. We must find a way to get everybody to the table."

I would go a step further: creating villains enables us to justify our actions. If unions are the villain, it becomes our moral obligation to attack them. My fear is that in the same way that Inconvenient Truth inspired millions to meaningful (if incremental) action, that among those seeking quick fixes — or political points — a knee-jerk attack on unions becomes the equivalent of swapping in compact fluorescent light bulbs. And Guggenheim indicts "regular" schools with such a broad brush that possibilities for innovation and renewal there may be overlooked.

But these concerns aside, this film has clearly sparked a long-overdue dialogue. There is no question that change is needed, and no question that real change will mean sacrifice on everyone's part. At its best, Waiting for Superman deploys its considerable storytelling skills to build the case for that shared sacrifice. It is impossible to look at the faces of those children, clutching now-worthless lottery numbers, and accept the status quo.

Waiting for Superman web site
New York Magazine, Schools: The Disaster Movie
The Nation, Grading 'Waiting for Superman'

Full disclosure: My wife is a teacher (in Massachusetts) and a union member, and I taught at the college level for seven years.

Localblogging, 02871, Schools, media ecology, education