Archives for category: Providence

 

 

This is the most curious news story of the week, written by the GoLocalProv News Team.”*

It says that the fate of the reform of the Providence public schools lies in the hands of the Providence Teachers Union, led by Maribeth Calabro; she, the story warns, may be able to veto the new state commissioner’s  plans to transform the Providence public schools. It does not mention that the state commissioner taught for two years in New York City as a fast-tracked Teach for America teacher, has no prior experience as either a school principal or superintendent and has kept her plans to transform the district a deep secret.

But here is where the article goes strange.

In 2011, newly-elected Providence Mayor Angel Taveras fired all the teachers in Providence — it was a big and bold decision, and it was reversed within days.

Not too many politicians, especially Democrats. will take on teachers unions in this country and especially in the heavily union-based Rhode Island.

The action in 2011 drew national attention. In a statement, the American Federation of Teachers national President Randi Weingarten called the decision “stunning,” especially given that the union and city “have been working collaboratively on a groundbreaking, nationally recognized school transformation model.”

“We looked up ‘flexibility’ in the dictionary, and it does not mean destabilizing education for all students in Providence or taking away workers’ voice or rights,” said Weingarten, whose organization includes 1.5 million teachers and staff. “Mass firings, whether in one school or an entire district, are not fiscally or educationally sound.”

Well, the teachers union claim that Providence Schools were a ‘transformational model’ did not prove to be correct. Providence Schools are considered to be among the worst in America.

Infante-Green has said she believes she has the power to “break contracts.” 

The News Team seems to believe that firing all the teachers in the district is a “big and bold” idea that is worth a try. The mayor wanted to do it in 2011, but the union got in his way.

Apparently the News Team wants the state commissioner to fire all the teachers now and is egging her on to do so.

Exactly how will that improve the district?

Exactly how will that affect morale?

Who will want to teach in a district where teachers are disposable, like tissues?

Will Teach for America supply the new teachers after the existing workforce has been fired? Will they agree to stay longer than two years?

Where is the evidence that firing all the teachers is good for students?

*The original version of this post misattributed the article to the Providence Journal, which is owned by Gatehouse Media.

 

State Senator Sam Bell has been concerned about the punitive discipline in the no-excuses Achievement First charter schools, which is primed for a major expansion in Providence.

He toured an Achievement First charter school, and his worst fears were confirmed.

Please read the entire post, which I condensed.

Senator Bell writes:

On Friday, October 18, I toured Achievement First. It was a chilling experience, an experience I’m still processing.

They wouldn’t let me take any pictures or video.

The start time was 7am. I got there at 6:59. I expected a mob of kids rushing to class, but they must have all already gotten there early. I only saw one or two kids, each of them sprinting. Kids, apparently, fear being late so much that they really aren’t late, despite being forced to wake up at what is an ungodly hour for a middle schooler. My guide, though, was late.

As we started the tour, I noticed black and yellow lines taped on the floor of the hallway. The children, my guide informed me, are all required to walk only on these lines. Several times, I saw adults chastising students for not walking on the lines. Quite literally, students were not allowed to set a toe out of line.

The bathroom doors, I noticed, were all propped open. I asked if it was for cleaning. No, I was told, it was so that the kids in the bathrooms could be watched. They didn’t prop open the toilet stalls, but it still struck me as intensely creepy, a twisted invasion of privacy.

In the classrooms, it was constant discipline. The teachers spewed a stream of punishments, and I often couldn’t even see what the students were doing wrong. The students kept losing points or getting yelled at for things like not looking attentive enough. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a child to be berated constantly, to be forced to never even think of challenging authority. It was, of course, overwhelmingly white teachers berating students of color. (The walls, of course, were plastered with slogans of racial justice.)

The education, if you can call it that, was the most shameless teaching to the test. I was shown what I think was a social studies class, where the children were being drilled to respond to a passage about Rosa Parks like it was a passage on a RICAS ELA test. They were being asked to interpret the passage, not to think critically about what Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott meant for American history and what we can still learn from that act of heroism today.

I was shown another class, where the students were just straight-up practicing to respond to what looked to me exactly like a RICAS short answer question. The teacher went around looking over the kids’ shoulders, basically praising them for checking the boxes of a RICAS grading rubric. (The RICAS grading rubric primarily emphasizes a rigid organizational structure with a single central idea and lots of specific pieces of evidence to support it.) This was far and away the best of the classrooms I saw. It was teaching to the test, yes, but with a teacher who at least showed compassion to the students and focused on building them up instead of tearing them down.

I also saw something they call “IR.” I think it stands for “individual reading,” but I’m not sure. Basically, it was kids sitting quietly and working through exercises in a book. It was the kind of rigid, formulaic make-work that drills kids for taking tests well but does not teach creativity, critical thinking, or passion for learning. It also looked miserable.

Not once did I see a lecture, a group discussion, or a seminar…

And this was what they chose to show me, this was what they showed a critic, this was a hand-picked tour to promote what they do. Although I asked to see one of the computerized teaching classrooms, my guide was unwilling to show me one. I did see posters telling kids to put on their noise-cancelling headphones, open their computer, be quiet, and work through their exercises. To her credit, my guide did basically admit to me that the computerized teaching system was kind of a mess. She said that kids are allowed to opt out of it to do book exercises instead and are no longer forced to wear noise-cancelling headphones if they don’t want to.

I did see several classrooms where the students were taking quizzes on laptops. This of course would be great preparation for taking a computerized standardized test. It struck me how often I saw this, and I wondered how much of the time must have been taken up by practicing taking tests.

Despite the policing of facial expressions, I saw some of the most jarringly sad faces I have seen in a very long time. I remember the look on one young woman’s face. She had been sent out of the classroom. I’m not sure why. I think she was a rebel. She was one of the very few I ever saw not walk on the lines taped into the floor. Her face was contorted into a shockingly intense frown. It almost looked like a caricature of a frown, the sort of frown one might see on an overly dramatic actor on TV but not in real life. My guide saw something different, raving about “faces of joy.”

At one point, rounding a corner, I heard a child scream. I don’t know what was happening, and my guide quickly rushed me away.

What was most missing was social interaction. When were the students supposed to talk to each other? To form meaningful friendships? To flirt and begin exploring romance? And it wasn’t just the lack of small group discussion in the classes or the strict discipline that stopped the students from talking in class. Even in the pep rally I witnessed, the kids weren’t talking to each other. If they tried to, a teacher would appear immediately to discipline them. I saw one kid quickly whisper to another and get away with it once. That was it. Even in the hallway, they weren’t talking. They just marched through the halls on the lines taped into the floor, enduring a stream of rebukes for minor offenses like leaving too large a gap between students.

On a human level, it was hard for me to take. When people tell stories about Providence school tours so bad they are moved to tears, I usually think they’re exaggerating. But I couldn’t stop tearing up at Achievement First, and I had to keep dabbing my eyes with a tissue. Now, I did have the ducts that drain my tears plugged to treat dry eye, so I do cry quite easily. But still….

After what I saw, I can easily see how this approach is great at producing amazing test scores. If you focus solely on test-prep and brutal discipline, yes you will boost test scores. Learning how to do well on a RICAS ELA test is learning how to think the way the test wants you to think. It’s learning not to think different. It’s learning to take the least challenging answer. It’s learning to sit still and robotically churn through boring and pointless questions.

But the human cost is so high. At what point is it worth subjecting kids to such misery? Even if the “achievement” were real learning, would it be worth the misery it takes to achieve it? Putting kids under that kind of stress dramatically increases the risk of lasting mental health damage.

Achievement should not come first. Children should come first.

Achievement First is planning on expanding. They’re asking to open a high school, and now they’re asking for a new elementary school, too. Some politicians, parents, student advocates, teachers, and unions have timidly objected to the funding Achievement First rips away from the already suffering public schools. But for me, the money pales in comparison to the raw human pain. Cruelty towards children is just plain wrong. It’s about people, not numbers in a spreadsheet.

Sometimes, overly mild rhetoric is irresponsible. We have to think carefully about the language we use. Words matter. If we water down Achievement First to a budgetary issue, then the Mayor of Providence will feel justified in letting them expand as long as better charter schools are prevented from opening or expanding in Providence. Instead, we must condemn Achievement First as a fundamentally immoral institution.

Half measures are not enough. No expansion is acceptable. Instead, we must talk about a turnaround plan to revamp and fundamentally reform these schools, returning actual learning to the classrooms, ending cruel discipline, and respecting the human rights of the students. And no turnaround plan will be real, no reforms will be lasting, without replacing the toxic administrators currently in charge with turnaround leaders who have true compassion for the students.

 

 

The Providence Journal reports on the state’s slow motion takeover of the Providence schools. 

No superintendent has been appointed. Meanwhile the state has placed Frances Gallo in charge of Providence as Interim Superintendent. Previously Gallo was superintendent of the state’s lowest performing district, Central Falls.

Some candidates have already turned down the job.

 

Andrew Stewart recounts the alarming plans that Governor Gina Raimondo has in store for Providence public schools. She is a former venture capitalist who seems to have an instinctive suspicion of the public sector. What she has in mind, he says, is the planned demolition of the public schools.

He writes:

Someday, after the operatic cycle of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s political career has reached its concluding note, it will be a masterpiece of neoliberal assault upon the public sector, the commons, and the fabric of the welfare state in America to behold. It is absolutely essential, in order for the faculty and the students of Providence to fight back and win in this contest, to form a broad-based coalition that is centered on the success of students and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.

Right now, a multi-year media narrative, assembled by allegedly-liberal local news outlets, is being utilized in order to justify the anti-democratic takeover of public education. (I will offer a further analysis of this narrative in a future report that time and space bars me from providing here.)

Motivation stems a number of reasons, including because the Providence Teachers Union is one of the largest white collar educator unions in the state and its majority composition is white women, meaning success would have a ripple effect for female workers statewide; the PTU benefits and salary package is one of the most robust offerings in the entire state economy and serves as a useful high watermark for all female service and public sector economy workers, especially with paid maternity leave. Whereas suburban teacher unions play a peripheral role in the respective municipal political debates, Providence Teachers Union is a major force in statewide politics. Simultaneously, another front of this attack can be found in the halls of the Community College of Rhode Island, where Raimondo seeks to crush the unionized faculty owing to its large membership, the subject of a future report….

Right now, Providence Public School Department is being taken over by the state and the state’s newly-appointed (by Raimondo) Education Commissioner Angélica M. Infante-Green, an alumnus of the Jeb Bush education privatization project Chiefs for Change, which has seen in the past decade a revolving door installed into various Ed offices in RI. Interim Superintendent Fran Gallo, who has a history in the district, seems to occupy a rubber-stamp position. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has recently moved to defund all other charter schools in the city so to move the money into his own personal project, the Achievement First Mayoral Academy, not unlike several other patterns of funding we have seen locally over the years whereupon the independent charters serve the purpose of creating good PR until they are defunded to make room for the big-box corporate players. Achievement First has a national reputation for abominable student abuses and their opaque, unaccountable budgetary processes pertaining to per-pupil expenditures have a distinct and negative impact on special needs and English Language Learner students both inside their charters and outside in the remaining non-privatized schools.

He reminds us that Raimondo’s campaign was funded by the hedge fund industry, which loves charter schools.

Raimondo ascended to her political position by starting out as the first woman elected Treasurer of Rhode Island. With a heavy war chest funded by the hedge fund industry, particularly Paul Tudor Jones, as well as Enron alum John Arnold, she walked into Treasury and saw the writing on the wall.

The Rhode Island Democratic Party was influenced since World War II by the diktats of ethnic Catholicism, with attendant anti-Communism, corruption, and conservatism. Treasury for decades had been run as little more than a bail-out fund for the state and its multiple ridiculous schemes, including failed real estate deals and other pay-offs that clearly violated the responsibility of not just a fiduciary but probably every sane child with a piggy bank.

With this in mind, Raimondo invested the state pension fund (which includes public school teacher contributions) into the hedge funds that in turn finance charter schools (Paul Tudor Jones’s Robin Hood Foundation finances Achievement First) [4], meaning that Providence teachers still to this day see a payroll deduction on their pay stub that finances the literal busting of their own union!

She was aided in this by donor John Arnold, who foisted upon the public, via the Pew Charitable Trust, a phony pension crisis narrative in the media [5] that was picked up by perceived non-partisan outlets like PBS. Raimondo is a pro at manufacturing a crisis to attack organized labor and this recent stab at PTU and Providence public schools bears striking resemblance to the pension heist of 2011.

Privatized education in Providence, he predicts, will be a cash cow for the corporate entities that feed off the misery of inner-city communities and schools.

The untold story, to which Stewart alludes, is not about failing schools, but about racism, structural inequality, white flight, and unexamined white supremacy. Nothing in Governor Raimondo’s plans will address root causes.

The public schools of Providence have been taken over by the state because of very low test scores. The interim superintendent Frances Gallo is the same person who threatened to fire the entire staff of Central Falls High School in 2010 because of its very low scores. Central Falls was taken over by the state. It still has the lowest scores in the state.

From the Boston Globe, which is behind a pay wall:

After a tough summer, the interim superintendent of Providence schools wanted to do something uplifting for students returning to class in a system labeled as one of the most troubled in the country.

She searched through Amazon and selected a motivational book, ordering thousands of copies at a cost of $187,000. The plan was to have all middle and high school students read it this month.

But after teachers and school board members complained that “Shoot Your Shot: A Sport-Inspired Guide To Living Your Best Life” was filled with religious overtones, Frances Gallo asked educators to pause their use of the book in class…

Gallo, who retired from running Central Falls schools in 2015, was named Providence’s interim superintendent shortly before Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green announced the state would take control of the struggling district.

The state’s intervention comes after a report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University found the school system is plagued by widespread dysfunction, poor test scores, and abysmal building conditions. One member of the research team cried after visiting a school. Others called Providence the worst district they had ever encountered…

Gallo said the purchase of the books is a relatively small expenditure inside of a school budget that is approaching $400 million, but the district has been forced to put off technology upgrades and cut partnerships with nonprofit partners in recent years due to a lack of funding.

Read the full story:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/rhode-island/2019/09/11/providence-schools-spent-inspirational-books-now-has-plans-use-them/cAarWBtBAv8DiqMI1sK3VJ/story.html?s_campaign=breakingnews:newsletter

Parents and students demand a seat at the table in Providence as state leaders prepare to take control of district.

https://www.providencejournal.com/news/20190904/students-parents-demand-formal-role-in-state-takeover-plan-for-providence-schools

A group of high school students and Providence parents have filed a motion with the state Department of Education Wednesday demanding a formal role for parents and students to weigh in on the takeover plan for the Providence public schools.

Parents are joined by several youth organizations, including Youth in Action, Providence Youth Student Movement, Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education, and the Providence Student Union.

The group, represented by the Rhode Island Center for Justice, is asking State Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green to ensure parent and student involvement in the plan for improving the city’s schools, the leaders who will implement it, and the goals, progress and criteria for success for the plan.

The groups argue that students and their parents have a clear, strong, personal stake in the success of the district, and have a legal right to participate in decisions about the takeover.

In their motion, the parents, students and community groups are saying to the state: “No one has a greater stake in demanding improvements in the schools than parents and students, and no turnaround will succeed without a clear plan that includes the community.”

 

Frances Gallo, who was Superintendent of Central Falls, the state’s lowest performing district, was made interim superintendent of the state-controlled Providence District. 

She will be replaced in 90 days.

When Gallo led Central Falls in 2010, she threatened to fire every employee of the high school, even the lunchroom employees, to punish them for the district’s low scores. After a time of national notoriety, she left the public sector to work for a charter chain.

Central Falls today remains the lowest scoring and the most impoverished district in the state.

In her new post, Gallo promises sweeping changes:

While Gallo’s tenure as superintendent will be short, she will hold the role during the first day of school, after a full summer of discussion and debate about what to do in the wake of the Johns Hopkins report that painted a dire picture of the schools back in June.

“I’m going to turn the place upside down,” Gallo told reporters.

 

The State Education Department is taking over the Providence School District but thus far it has not released any hint of a plan. 

The only thing that seems sure is that the state will not put any new money to the district where schools are in disrepair.

Despite having been working towards a Providence School takeover for more than three months, Rhode Island’s Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green is now backing away from promises of transparency.

Her office is now refusing to layout plans as to how to improve Providence Schools.

Appearing on GoLocal LIVE this week, Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello discussed Rhode Island Department of Education voting to take over the beleaguered Providence public schools, following the Johns Hopkins report which identified the glaring problems in Providence — including school buildings. He voiced concern that there is no public plan.

Mattiello warned that the state was not prepared to assist with additional financial resources beyond those already provided. 

“If you don’t invest each and every year you’re going to have a disaster on your hands. They have a problem in Providence and that’s going to have to be addressed. The state is not going to come in with a large sack of money and address the Providence infrastructure needs,” said Mattiello. “They have to come up with a plan. I’m disappointed that I don’t see one at this point.”

The Boston Globe reported:

The Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday granted Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green the authority to take control of Providence schools, an unprecedented intervention effort designed to turnaround the struggling district.

The details of Infante-Green’s plan for Providence remain scarce, as the commissioner said she plans to return to the council next month to outline a strategy that will include hiring a superintendent to report directly to her, rather than to the Providence School Board.

Infante-Green was a TFA teacher for two years. She has never been a principal or a superintendent. She worked as an administrator in the New York State Education Department. It will be interesting to see how she turns around the schools of Providence.

 

Domingo Morel is a scholar of state takeovers. He wrote a book called Takeover:  Race, Education, and American Democracy. He was also a member of the team from Johns Hopkins that studied the problems of the Providence schools. And, what’s more, he is a graduate of the Providence public schools.

In other words, he has solid credentials to speak about the future of the Providence public schools. The schools are already under mayoral control, so discount that magic bullet that reformers usually prefer.

He knows from his study of state takeovers that they do not address root causes of school dysfunction.

Consider this:

As a scholar of state takeovers of school districts, I have seen how communities desperate to improve their schools placed their hopes in state takeovers, only to be disappointed. While the long-term effects of takeovers on student achievement often fail to meet expectations, the effects on community engagement are devastating. In most takeovers, states remove local entities — school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and community organizations — from decision-making about their schools.

Those who have read the Johns Hopkins report are aware that the absence of community engagement is a major issue in the Providence Schools. Demographic differences are a major reason. Students of color represent more than 85% of the student population and English Language Learners represent nearly 30%, while more than 80% of the teachers are white. These differences are not trivial…

To help cultivate community engagement, the state could partner with a collective of community organizations, including Parents Leading for Educational Equity, ProvParents, the Equity Institute, the Latino Policy Institute, CYCLE and the Providence Student Union, which have come together over concerns with the Providence schools.

Finally, state officials should examine their role in contributing to the current conditions in Providence. State funding, particularly to support English Language Learners and facilities, has been inadequate. In addition, the absence of a pipeline for teachers of color is a state failure.

What a surprising set of recommendations: increase the pipeline of teachers of color. Build community engagement. Work with community organizations. Increase state funding.

He might also have added: Reduce class sizes. Provide wraparound services for students and adults. Open health clinics for families in the schools or communities. Improve and increase early childhood education. Beef up arts education and performance spaces in every school.

It takes a village, not a flock of hedge fund managers or a passel of fly-by billionaires hawking charter schools.