Archives for category: Rhode Island

After Johns Hopkins University wrote a scathing critique of the Providence public schools, Governor Gina Raimondo and her new Commissioner of Education took control of the city’s schools. They just announced their turnaround plan and predicted that the low-performing schools of Providence would be on par with the top 25% of schools in the state in five years.

Among the major points of the plan:

It places enhanced focus on the performance of multilingual learners, who represent 34% of Providence students but have been shown to be missing out on an adequate education. Going forward, the district will place more attention on the recruitment of qualified English-as-a-second-language teachers, prioritize meeting the expectations laid out in a Department of Justice settlement over the district’s handling of multilingual learners and double the number of students served by bilingual programs over five years.

The district will renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement with the Providence Teachers Union to make it easier to fire low-performing teachers, hire the best candidates and require additional professional development days, according to the plan.

In order to better engage families, the district will implement a central phone number or text-messaging system for information-sharing that will be accessible 24/7, create a parent and students bill of rights and start a “parent academy” that will train families in how to best advocate for their children. Peters already announced this spring that he plans to completely restructure central office.

The plan also prioritizes hiring more teachers of color, who are underrepresented in Providence schools compared with the student population, in part by partnering with local colleges and universities to attract more diverse candidates to the profession.

The turnaround plan includes an extensive series of metrics that the district aims to hit within five years of implementation, such as increasing the percentage of students who are present for nearly the entire school year to 90% from its current baseline of 62.7%.

To ensure accountability, the district will post updates on the plan’s implementation on 4PVDKids.com and publish a yearly report on its progress.

Nothing was said about additional funding.

Angelica Infante-Green, the Commissioner of Education in Rhode Island, selected Harrison Peters as the takeover superintendent of Providence.

Peters announced his initial plans, which sound sensible, like implementing restorative justice in schools and assessing which schools need emergency repairs.

However, the article suggests that the big reform plan will be rolled out in April.

Keep an eye on this because Peters is already a member of Jeb Bush’s “Chiefs for Change,” where he has been designated a “future” chief. Chiefs for Change is an organization that adheres to Bush’s harsh ideas about testing, school closings, school report cards, and charter schools. And, of course, Jeb is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for vouchers.

Charter advocates like to caricature public schools negatively while presenting charter schools as invariably successful.

We know neither portrait is accurate.

Rhode Island’s new state commissioner has decided to close one of the state’s oldest charter schools, which has been failing for years.

The Academy for Career Exploration, which was one of Rhode Island’s first charter schools when it opened in 1997 as the Textron Chamber of Commerce Academy, informed the state Department of Education last month that it would close rather than craft a reform plan that might have kept it open.

The high school serves more than 200 students, but Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green had reservations about extending its charter because of low performance, including a zero percent proficiency rate in math. Nearly 38 percent of students were considered chronically absent last school year.

Anyone who claims that private management of schools is a panacea, especially for poor children, is either misguided or misleading.

Randi Weingarten will be in Providence on Saturday to discuss the role of teachers in the state takeover engineered by neoliberal Governor Gina Raimondo. The governor is openly hostile to teachers and unions and a major supporter of privately managed charter schools. She hired Angelica Infante-Green as State Commissioner, although Green (ex-TFA) was never a principal or superintendent. She is a member of Jeb Bush’s rightwing Chiefs for Change.

Randi said:

Unfortunately, the current Commissioner just continues to do the same things that Joe Klein or Michelle Rhee would do. Rather than work with teachers, they’ve set up other ‘process’ committees that will come out and say all the things are wrong, and what teachers should do in collective bargaining to fix it,” said Weingarten. “It’s not as though we haven’t seen this movie before — you have to roll up your sleeves and work together and you have to lift the morale. You don’t create a situation were every utterance the boss says divides people more and more…”

Weingarten said that she believed Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza had allowed the schools to fall into disrepair — but that takeover by Rhode Island education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green was not necessarily the answer.

“Here you had a situation where you had city control and the mayor was not giving the school the resources they need — just look at the shape they were in. He was not going to play that role, so this was viewed as no worse than already divesting democratic control,” said Weingarten. “Raimondo made a case that she wanted to make things better, but what you’re seeing already, and this is why I’m so proud of my local union, is that you have to change the normal typical tired conversation when a school system is not as good as you wish it would be…”

There are are a couple of other people who were really good who they were considering for superintendent and they didn’t pick them,” said Weingarten of Providence. “The Hopkins report said we have a problem where people feel alienated and discouraged — Hopkins also didn’t spend a lot of time in schools that were working. Since that time our union has come up with recommendations of what to do and meet people halfway.”

“We put out the recommendations that were never taken up. We did some of them ourselves. If this is urgent, and things must be solved right now — and we came up with recommendations in September, and then they do none of them — it gives pause to the urgency,” she said. “We tried to do a bunch of different things to respond to the Hopkins report and we’ve had a couple of big professional development seminars and what we’re hearing from the other side is just give up your contract.”

“So what is all of this, I’ve been through this with Rhee and Klein, and it seems like the same playbook — say things are as bad as you can instead of trying,” said Weingarten. “And in vilifying people you create demoralization — you create a vehicle by which parents say, why am I even here?”

“If you think a change agent is someone who thinks they can do things to teachers not with them, they might be a disruptor, but that’s not a change agent,” said Weingarten. “Schooling is about what happens [with] the connective tissue between teachers, school staff and kids. Kids have to trust teachers — and the community has to as well — and when you have someone who tries to come in from on high and chooses to vilify and not deal with issues, that’s not going to help make things better in schools.”

“How do you create a school where community and parents trust their teachers when the superintendent says they’re not to be trusted? It may get someone headlines — but it’s not the way,” she said.

To my knowledge, there has never been a successful state takeover. Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority collapsed. Tennessee’s Educational Achievement Authority was a $100 million disaster.

The only districts that are targets for state takeovers are those with a black and brown majority. State officials think that eliminating democracy will fix the schools but it doesn’t and never has. It is a civics lesson to citizens and students of color that they are not capable of self-government.

Domingo Morel wrote a book called “Takeover” where he compntended that takeovers were about race and power, not education. Black and brown parents lose their political power and are subject to a colonial regime.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, is a specialist in the Destroy Public Education movement.

In this post, he describes the effort underway to take over the Providence public schools, a tactic that has not worked anywhere else.

He begins:

November 1, 2019, Angélica Infante-Green, Rhode Island’s new Commissioner of Education, announced the state was taking over Providence Public Schools. A neoliberal Democratic governor, a like minded mayor and the chamber of commerce appear to be instituting a school privatization agenda.

All power over schools in the state is held by the governor and mayors. Citizens do not have the right vote for local school leaders and school system leaders are subordinates of mayors. This structural weakness in Rhode Island has left public education vulnerable to the whims of a governor or mayor that does not respect professional educators and public education. [CORRECTION: A READER POINTED OUT THAT PROVIDENCE HAS AN APPOINTED SCHOOL BOARD, BUT OTHER LOCAL BOARDS ARE ELECTED.]

Governor Gina Raimondo holds the non-distinction of being the least popular governor in the nation, with a favorability rating of only 36%.

Gina attended private school while growing up in Providence. She studied economics at Harvard and sociology at Oxford University. Following Oxford she earned a juris doctorate from Yale Law..

Raimondo worked in Massachusetts at the venture capital firm Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital before she ran for to be Rhode Island State Treasurer in 2010. A puff piece in News Week describes how Gina defeated labor union opposition to roll back pension funds. The piece states, “The changes she persuaded the Democrat-controlled Legislature to pass over union opposition will save about $3 billion by delaying retirement, suspending cost-of-living increases and offering workers 401(k)-type savings plans.”

Her neoliberal pension reform plan matches the thinking of Charles Koch and the Cato Institute. The corporate supported American Legislative Exchange Council provides legal templates for reforming pension funds that look very much likeRaimondo’s Rhode Island pension reforms…

Raimondo is all in for charter schools. She especially admires Achievement First, a no-excuses charter chain based in Connecticut.

Raimondo selected a new state commissioner of education in the spring of 2019,

Angélica Infante-Green, who trained under Joel Klien and Michael Bloomberg in New York City. Infante-Green is a former Teach for America Corp member who began her career in New York City.

According to Angélica’s LinkedIn page, she taught at PS 4M, CS 77X, and South Park High School between 1994 and 1998. All of her administrative experience appears to revolve around bilingual education. She has never been a superintendent or a principal, which makes her an odd choice to lead Rhode Island’s schools.

However, she was in the first cohort of future chiefs at Jeb Bush’s Chief’s for Change. Their official comment on Angélica’s hiring came from Chief’s for Change Board member Pedro Martinez. He said, “We applaud Gov. Gina Raimondo for selecting a commissioner with a deep commitment to creating and expanding opportunities for all students.” Martinez is the Broad trained administrator who is instituting the billionaire financed portfolio model of education reform in San Antonio, Texas; a model that posits disruption as good and democracy as a hindrance.

Researchers from John Hopkins University conducted a review of Providence Public Schools. Their report begins,

“In May 2019, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy led a review of the Providence Public School District (PPSD). We did so at the invitation of the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) Commissioner, Ms. Angélica Infante-Green, with the support of Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge Elorza. The Partnership for Rhode Island funded the review.”

Infante-Green officially assumed her position on April 29 and in May she already had arranged for corporate money to finance a study of PPSD.

The corporate money came from The Partnership for Rhode Island, a group of leading CEO’s in the state. The Governor and the Mayor supported the new Commissioner of Education’s invitation for the study to be done. When the report was released, media, politicians and business executive started vehemently denouncing PPSD as a dysfunctional failure….

An amazing fact:

The Johns Hopkins study was commissioned in May and presented in June and by July 19th Mayor Elorza officially petitioned the state to takeover PPSD.

What kind of a study is commissioned in May and presented in June?

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The state commissioner of Rhode Island has recommended a five-year renewal for a failing charter school.

The New England Laborers Construction and Career Academy has earned a one-star rating, the lowest possible ranking in the state’s school accountability system, for the past two years. Critics have long complained that charter schools are not held to the same standards as traditional public schools.

CRANSTON — The commissioner of education has recommended a five-year renewal for a charter school despite at least four years of failing academic achievement, low graduation rates and a poor track record for placing graduates in construction jobs.

The New England Laborers Construction and Career Academy, a statewide charter that draws mostly from Cranston, opened in 2002 to create a pathway for high school students interested in construction careers. It also offers a separate career strand called the World of Work, which allows students to explore other career options. The current enrollment is 175 students…

The laborers academy has earned a one-star rating, the lowest possible ranking in the state’s school accountability system, for the past two years. For the previous two years, it was listed as a “focus” school, meaning its performance merited substantial help from the Education Department.

Laborers academy students also performed poorly on the latest SATs, with less than 16% proficient in English and 0% proficient in math.

In 2018, not one student earned a state-approved credential for the construction industry.

 

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.