By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said the state recommended that changes be made at the Birch Vocational School in Providence a year before a federal investigation found it was operating a so-called “sheltered workshop” for developmentally disabled students.
• Related: State, city reach settlement over Birch School violations (June 13)
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – When Rhode Island stops paying for the New England Common Assessment Program test in 2017, it will have spent more than $48 million over the course of 14 years on the controversial exam that is now tied to a high school diploma, WPRI.com has learned.
• Related: 40% of 11th-graders in RI in danger of not graduating (Feb. 14)
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was already the highest paid state education official in New England even before the Board of Education voted to extend her contract – which includes a 2% annual raise – by two years Thursday.
By Dan McGowan
WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – It will be two more years for embattled R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.
The R.I. Board of Education voted Thursday to allow Gist to continue guiding the state’s public schools until 2015, a deal that will throw her square into the middle of a Democratic primary for governor next year that is expected to be contentious.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With the state Board of Education set to consider a new contract for Education Commissioner Deborah Gist this week, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday praised the reform efforts of the state’s top educator.
• Related: Contract length, politics key issues in Gist renewal (May 23)
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – At least 30% of the students at more than two dozen elementary, middle and high schools across the state were absent 18 days or more during the 2011-12 school year, according to a WPRI.com review of data provided by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With officials mulling a contract renewal for Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras is again questioning a high school graduation mandate that ties a diploma to the state’s standardized test.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – R.I. Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Wednesday reaffirmed his support for Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, but stopped short of fully endorsing the school chief’s request for a three-year extension when her contract ends next month.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The overwhelming majority of Rhode Island’s public school teachers do not want Gov. Lincoln Chafee to extend Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s contract, according to a poll released Tuesday by the state’s leading teachers unions.
By Dan McGowan
R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is not expected to testify in front of the Washington D.C. City Council during a public oversight hearing on school testing integrity, according to a spokesman for Education Committee Chairman David Catania.
“We have not requested Ms. Gist’s testimony,” Ben Young, Catania’s chief of staff, told WPRI.com.
The Thursday hearing was called to review a report that found teachers in 18 classrooms in 11 D.C. schools may have cheated on standardized tests during the 2011-12 school year. The committee will also discuss cheating allegations that date back to 2008 when controversial education reformer Michelle Rhee served as chancellor of D.C. schools and Gist served as the District’s superintendent of education. (more…)
In an editorial titled “Flunking the test” published Thursday, The Boston Globe’s editorial board came out against the R.I. Department of Education’s new requirement that students pass the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) to get their diplomas:
The fundamental problem … is that the test wasn’t originally designed to be a graduation requirement and isn’t suited for that purpose. Schools need more high standards and accountability, and the NECAP was designed not to evaluate individual students’ proficiency, but to rank the quality of the schools they attend. Unlike tests meant primarily for student assessment, such as the MCAS in Massachusetts, the NECAP expects a certain portion of test-takers to fail. Research suggests that percentage will likely come from low-income, working-class neighborhoods — the students who are least likely to return for a fifth year of high school, even if skipping it means going without a diploma.
As a side note, Aaron Regunberg’s Providence Student Union has done an impressive job using savvy public relations to keep this issue on the radar and put pressure on Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.
Update: Regunberg writes in to say: “I want to make clear that, while I help coordinate and do some of the organizational and media outreach, PSU is a youth-led organization.” He’s “an organizer/coordinator.”
• Related: RI Board of Education Chairwoman Mancuso discuss NECAP on Newsmakers (April 7)
By Tim White
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A pair of bills at the R.I. State House would change the state’s public records law to ensure teacher evaluations would not be made public.
The bill would change the state’s Access to Public Records Act exempting “[a]ny individually identifiable evaluations of public school teachers and administrators” from public disclosure. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston, and Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady, D-Lincoln, in the House.
By Dan McGowan
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Students at the Community College of Rhode Island spent millions of dollars on remedial courses that do not provide college credit during the 2012/13 school year, according to a WPRI.com review of data provided through a public records request.
By Tim White
PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) – Pawtucket elementary school teacher Sharon Usher says test stress has pushed some of her students over the edge.
“One [was] under the floor crying one year,” Usher said. “One was afraid to come to school because they were afraid they were going to fail the test and not do well.”
What does Gina Raimondo have in common with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts and the Russian protest group Pussy Riot? They’re all on The Atlantic magazine’s 2012 list of Brave Thinkers.
The Atlantic’s Don Peck says generations of politicians promised plush pensions to win support from public employees without setting money aside to pay the bills, leaving current leaders with the bill. “Raimondo is one of the first to perform that necessary reckoning,” he writes.
The Atlantic apparently has a soft spot for Rhode Island’s top female policymakers: Education Commissioner Deborah Gist made its 2010 list of Brave Thinkers, too.
Update: Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker highlighted Raimondo’s honor in a Facebook post Thursday morning. “I’m so proud of my friend and former classmate Gina Raimondo,” Booker wrote. “She is showing great leadership in tough times – I hope she eventually becomes the Governor of her state.”
Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party and potential 2013 candidate for New Jersey governor, roomed with Raimondo’s husband at Yale Law School and donated $1,000 to her campaign last March. Of course, Booker also gets along with Raimondo rival Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, so Rhode Island’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign could leave him with a smorgasbord of options.
(h/t: Ian Donnis)
That’s because the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education has scheduled Gist’s final defense of her doctoral thesis for April 20 at 1 p.m. in Philadelphia. The commissioner has been working on her doctorate throughout her time in Rhode Island, where she arrived in July 2009.
Gist, a student in the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership, has titled her dissertation “An Ocean State Voyage: A Leadership Case Study of Creating an Evaluation System With, and For, Teachers.”
The new evaluation system, which is one of the main ways Rhode Island is using its $75 million federal Race to the Top grant, hasn’t made Gist popular with many public-school teachers in Rhode Island. The National Education Association Rhode Island’s Delegate Assembly last week asked her to delay the system’s implementation.
Before coming to Rhode Island, Gist was the state superintendent of education in Washington, D.C. She already holds a bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education from the University of Oklahoma and two master’s degrees, one in elementary education from the University of South Florida and another in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
• Related: Watch ‘Newsmakers’ with Deborah Gist on education (Feb. 12)
An earlier headline on this post said Commissioner Gist is pursuing her Ph.D.; the degree is an Ed.D.
Just 16% of public school teachers in Rhode Island had a favorable view of Gist’s job performance in January while 82% had a negative view, according to a survey of 401 teachers conducted by Fleming & Associates for the National Education Association Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.
The commissioner was particularly unpopular with long-tenured teachers. Those with 20 years or more experience in the classroom gave Gist a favorable rating of only 9%, significantly below the 23% favorable rating she received from teachers with less than 10 years of experience. (Fleming also conducts polling for WPRI 12.)
The two unions did not provide the full survey results but said its margin of error was plus or minus 4 points. It emerged less than a week after NEARI’s Delegate Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling on Gist to delay the full implementation of the state’s new teacher evaluation system.
Education Sector’s Kevin Carey had a long and less-than-sympathetic profile in The New Republic recently looking at the career of Diane Ravitch, the iconoclastic education historian who’s influenced Governor Chafee’s views on K-12 reform. Ravitch has become a darling of the teachers unions for breaking with her former allies in the conservative movement on education policy:
When Ravitch first voiced enthusiastic support for private-school vouchers, they were largely untried. As she now observes, the results of long-term voucher experiments have been disappointing. Ten years after No Child Left Behind, a lot of children are still behind.
These are reasonable points. The problem is that Ravitch’s use of evidence to support her new positions is often dubious, selective, and inconsistent.
That excerpt gives you a taste of Carey’s critique. As I read the article, though, I found myself mulling one of the reasons Chafee may have been drawn to Ravitch: their similar political trajectories.
So reports my crack intern Claire Peracchio, who’s also a student at Brown and editor of the Brown Daily Herald. In yesterday’s BDH, she took a thorough look at where things stand when it comes to public K-12 here.
And when I say thorough, I mean it; Claire talked to key players like Deb Gist and Fran Gallo while also spending time in classrooms. Here’s what she found:
Sara Bohnsack MAT’11 leads a game of word jeopardy in a fifth-grade classroom at the Paul Cuffee School in Providence. “If I told you that you’d never have to do homework again, some of you might respond by doing this,” she reads from a clue. Some of the students act out the correct vocabulary word — “cheer” — which a boy in the front row spells out loud.
The students wear navy and khaki uniforms befitting the school’s namesake, a black sea captain. They face a whiteboard, above which triangular college flags — Brown’s included — are posted as reminders of a college-bound future. Paul Cuffee’s student population is 89 percent minority and 77 percent below the poverty line. And when compared to neighboring Providence schools, the proportion of its students scoring proficient on standardized tests in math and reading is nearly 30 percent higher.
Only 2 percent of Rhode Island students attend charter schools like Paul Cuffee, where 973 students entered a lottery this spring in hopes of being selected for one of 39 open spots. The vast majority of students in Rhode Island attend public schools, where student achievement differs dramatically across the state’s 36 districts. For every high-achieving district like Barrington and East Greenwich, there is another like Providence, in which under half the district’s 26,000 students were proficient in reading, and only one-third demonstrated proficiency in math.
Rhode Island has trailed neighboring New England states in student performance in recent decades. But the arrival of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist in July 2009 brought a new sense of urgency to the push for reform. With Gist at the helm, the state won $75 million in federal education aid last August, taking fifth place in President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program. Last June, the state adopted an education funding formula, which, beginning July 1, will apportion aid based on student enrollment and the number of students in poverty. And two weeks ago, the state’s top governing body on education voted to adopt tougher high school graduation requirements effective in 2014.
The biggest question, according to Warren Simmons, executive director of Brown’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, is whether the momentum will continue under Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14.
That, my friends, is the kind of writing that lands you a coveted Nesi’s Notes internship. Read the rest here.
In Tuesday’s fundraising roundup, I mentioned that one of the biggest campaign accounts belongs to none other than former House Majority Leader George Caruolo.
The 58-year-old has been out of office for a dozen years, but his war chest still boasts $127,000 in cash – only about $2,000 less than House Speaker Gordon Fox.
Just a few hours after that post went up, Governor Chafee nominated Caruolo to replace Robert Flanders as chairman of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education – and this morning Caruolo was here in our studio to tape this weekend’s edition of “Newsmakers.” Arlene Violet asked him why he’s maintained such a considerable hoard:
CARUOLO: It’s still sitting there, and if I run for office again it’ll be available.
VIOLET: Are you planning on running for office?
CARUOLO: Not today, not yesterday, and not even next week – but you never say never in this game.
VIOLET: And what is still attracting you in public service? To run for what – governor? – in the future?
CARUOLO: No, I wouldn’t put any particular office out front. I’ve been probably more active in local politics than anything else. But my role has been minimal. I’ve given advice over the last 12 years, and not much more.
The full episode of “Newsmakers” with Caruolo – who told us he met with Commissioner Deb Gist for the first time just 90 minutes before today’s taping – will be posted online this afternoon.
One name was conspicuously if unsurprisingly absent from the list when Governor Chafee announced his picks for the R.I. Board of Regents earlier today: Angus Davis.
Davis, a successful tech entrepreneur and close ally of Commissioner Deb Gist, wasn’t expected to remain on the board once Chafee took office; he is a strong proponent of charter schools, among other ideas about which the new governor has doubts, and he backed Frank Caprio in last year’s campaign.
After declining to comment when I reached him by phone earlier in the day, Davis released a statement this evening – in English, Spanish and Portuguese, a nod to the diverse population in Rhode Island’s public school system.
“It has been a profound honor to serve the children of Rhode Island and to advocate for education policies that serve their best interest,” Davis said, before ticking off seven policies enacted during his time on the board, including lifting the cap on charters and establishing a school funding formula.
He praised Gist for her “inspiring and effective leadership,” noting the state’s recent success in winning a $75 million Race to the Top grant from the Obama administration.
The statement made no mention of Chafee or George Caruolo, the governor’s nominee to become the board’s new chairman, but it did thank Governor Carcieri, Senate President M. Teresa Pavia Weed and House Speaker Gordon Fox “for their support of this important, ongoing work to improve education.”
Carcieri nominated Davis last May to serve another term on the Board of Regents, but the Senate never acted on the nomination. The other two Regents whom Chafee is replacing are Amy Beretta and Anna Cano-Morales, although it’s unclear whether they wanted to remain on the board.
Separately, NEARI President Larry Purtill issued his own statement this evening applauding Chafee’s choices for the board; his union was a key supporter of Chafee during the gubernatorial campaign.
“I believe this group will listen to students, teachers, parents, and administrators, as well as the general public, as it develops education policy,” Purtill said. “It is critical that the voices of the stakeholders – those responsible for the education of our children – be heard.”
Duly noted: Just as Davis’s statement made no mention of Chafee, Purtill’s statement made no mention of Gist.
Governor Chafee has nominated former House Majority Leader George Caruolo to replace Robert Flanders as chairman of the R.I. Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, confirming what Tim White and I heard earlier today.
I don’t have a lot of analysis to offer at this point, but naturally the first thing that comes to mind is Caruolo’s association with the oft-criticized law that bears his name. If you want to get up to speed on the debate over the Caruolo Act, check out these two 2009 Projo op-eds: Casper Jones’ criticism of the law and Caruolo’s response in its defense.
In addition to Caruolo, Chafee is nominating Carolina Bernal, Robert Carothers and Mathies Santos to the Board of Regents; reappointing Karin Forbes; and retaining Patrick Guida and Colleen Callahan. Betsy Shimberg, the only current member whose term hasn’t expired, will continue to serve on the board, too. The ninth member of the board is always
the chairman a member of the Board of Governors for Higher Education.
All the appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.
Deb Gist was here this morning for a taping of WPRI 12′s “Newsmakers” and I sat in to listen to the discussion. Here’s my headline out of the interview:
R.I. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was adamant Friday that she will stay in Rhode Island as long as she’s wanted here and gets support for her strategy for the state’s public education system.
“If I were ever to make a decision not to stay in Rhode Island it would be because I didn’t believe … someone wanted me to be here or that we were going to be able to move our plan forward,” the commissioner said. “That would be the only reason.”
The questions about Gist’s future were just one aspect of the half-hour interview, though. She also discussed why the state needs tough new rules for granting high school diplomas; why it’s still “too soon” to know whether it was the right move to fire all the teachers at Central Falls High last year; and why it’s wrong to put all the blame for K-12′s problems on local teacher’s unions.
The whole show is highly recommended, particularly since education policy – and Gist’s role in shaping it – is sure to be one of the marquee issues during the Chafee administration’s first year. The show will be posted on WPRI.com later today and broadcast on TV at 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
And if you’re just getting up to speed on the Gist-Chafee situation – which the administration maintains will not be a “showdown” as I suggested in November – check out my post here and the follow-up here.
A year after Central Falls High School fired all its teachers, setting off a national firestorm, the troubled school is still, well, troubled. The AP’s departing Eric Tucker has a good overview:
Many teachers aren’t showing up for work, often calling out sick. Several abruptly quit within the first few weeks of the school year. Administrators have had to scramble to find qualified substitutes and have withheld hundreds of student grades because of the teacher absences.
The progress that the city’s school board – and the Obama administration – had hoped for seems increasingly, and alarmingly, elusive.
The problems come despite a labor agreement that union leaders and administrators in this poor, heavily immigrant city trumpeted as a breakthrough at Central Falls High, a struggling school of roughly 840 students where just 7 percent of 11th-graders were proficient in math in 2009.
“I expected when everyone came to the school that there would be more of a shared focus on making sure that everything was successful,” said state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. “At this point, we’re concerned about whether or not people are going to be able to let go of the past and work together toward moving forward.”
Read the rest on WPRI.com. I expect Central Falls High will be getting a lot of attention over the next few weeks; a source tells me CBS News is traveling to the city next week to film an “Evening News” segment about the situation. Gist will also be here in our studio tomorrow morning to tape this weekend’s edition of “Newsmakers”; I’m sure Tim, Ian and Arlene will ask her about what’s going on there.
As I noted earlier this afternoon, Lincoln Chafee may get the chance to replace all but one member of the Board of Regents within a month of taking office. Considering that he and Education Commission Deborah Gist appear to hold differing visions for the future of education policy in Rhode Island, I wondered if he might take that opportunity to shake up the board and put his own people in place.
Au contraire, Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor told me in a phone interview a few minutes ago. “I just spoke to the governor-elect about this, and with all due respect, you may be jumping to conclusions that are not necessarily accurate,” he said. (Who, me?)
“Gov.-elect Chafee does not have any plans for a wholesale replacement of the Board of Regents,” Trainor explained. “He’s going to look at each of the members in light of their experience and their relationship to his education philosophy. But it would be wrong to speculate that the entire board is going to be replaced.”
Chafee was particularly impressed with the Regents’ efforts to solve the crisis at Central Falls High School earlier this year, Trainor said. During that period, Chafee called each of the board members to suggest that they hire a mediator to sort out the situation – which is what they wound up doing.
“The other thing we want to say,” Trainor added, “is Gov.-elect Chafee has been in regular touch with Commissioner Gist and expects to continue that dialogue, and he is looking forward to working with her.”
Fair enough, and quite conciliatory. I suggested to Trainor that quite a few people seem to expect some sort of clash between Chafee and Gist, and he said that’s precisely why he called. “We just don’t want it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, either with respect to the entire board being replaced or the future of Commissioner Gist,” he said.
While we’re on the subject of Chafee’s views about education, one person who has shaped them is Diane Ravitch; if you want to understand why the governor-elect thinks the way he does about K-12, she’s a good place to start. Here’s how The New York Times began a profile of Ravitch last winter:
Diane Ravitch, the education historian who built her intellectual reputation battling progressive educators and served in the first Bush administration’s Education Department, is in the final stages of an astonishing, slow-motion about-face on almost every stand she once took on American schooling.
“Astonishing” is the right word for it. The Times story is a good place to begin for a primer on Ravitch, but if you really want to understand her critique of ed reform’s sacred cows, check out the long New York Review of Books essay she published earlier this month. Title: “The Myth of Charter Schools.” Here’s an excerpt:
Most Americans graduated from public schools, and most went from school to college or the workplace without thinking that their school had limited their life chances. There was a time—which now seems distant—when most people assumed that students’ performance in school was largely determined by their own efforts and by the circumstances and support of their family, not by their teachers. There were good teachers and mediocre teachers, even bad teachers, but in the end, most public schools offered ample opportunity for education to those willing to pursue it. The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.
“Waiting for Superman” and the other films appeal to a broad apprehension that the nation is falling behind in global competition. If the economy is a shambles, if poverty persists for significant segments of the population, if American kids are not as serious about their studies as their peers in other nations, the schools must be to blame. At last we have the culprit on which we can pin our anger, our palpable sense that something is very wrong with our society, that we are on the wrong track, and that America is losing the race for global dominance. It is not globalization or deindustrialization or poverty or our coarse popular culture or predatory financial practices that bear responsibility: it’s the public schools, their teachers, and their unions.
Lincoln Chafee could have the chance to put his stamp on state education policy almost as soon as he takes office.
That’s because all but one of the eight members of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education will finish their terms by the end of January, according to the secretary of state’s office. (The ninth member is always the chair of the Board of Governors for Higher Education.) Here’s the list:
Gov. Carcieri nominated four people to the Regents back on May 27: Flanders and Davis, both of whose current terms have expired; Keith Stokes, executive director of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation; and Andrew Moffitt, a lawyer who is married to Treasurer-elect Gina Raimondo. The Senate hasn’t voted to confirm any of them – it could do so at next week’s special session, but whether it will hasn’t been decided yet, spokesman Greg Pare told me this morning.
If that doesn’t happen, the ball will be in Chafee’s court once he takes office in January. With the Senate’s consent, the new governor could quickly gain a majority on the powerful board, which sets statewide K-12 policy and hires the education commissioner, currently Deborah Gist.
Chafee’s spokesman didn’t return a message Monday asking whether shaking up the board would be one of his early moves. That may be easier said than done – serving on the Regents is a lot of work, unpaid, so it may be a challenge to find seven qualified people who want the job.
Many observers are keeping a close eye on the relationship between Chafee and Gist, a favorite of K-12 reformers who is eyed warily by the teachers’ unions that gave crucial support to Chafee’s victorious campaign; he was the only one of the four gubernatorial candidates who declined to say he wanted to keep Gist. Charter schools in particular are an area where the two may find themselves at odds, as my colleague Walt Buteau reported last week.
Gist started in the commissioner’s job last year and is under contract through June 2013. She has said both publicly and privately that she wants to stay in Rhode Island and work with Chafee once he takes office. The question is whether their visions for the future of Rhode Island’s education system will align.
“It’s really up to her,” National Education Association chief Bob Walsh, who is serving on Chafee’s transition team, told WRNI earlier this month. “If she wants to put her energy and enthusiasm and dedication with this new leadership, that’s great. If she wants to run her own shop without that level of input, that will become obvious.”
Update: Mike Trainor, Chafee’s spokesman, just called to argue that I may be “jumping to conclusions that are not necessarily accurate” about the governor-elect, the Regents and Deborah Gist. Trainor said the governor-elect isn’t planning “a wholesale recycling of the Board of Regents,” and he is “looking forward to working with” Gist. More to come in a new post.
Update #2: Follow-up post is up: Chafee not looking to sack Gist or the Regents
With today’s news that Rhode Island will get up to $75 million – the full amount it requested in its application – as one of Race to the Top’s 10 second-round winners, you may be wondering, where is all that money going to go?
Let’s go to the PDF!
First off, the state will split the money with “LEAs” – Local Education Authorities – basically, municipalities and regional school districts. So the state gets $37.5 million and the school districts get $37.5 million. The state says the local money “will be disbursed for services rendered according to approved timelines in LEA work plans.” Not sure what that means.
Here’s how the state’s $37.5 million half of the grant breaks down (again, according to the May application, so this may be subject to change). The money is spread out over 14 separate projects, each of which has its own budget. The state will hire a Race to the Top Director to lead the entire effort.
• Contractual: $20.3 million.
• Personnel: $6.5 million.
• Fringe Benefits: $3.2 million. (Pension costs, health benefits for current and retired workers, Social Security and Medicare taxes, and accrued sick and vacation days.)
• “Other”: $1.8 million.
• Indirect Costs: $1.5 million.
• Supplies: $120,000.
• Equipment: $50,000.
• Travel: $24,000.
These are all supposed to be paid out over four years, starting in the new school year about to begin and continuing through 2013-14.