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Monday, November 4, 2019

As if he ever had any ideas, other than charter schools

Dan McKee is out of ideas for improving schools

Related imageRhode Island Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee took to the oped pages of the Providence Journal to suggest that one key to improving schools in Rhode Island is moving from a 1-5 star school rating system to an A-F school grading system. 

This would be yet another politician’s intrusion into the work of teaching and learning, another waste of educator time and taxpayer money.

He explained, “While most of this information (about school performance) is available online, it is lumped in with district averages and requires parents to spend time deciphering charts and graphs. 

Busy parents should not be expected to play detective just to find out if their child attends a good school.”

Pictured below is the report card of one of my children’s schools in South Providence, Reservoir Avenue School, from the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) website:

As you can see, contrary to McKee’s description, it clearly features the three of five star rating of our school, with a wealth of well organized data well organized into tabs for Accountability, Assessment, Civil Rights Data, Educator Data and Finance, including the rate of chronic teacher absenteeism, suspension rate, and a straightforward way to compare your school with any other in the state.


It is hard to jam all the relevant data in one place. For example, you have to go elsewhere on the RIDE site to see this three-star school (should that be a C?) in the Providence Public Schools now has the highest RICAS ELA growth scores of all urban elementary or middle schools (district, charter or mayoral academy) in Rhode Island on the 2019 RICAS test.


Nonetheless, McKee argues that some additional data will make all the difference.

For example, McKee calls for reports that will “highlight information like the school’s math and reading proficiency scores compared to the grades on student report cards.” 

As a parent, I already have my student’s grades, meanwhile my children’s RICAS scores from last spring are verrrry slowly wending their way toward me (according to the RIDE website they were mailed to the districts last week).

As a parent, to the extent I care about the alignment between these two data points at all, I am only interested in the data about my children, and I’ve already got that. Even putting both scores on one printed form will further drag out the process and cost real money.

McKee suggests a list of increasingly intrusive and expensive steps to ensure everyone has looked at their children’s school’s performance card:
“School performance cards would be presented to parents at an annual public meeting in every public school in Rhode Island… Parents who cannot attend would be given the tools to view and sign off on the information electronically. Parents who do not respond would receive a personal visit at their home.”
Because what Rhode Island needs is for our school administrators to focus (even more of) their time and attention on is making sure more forms are signed by parents.

There are clearly some areas where money could be invested in improving the current system. For example, when I Google “reservoir elementary report card,” I get the school’s RIDE Report Card from 2007. 

So perhaps more of Your Tax Money should be sent to search engine optimization consultants instead of your school to ensure it is easier to find the current data. Or maybe buy some Google Ads?

The biggest problem with McKee’s proposal is that he simply does not understand to what extent his perspective on education and school choice has both carried the day and rendered this proposal irrelevant in many if not most communities. We have been rating schools and mailing warnings to parents since the launch of No Child Left Behind almost 20 years ago.

In South Providence, where I live, my neighbors don’t need data to assume that private or charter schools are better than district schools. That is already taken as a given, even when the data — for example at Reservoir Avenue School in Providence — shows otherwise.

As a result, the school improvement mechanism that McKee proposes — with parent involvement increasing and “a new culture of accountability” taking hold in schools — is negated. Parents have been taught not to engage with, but to flee public schools.

The bottom line, though, it that McKee’s big initiative is literally something which we’ve already done as the result of over twenty years of investment in testing and reporting infrastructure. 

Education in Rhode Island has many problems; the completeness of our school report cards is simply not one of them. We need educational leadership which does not continue to robotically order off the same national school reform menu without bothering to understand what is already being done in Rhode Island today.

Tom Hoffman is the former editor of Common Ground and a Providence Schools parent and teacher.