PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Rhode Island Foundation has convened a group of education leaders and other stakeholders to craft a 10-year strategic vision for improving the state’s struggling public schools.
The foundation’s decision to create a Long-term Education Planning Committee was made before standardized test results released last week showed Rhode Island’s students trailing far behind their neighbors in Massachusetts, but president Neil Steinberg said he’s hopeful the woeful scores will create a sense of urgency for members of the group.
Steinberg said one of the key differences between the two states is Massachusetts officials committed to a long-term plan for education starting in 1993, while Rhode Island has largely lacked a deliberate strategy for raising proficiency rates in schools across the state.
“Massachusetts benchmarks against Singapore,” Steinberg told reporters Tuesday. “We benchmark against Alabama.”
Only 34% of Rhode Island students in grades three through eight were considered proficient in English language arts during the 2017-18 school year, according to results from the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment (RICAS) exam. On the math section, 27% of students met or exceeded expectations. By comparison, 51% of Massachusetts students were proficient in ELA and 49% were proficient in math.
Steinberg said the new committee met for the first time on Nov. 27 and has already scheduled six more meetings in the coming months. He said it also plans to organize outreach events for the public to attend beginning early next year. The goal is to release its overall vision prior to the end of the 2019 legislative session.
The foundation has put up $150,000 and the Partnership for Rhode Island, a group made up of the state's most powerful CEOs, has kicked in $100,000 to fund the group.
Steinberg said the foundation is well-positioned to oversee the group because it has the ability to bring together state officials, educators, business leaders and union representatives for a candid conversation about the future of education in the state. Among the “rules of engagement” for the group: “Try our best to leave our stripes at the door” and “We will be optimists and realists.”
“The reason we’re doing it, the reason we’re able to do it, and the reason I don’t think it’s been done before this way is that we’re neutral conveners,” Steinberg said. He said the foundation has a similar group studying health care in the state.
But Steinberg made it clear he wants the group to publish a plan that the state will stick with beyond the next term of Gov. Gina Raimondo and Education Commissioner Ken Wagner.
“The hope is that we can get this group to come up with some consensus, some group agreement, on the top priorities,” he said. “But to get it done, the economic and social will have to overcome the political will.”
Aside from Steinberg, other members of the committee include: Kathy Bendheim (Impact for Education); Elizabeth Burke Bryant (Rhode Island Kids Count); Victor Capellan (superintendent of Central Falls schools); Jeremy Chiappetta (Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy); Barbara Cottam (R.I. Board of Education); Tom DiPaolo (Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association); David Driscoll (former Massachusetts commissioner of education); Tim Duffy (Rhode Island Association of School Committees); Frank Flynn (Rhode Island Federation of Teacher and Healthcare Professionals); Tom Giordano (Partnership for Rhode Island); Christopher Graham (Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce); Julie Horowitz (Feinstein School of Education and Human Development); Dolph Johnson (Hasbro); Susanna Loeb (Annenberg Institute for School Reform); Elizabeth Lynn (van Beuren Charitable Foundation); Keith Oliveira (R.I. League of Charter Schools); Pegah Rahmanian (Youth in Action); Don Rebello (Rhode Island Association of School Principals); Anthony Rolle (URI); Ken Wagner (R.I. education commissioner); and Robert Walsh (National Education Association Rhode Island).