Gov. Gina Raimondo is sending the wrong signals about public education in Rhode Island.
She was nowhere to be seen when the state released execrable scores from standardized tests last month, showing that if Rhode Island were a school district, it would rank in the bottom 10 percent of Massachusetts districts.
Finally asked about this disaster by a reporter at a press conference held on a different topic last week, she deemed the numbers a “wake-up call.” (How many of those have there been in Rhode Island over the years — without seemingly waking anyone up?) But she essentially defended the status quo.
“It is disappointing. ... We have to keep on the path we’re on, and do more,” she said.
“There is a lot of good that is happening,” Ms. Raimondo added. She promised to "double down" her "efforts."
Missing in those comments was any strong expression of urgency about children trapped in poorly performing schools, particularly in Rhode Island’s urban centers.
Her verbal shrug of the shoulders was duplicated in the state’s education establishment. Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, who makes $231,726 a year ostensibly to improve our schools, did not resign. Not a single member of the state Board of Education — which includes highly conflicted executives of teachers unions — resigned.
Failing Rhode Island’s students has come to be expected, year after year. No big deal, as long as the checks keep flowing.
Except it is a big deal.
Rhode Island will never really prosper until it produces the highly-educated citizens sought by employers. Taxpayer-funded college education will never make up for the failure of the K-12 system.
Central Falls public schools have been terribly mismanaged by the state. In Providence, only 14 percent of students were proficient in English, and only an abysmal 10 percent in math.
Since people’s opportunities are largely shaped by their education early on, this is a life-altering disaster for students attending those schools. Many of them are poor and minorities who will never get their shot at the American Dream. Politicians are fond of offering lip service that they care about them, but the numbers argue otherwise.
And it’s not just the poor. Virtually every district in Rhode Island performed worse than the middle-class suburb of Seekonk, right next door in Massachusetts.
It is impossible to believe Rhode Island is doing the best it can. Could the state outsource much of the work of the Rhode Island Department of Education to Massachusetts? It at least knows how to get the job done. Since Rhode Island’s governor and her Board of Education seem satisfied with the current “path,” perhaps the General Assembly could explore this possibility.
Freshly reelected by more than 50 percent of voters, Governor Raimondo may feel inclined to shift her focus to making a splash in national politics. (She was just elected to lead the Washington-based Democratic Governors Association.) But she will find it hard to sell herself as an education leader with these kinds of numbers. The locals may accept them, but there are national critics who would hang them around her neck like an albatross.
If the fate of Rhode Island’s young people is not a sufficient motivation for change, perhaps the political hit from failure will be.