One of the less edifying spectacles of the waning hours of this year’s legislative session was the General Assembly’s actions to weaken education reforms passed by the Rhode Island Board of Education and advocated by Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.
The Assembly placed a moratorium on Rhode Island’s efforts to raise graduation standards through the use of testing, giving in to opposition from various interest groups. Similarly, it tampered with teacher evaluations, making them much less frequent. Such evaluations — a recognition of the vital role that excellent teachers play in education — were part of the state’s effort to weed out those who are not up to snuff and help others get coaching and other help so that they could improve.
Certainly, people can disagree about whether these approaches were the right ones. Should extra provisions have been made to help special-education students graduate, given their difficulty handling New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests? Was the teacher evaluation model that Ms. Gist originally advocated too clunky and time-consuming, stealing too much time from classroom work?
We tend to side with frequent evaluations and higher standards as ways to move Rhode Island’s public schools forward. Clearly, Rhode Island has been doing many students no favors by graduating them without the skills they need to survive in the real world. And the state’s less-than-stellar track record on public education has damaged its ability to attract employers who create jobs, one reason Rhode Island suffers under America’s worst unemployment rate.