Praising the state for improving its test scores but noting that it still trails New England and much of the country, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for the public to continue to demand more from the education system (and the government) in a visit to Rhode Island Wednesday.
Duncan was in town to deliver the keynote address at the 68th Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council Annual Meeting last night, but he also met with more than 500 teachers, students and community leaders at the Providence Career and Technical Academy during the afternoon.
The town hall-style event included five panelists (Adeola Oredola, Executive Director of Youth in Action; Steve Smith, President of the Providence Teachers Union; Jessica Hallam, a Ponaganset High School senior; Neil Steinberg, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation; and Providence Schools Superintendent Susan Lusi), who each spoke about the education work taking place in Rhode Island and then pressed Duncan with questions about funding, relationships with unions and how to keep youth at the table when decisions are being made about schools.
Duncan was vague when asked about questions directly related to the state -particularly on the decision by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras to fire every teacher in the school district earlier this year- but he praised Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and the improvements that have been made in the state’s schools.
Ahead of his visit, the state learned that for the first time in the history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Rhode Island students scored at or above the national average on all four mathematics and reading tests. Duncan called it a step in the right direction.
Calling the state small enough to be innovative, Duncan said “Rhode Island has made real progress” but also noted “we still have a dropout rate that is unacceptably high.”