Public schools in the capital city are mired in layers of bureaucracy, where students are not being held to high standards and teachers feel demoralized. That’s part of the findings in a new report by Johns Hopkins University's Institute for Education Policy. The report was commissioned by the Rhode Island Department of Education and the governor’s office.

Teams of researchers observed Providence elementary, middle and high schools over the course of one week in May. They also conducted interviews with teachers, parents and school leaders. 

The report lays out several broad issues within the school system, including low quality of instruction, and low student interest or engagement across grade levels.

In elementary school classrooms, some researchers observed little opportunity for students to participate in lessons even when it appeared they wanted to be involved. In observed high school classrooms, researchers reported that often only a small percentage of students were likely to participate in lessons, and teachers would focus mainly on those students.

Additionally, the report points to the poor quality of school infrastructure, and a school governance structure that leaves some educators feeling powerless to deal with challenges, including low-performing personnel.

The report follows years of poor performance by Providence schools on state standardized tests. Now the state’s department of education is poised to step in to try and help improve the city’s schools. 

“I think a state partnership is necessary because the challenges we face are daunting, and some of them are things we can control at the local level, and some of the things we can’t control and come from the state level,” said Providence School Board President Nick Hemmond.

However, Hemmond says it is not clear just how much authority the state should have over the operations of the Providence schools, nor does he believe the state should fully take the reigns of the department. 

This week, the Rhode Island Department of Education begins a series of neighborhood conversations throughout Providence to discuss the report with residents, and begin considering next steps.