A seven-bill legislative package unveiled by Rhode Island’s top lawmakers Tuesday was billed as a way to emulate Massachusetts’ success in improving public schools.
During a Statehouse news conference, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio were joined by fellow lawmakers in sketching out the plan.
Efforts to improve Rhode Island’s under-performing public schools have yielded little progress since that was targeted as a key need for the state’s economy about 20 years ago.
Lawmakers say they were motivated to act by students’ poor results on standardized tests last year. Asked by reporters what elected officials should say to current students, Mattiello said the education received by many is on a par with what happens in most other states.
“We’ve made a determination that that’s not good enough,” Mattiello said. “We want to compare ourselves with the best in the country. If we enact a comprehensive plan and we stick with it over a long period of time – which is exactly how Massachusetts went from where they were to where they are now – we will ultimately end up there.”
The elements of the new legislative package include:
-- Requiring the state education commissioner “to align statewide academic standards with curriculum and with the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System.”
-- Having the state Deparment of Elementary and Secondary Education “support local schools by providing a comprehensive understanding of how curriculum affects those schools based on their specific characteristics, such as size, budget, and demographics.”
-- Requiring teachers to demonstrate that they understand how to teach their subjects to students.
Rep. Gregg Amore (D-East Providence) said increasing the responsibility of school-based principals and “school improvement teams” is also part of the plan. Amore said part of the intention is to shift authority for hiring from school committees.
“Now that school improvement team will be made up of educators, it will be made of community members, PTA members, in the higher grade levels, students, and they work will collaboratively with the principal to make building-based decisions, including hiring,” he said.
Based on support from legislative leaders, the elements of the legislative plan can be expected to sail through the General Assembly.