Friday, January 30, 2009

Teacher Quality state by state (bad news for RI)

Hit and run post to get discussion going; I'll be back with more analysis. The National Council on Teacher Quality released its state by state assessment of teacher quality, "2008 State Teacher Policy Yearbook," based on a variety of factors: identification of effectiveness, retaining effective teachers, and exiting ineffective teachers.

Link to national study and online data is here. Rhode Island results here.

The report provides a boatload of data that's summarized by overall scores for each state. Just like student's letter grades, these grades are a 10,000 foot snapshot that isn't useful for analysis or improvement. And just like if own kid got an F, I'd likely be dancing around trying to explain and contextualize that grade before I just told you, hey, it's an F. So I'll stop dancing and just tell you: along with the company of the District of Columbia, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, and Vermont, Rhode Island was rated "F." (A list of state's summary scores is here.)

It's key to note that the study was not looking at teacher quality per se; it examined local and state systems to ensure and improve teacher quality. We can't discuss our teacher quality on a comparative or absolute basis because we don't have a system to assess it. Many of our teachers as individuals may be great but we have no way of assessing or understanding that, or creating improvement.

Rhode Island's dismal systemic performance adds fuel for the fire for the many stakeholders (many of who are teachers themselves) demanding a better system to acknowledge their good work and professional growth, to support or eliminate ineffective teachers, and to keep good and great teachers in the system. What steps does RIDE and the districts have in place to gain traction?

More on this to come soon.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MLK Elmentary Open House today - cancelled due to snow day!

This is not news--anyone planning to attend the MLK Open House today, sorry that it didn't happen due to the snow day! I hope you got the word about that if you don't have kids in the system. We will reschedule soon!

In the meantime, if you'd like to visit King and learn more, please call the school at 456-9398 to set up a tour.

I'll be posting soon about Kindergarten registration--it's coming up! For now, check out PPSD's info here.

Youth Voices Forum, part 1

esterday, I particiated in Young Voices' Forum in which youth researchers presented their findings on what's happening in Providence schools. Around 125 youth and adults gathered to hear their presentation; we then broke in to small groups to review their five suggestions for change, with the charge to narrow them down to three, for which action groups will be established to create change.

The five issues were:
equitable funding formula
relevant, meaningful curriculum
academically challening, college-prep-for-all curriculum
high quality teachers
engaged parents and families

It wasn't clear which emerged as the top three though I believe equitable funding formula was high on most groups' list, and several groups repeated the suggestion to combine the 2 charges for curriculum, which I strongly support.

The work that these students have done for a year to get to this point has been impressive. They've interviewed a wide cross section of Providence high school students and have reviewed existing studies of the state of education in Providence. They're creating themselves as advocates for change around specific issues, and will be a strong player in building the demand for change.

On 2/10, we'll reconvene to learn which emerged as the top 3 issues and to plan steps for action. I'm looking forward to it. 4:30-7:00 at Cooley High School--even if you weren't there the first time, join in on this discussion about what's happening in our schools from the perspective of students, who know best what's happening and who are eager to create positive change.

Friday, January 23, 2009

MLK Elmentary Open House, 1/28/09, 10am!

Providence families! Are you looking at school options for your child(ren) who will be in preK-5th grade in 2009-10? Or are you not necessarily looking, but would like an opportunity to see a local public elementary school in action?

Whatever your reason, please join us for an Open House and school tour at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School! The school is located at 35 Camp Street, Providence, RI 02906.

The info session and tour will take place on Wednesday, January 28, 2009, at 10:00am. We will meet in the school library. Please check in at the office when you arrive, and the office staff will direct you to the library.

As well, tours are given most Friday mornings. Please call us at 456-9398 to reserve a spot.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Young Voices Survey + Upcoming Education Forums

I am aiming for every day posts here and realize that to do that, some days like today I need to be brief despite wanting to spend time and words and your attention in the details. So, to be brief, please to read this article about Young Voices' press conference yesterday in which they presented the results of a survey they've done about the state of education in Providence. Powerful work! It's so important to have clear evidence from the perspective of young people presented with strength and conviction about what's not working well about our schools, followed up by initiative for change.

I'm delighted and energized to see youth leadership here, and plan to attend to Young Voices' Youth-led Education Forums on Providence Schools that are scheduled to take place on Jan 27th (4:30-7) and Feb 10th (4:30-7) at the Cooley High School Cafeteria, 182 Thurbers Avenue. Their announcement says, "Everyone who has a stake in Providence schools (students, parents, teachers, community organizations, and school dept leaders) will gather for 2 Forums, out of which an actionable, 3-year plan will be created and implemented. In the 1st Forum (on Jan 27th), we will identify 3 Action Areas, and in the 2nd Forum (Feb 10th), we will identify Action Steps which make an impact in each of those areas. Then, a cross-sector Education Action Team will follow through on the Action Plan. Come partner with powerful, skilled, and passionate young people who have been working on systemic education reform for more than a year. The time is now, and your presence is critical. Please join us and more than 150 other adults and young people to move from discussion to action with real outcomes. We all need to work together, collaboratively, to bring about the change we desire. Please RSVP to Karen Feldman at

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Learning Community Charter School reaches out to families

"Learning Community charter school takes its message to parents" ran in today's ProJo--it's an overview of the great-sounding community and family outreach work that the Central Falls charter Learning Community , which serves students in K-5 from Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls, is doing. Teachers and staff from the school are intentionally developing a wide range of ways to connect to family members, moving beyond events at the school to outreach in students' neighborhoods.

A few key points about the school's successful family outreach jump out:

1. The school sees family members as an essential asset for accomplishing its goals with students.

2. Cultural competence: school staff members understand families' backgrounds, constraints due to work and family responsibilities, language backgrounds, and possible trepidation toward school, and plan ways to connect with families that overcome those challenges

3. The school has focused profession development for community outreach, building the capacity of staff members to reach outside the school and connect with parents to give them a "toolbox" of options to use.

4. Clearly, the definition of the kind of work that belongs in a teacher and staff member's day isn't rigidly limited, but rather is established by agreement at the school site level. Teachers do what works for their school rather than adhering strictly to a contract imposed systemwide (not knocking unions there--unions and autonomy can and very much should coexist).

I'd love to hear more from any Learning Community educators, staffers, or family members who come across this. I hope that we can find ways for the public school systems of Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls (and elsewhere) to learn from and adapt your methods of community and family engagement. Congratulations on your success!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

School's open in Foster-Glocester. . .

Today: widespread school cancellations (including Providence, but not Foster-Glocester!!!). For the record, it's wicked cold but no snow at this hour (8:00am). Perhaps a good day and time to ask a few questions :

1. What are the criteria for closing school in Providence?

2. What are the costs? I am seeking evidence for my belief that quite frequently, many Providence kids are safer at school. At home on a day like this, I believe (though do know have evidence that demonstrates) that may kids are more likely to be exposed to violence, may not eat well, and especially on a day like this, may be cold. I hope that every kid's home has heat, but I suspect not. I suspect that not every kid has a home to heat in the first place.

3. What are the benefits? Clearly, in a blizzard, kids are likely to be safer not on the roads. Kids who routinely walk to school are less likely to be exposed to the cold, and many of them may not have adequate coats/hats/mittens. Are there benefits to keeping them home otherwise? What are those? In cold like this, are buses less likely to run well? Will schools be too cold? What's happening that may not be evident (at least to me)?

I believe--I think many family members believe--that cancelling school today wasn't the right decision. And that makes sense: making the call to cancel school the night before is a guessing game, and sometimes the Superintendent is going to guess wrong. I'm not hammering on the wrongness of the decision. I am wondering what factors went into it, and how those factors can be communicated.

The decision to close school is out there, very public. Anyone with an opinion (and we've all got one) can praise, condemn, or express indifference. And it's one of many decisions made about and on behalf of schoolchildren every day. Many of those decisions, most of them, are invisible. The public only gets to see, and therefore can only discuss, these big public ones, so they become fodder for public opinion on how the Superintendent in particular is doing--and that carries the potential of making school opening/closing/delay calls into more of a PR exercise and less of a decision about safety and kids' welfare. There may well be additional forces (union, city) that are less apparent.

So what were the factors that went into today's decision? I'm supportive of the Superintendent thus far, and (want very much to ) believe that the call was based on safety factors and what's best for Providence's kids and their families. That said, I'd like to understand it better.

Decisions and their supporting evidence that affect the welfare and future of kids more significantly than whether or not they're in school today--about curriculum, and teacher hiring and professional development, and facilities, and all of the big factors that impact our city's young people in meaningful ways--need to be as public as this, and as likely to engender opinion, feeling, and perhaps, collective action. And I want us, family members and others, to feel entitled to ask for the evidence that support those decisions, for PPSD administration to be in the habit of providing that evidence.


UPDATE: Here's the ProJo's news blog reporting widespread "surprise" at the widespread closings, including an excerpt from a statement from Tom Brady last night with unsurprising reasons for the closure. Glad there was a statement; not glad it took me, a person who was looking for it, this long to see (part of) it.

Again, the focus for me is not so much on the decision, as much as I think it wasn't the best choice for many kids' welfare, as it is on using this as a way to talk about developing a culture of civilized, insistent inquiry among parents and family members about the decisions that are being made about and on behalf of our kids.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bus Monitors and more

Most of us following education news know that Governor Carcieri's proposals last week include eliminating bus monitors statewide. Not silent on this issue is the Rhode Island's Twelfth blog (hat tip to for this). RI's 12th's latest post advocating keeping bus monitors is here. Scroll down the main page for a few more. The takeaway is: school bus monitors save kids' lives.

Or are they a "costly mandate?" That's how Providence Superintendent Tom Brady is quoted in this ProJo piece on the effect of the governor's cost-cutting proposals on Providence's schools. School bus monitors cost $4,000,000 annually in Providence, says the article.

Of course, in the category of costly mandate is the ongoing commitment to bus students from private schools, not to mention buying their textbooks. Good news, then: if costly mandates are what we're going for, it's nice to know more are there to cut before we resume cutting the heart of our schools' essential programs and services. (I'll save you some Googling if this is new info: citations of RI state law on these points are here.)

There's a flip side argument, of course: pupils' attendance in their home districts is ostensibly costlier than their transportation and books. I don't have time to gather data to test this now, but it strikes me as wrong: with additional pupils comes additional state funding (inequitably distributed as it may be), and, of course, additional public support and advocacy for school funding which could be an eventual gamechanger.

I'll be back with more on how these cuts may affect Providence and what we can do to raise our voices to advocate for the funds our schools need to keep our kids not only well-educated but safe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Statewide finance views from

This blog entry is a learning out loud effort, sparked by two finance-related state education posts on yesterday.

"Creating our own problems" is about reduced (and reallocated) statewide education spending. I caught it just now when I went there to grab this one, "Will our lack of a education funding formula hurt our chances for stimulus dollars?" Anything to raise the stakes on this issue is useful, and the observation in the post that yes, the lack of a statewide funding formula clearly makes us less accountable and therefore possibly less likely to get those federal stimulus dollars resonates with me.

RI is the only state without such a formula. Hence, there are 49 models out there. Question to explore here: which state have an equitable education funding formula that resembles and exemplifies what would work best here? Quite a different question from: which state has a formula that is likely to be the most mutually acceptable, the least unpalatable, and therefore likely to pass here?

Monday, January 12, 2009

MLK Elementary Open House Tomorrow, 1/13/09

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, 1/13/09, at 6:00pm, please join us for an Open House and school tour at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School. MLK is a public neighborhood school serving most of the East Side, grades preK-6.

If you can't make this one, additional Open Houses at King are scheduled for Wed., 1/28, 10:00am and Thurs., 2/12, 6:00pm. Also, tours are given most Friday mornings. Please call the school at 456-9398 to reserve a spot.


Families of incoming kindergarteners and others considering the Providence Public Schools are visiting schools now ahead of school registration. More information about kindergarten registration is here on the Providence Public Schools web site. This is a great time to get to know your neighborhood schools, and any others you may be considering. Click here for a list of schools, many with websites; if you don't see information about tours and open houses, call the schools and ask when you visit. Whatever you do, make time to visit, both during the school day and during evening info sessions! Make informed decisions about what options are available to your kids.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

This ProJo story shares what sounds like great communication and student support work that's being done at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence (formerly Adelaide High School, 375 Adelaide Avenue, 401-456-0676).

When Principal Robbie Torchon was told that one-fourth of his students at Alvarez High School failed at least three classes during the first quarter of this academic year, he didn’t blame the usual suspects: Truancy, tardiness and parental disengagement.

Instead, Torchon saw the dismal performance as a challenge. How, he asked, can the 600-student Alvarez — formerly Adelaide High School — get students to not only turn around their grades but set higher goals?

Torchon didn’t waste any time. He put each of the 146 failing students on academic probation, and then invited their parents to attend a conference in the principal’s office.

Read the story for more about what Torchon and Alvarez teachers are doing to create a culture at the school that provides support for all students to meet high expectations and succeed academically. By focusing on those high expectations, structuring ways to check in with student and their teachers, and relying on family members as allies, the school is doing what has been proven to work in similar settings, and is pointing the way to practices that make sense for all of Providence's high schools.

I was quite struck by Torchon's comments at the end of the story:

Although measurable results take time, Torchon said he already sees a shift in attitude. Teachers are taking a closer look at what they do in the classroom, students are beginning to take their work more seriously and parents recognize that the school cares about their children.

Still, Providence, he said, must reach a stage where school quality is no longer dependent on a charismatic leader: “It’s hard to become a principal in a city without a tradition of excellence.”

What will it take to establish that tradition of excellence? Providence has a wealth of educational assets, including school leaders like Torchon. By shaping a system that creates the best conditions for achievement not only within a particular school but within all of them, we will be able to contextualize and best take advantage of those assets.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Nathan Bishop info session moved to 1/8/09!

Change is the only constant! And to make sure we don't forget that, the meeting date for this week's Nathan Bishop information session, mentioned in my last post, has been moved to Thursday, January 8, 7:00pm, in the library at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, 35 Camp Street in Providence. (It had originally been scheduled for Wednesday, January 7).

Superintendent Brady and incoming Bishop principal Michael Lazzareschi will be on hand as before, and this meeting remains a great opportunity to get clear answers about what teaching, learning, school culture, and other qualities of Nathan Bishop Middle School are likely to be.

Bishop will be a neighborhood middle school serving the greater East Side of Providence. It will open with 6th grade, adding a grade a year through 8th grade. Under the city's school choice policy, seats are set aside for non-neighborhood students.

The deadline for middle school registration has been extended until next week, so if you have not yet chosen your child's middle school, or if you are reconsidering your choice, please take advantage of the extra time and do so through your child's school or though the Providence Public Schools Student Assignment and Registration Center (401-456-1702).

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year, New Start, New Nathan Bishop

Yes, the Parents Talk about Providence Schools blogs still lives! As a busy parent myself, I didn't allocate much time for blogging in 2008, but it's a new year, and time for a new start.

And it's time to let you know that on Wednesday, January 7, at 7:00pm in the library at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, 35 Camp Street in Providence, the Providence Public Schools will be holding another information session for families interested in the possibility of attending Nathan Bishop Middle School, which will be reopening for 6th graders for the 2008-9 school year. This information session will be hosted by Mr. Lazzareschi, who will be moving to Bishop as principal, and Providence Public Schools Superintendent Tom Brady.

If you have any interest in Bishop for the fall for your 6th grader or for your younger children in later years, please attend to find out more. And please know that the deadline for middle school registration has been extended to give families an opportunity to enroll in Bishop if they have not done so already. The deadline will be at some point in January 2009 and we will share specifics when we know them.

This is a great time to find out more about what teaching and learning will be like at Bishop. We hope to see you there!

Want more recent news about Bishop's reopening? Click here for a recent ProJo article on Michael Lazzareschi's selection as principal. And here's a nice piece from the Brown Daily Herald on Bishop's fall 2008 groundbreaking.