Monday, February 14, 2011

Rhode Island Public Charter School Consortium, March 2: Kozol speaking + more

The Rhode Island League of Charter Schools is hosting the 2011 Rhode Island Public Charter School Consortium, which will take place from 3:30-7:30pm on March 2 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. Writer/education activist Jonathan Kozol will speak. Dinner, a cash bar, a Rhode Island charter school expo will follow, and Mr. Kozol will sign his books.

The consortium is sponsored by the Rhode Island Foundation, which is using the occasion to give an award named for past Rhode Island education commissioner Peter McWalters to Steve Nardelli, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.

I'm eager to hear Mr. Kozol speak and am using the event as a push to re-read of The Shame of the Nation and to read Letters to a Young Teacher for the first time. Here's a link to a thoughtful interview in Salon with Kozol on Letters to a Young Teacher. Go to your local independent bookstore to pick up copies of those books and other Kozol works.  

An outspoken critic of No Child Left Behind as an example of policies and practices that exacerbate de facto segregation and inequity, Kozol is no fan of current federal education policy. He attracted significant notice in 2007 by embarking on a hunger strike in protest of NCLB; here's his statement about the hunger strike and his motivations. He's strongly opposed to the use of high-stakes standardized tests as a main factor of what school systems use to determine the fates of individual children, their teachers, and their schools, a cornerstone of NCLB and a subject of much recent debate in our state. So of course, I am intrigued about what his keynoting this event may signify about our state's charter school association's stance in relation to the Fed's current strong charter push as a central component of public school improvement. Will Kozol address the charter debate that's happening now in Rhode Island, in which Governor Chafee called for a thoughtful pause before continuing to add charter schools as stipulated in Rhode Island's federal Race to the Top funds? Will he acknowledge the range of ways charter schools can contribute to real change as exemplified by the partnership that The Learning Community has with the Central Falls School District aimed at improving elementary reading achievement? Will he address the limits to the idea that charter school expansion is the most magical bullet to large-scale school improvement? Lots of questions.

I also hope that this event will inspire the Rhode Island Department of Education and other statewide agencies and organizations to showcase strong examples of practice across Rhode Island's district public schools. This sort of event, sponsored by local funders, seems like an ideal way to share practices across districts, demonstrate to the public some of the real strengths of public schools across the state, and get stakeholders together to focus on persistent challenges. Count me in to lend a hand.

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