Recently, back here in Rhode Island, The Journal’s front page splashed pictures of six chronically low-performing schools targeted for state intervention. I felt badly for the good people working in those schools. But surely along with most of the state, I was deeply relieved something would finally happen for the kids who were languishing.
Kudos to Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Board of Regents for saying: No more.
But the stats accompanying those photographs show that the six schools’ kids are overwhelmingly minority and poor. I thought immediately of Wake County.
The reform strategies under discussion for Rhode Island’s targeted schools are vital to any struggling school— eliminating seniority-based hiring, evaluating teachers (at last), and generally making the schools more about kids’ needs and less about the adults.
But what about the concentration of poverty? Aren’t we using the cities to sinkhole poor kids? Shouldn’t we help those kids have schools where the climate reflects middle-class expectations? Rhode Island is really small, with a public-school population about the same as Dallas, Texas, only a mid-sized city. And luckily, the state just implemented a statewide bus system. So we could do this.
Her point would be even stronger if she'd point out that most of these schools were hardly neglected over the past decade. People have been saying "no more" for a long time, but the problem remains intractable, thus we need to fundamentally re-frame the problem and range of possible solutions.