SMITHFIELD — The leaders of the state’s two teachers’ unions said that they would not be opposed to consolidating Rhode Island’s 36 school districts into one big district.
Although they cautioned that they were speaking as private citizens, Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, and Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association, Rhode Island, offered the most radical suggestions about how to fix public education. The two made their remarks at a morning-long forum in Smithfield sponsored by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.
Reback said a statewide school district might be the only way to level the playing field between rich and poor students in Rhode Island, where the vast majority of poor, urban students attend schools that are largely isolated from their white middle-class peers.
“Desegregation works,” Reback told 200 educators, community leaders and public officials gathered Tuesday at Fidelity Investments. “We need to create opportunities for students of color and those with limited English language skills to go to school with kids who aren’t like them.”
What, she asked, would close the gaps between poor children and privileged ones? Combining the Central Falls and the Cumberland school districts. Joining Lincoln and Pawtucket.
This, she said, is what Rhode Island needs: all-day kindergarten in every city and town, high-quality preschool for children and fresh opportunities to offer vocational education to students who aren’t college-bound.
Extra points for bringing this up on a panel with Commissioner Gist. Make her defend the status quo or advocate for desegregation.