Education Rescue in Providence – WSJ

Gov. Gina Raimondo speaks during a news conference in Providence, R.I., March 22.


Kris Craig/Associated Press

A report last year found abject student performance, demoralized teachers and deteriorating buildings in Providence, Rhode Island’s traditional public schools. Well, this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district.

About 13{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year, according to the state education department. Eighty-four percent of Providence students are low-income and 92{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} are minorities.

The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. “Parents of color don’t have a lot of choice and resources,” said Education Commissioner

Angélica Infante-Green,

who pushed the expansion. “We should not be closing opportunities.”

The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to

Gov. Gina Raimondo,

three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President

Randi Weingarten

complained that the expansion would “financially destabilize the Providence school district, because it would drain money from neighborhood public schools.”

This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control. Funding for charter schools in Rhode Island follows the student, though local districts retain a portion for fixed costs when students leave for a charter. The state took over the Providence school district, including the budget, last year after the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy exposed the school horror show in a study.

The Hopkins team reported that many people it interviewed, including school administrators and district leaders, said the union collective-bargaining agreement makes it difficult to fire bad teachers. Only 11.9{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of elementary and middle-school Providence students met or exceeded state expectations in math and 17.2{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} in English Language Arts on state exams in the 2018-19 school year. Contrast that with 54{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} and 57.1{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of students at Achievement First, a charter system with five schools in the state, which now has approval to add two K-8 schools and a high school.

“You knew from the minute you walked in that there were expectations, that the teachers were all on the same page, that parents were welcome,” one city school board member noted of Achievement First in the Johns Hopkins report. Credit to Ms. Infante-Green for bucking union pressure to give more children a chance at a better education and the opportunities it creates for a better life.

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Appeared in the December 21, 2020, print edition.

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