When Rhode Island news is picked up across the country, it’s never a good sign.
That was the case last week, when the Rhode Island Department of Education — RIDE, for short — officially took over the Providence school system. The Atlantic profiled the move, and The Chicago Tribune ran a wire story on the news.
There’s been much fanfare over the decision by the state government, which is seen by many as a step in the right direction after decades of struggles. But there’s much uncertainty over the details of the power transfer, both in how it will work and if it will work, period.
Regardless, it will take a lot of work to turn the schools around.
It’s tempting to just solve problems within the school and call it a day. But the issues with Providence’s school system are borne out of wider and deeper issues in the city.
Look at Central Falls. In the 1990s, the city requested to have the state government take over its school district, a first in the United States. At the time, the district was on the verge of “financial ruin.”
More than two decades later, the system is still under state control. It is also the worst in the state, with test scores 30 percent lower than those in Providence. Even after decades of state-run education, nothing has changed; the situation has arguably grown worse.
“The state takeover of schools doesn’t mean better quality,” said Tom Lazieh, the former mayor of Central Falls. “The state has failed.”
While there are eerie similarities between Central Falls in 1991 and Providence today, there are also signs that the state is learning from its mistakes. A 1991 article reads: “Few details of the operational plan for Central Falls have been worked out.” The same is not true in 2019, as the state and the city have reached a detailed takeover agreement.
Still, it is clear that RIDE can not simply function on autopilot.
Things must be done differently than they were in 1991, and the state must learn from its continued mistakes to make improvements. It isn’t encouraging that Central Falls is still struggling today — a sign that the state is not ready to change the way it runs school districts.
The state must also consider more than just the school. The changes can’t just stay in the school, and certainly not within RIDE. The state must address a , socio economic crisis in the cities of Providence and Central Falls, and realize that there is more to education than the classroom.
For the state, this is an all-hands-on-deck situation.
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