By Sen. Hanna M. Gallo and Rep. Joseph M. McNamara
The most difficult part of being a lawmaker is taking all the input you receive on many different issues and correlating it all into a sound public policy. When that issue is education, where you have to reconcile the interests of many different stakeholders — parents, students, educators, administrators, taxpayers, state officials, local officials, experts, unions — it becomes that much more difficult.
That’s why we’re so proud of the package of bills we’ve put together after months, even years of hard work, looking at what we do and what others do to figure out a way to spark a revolution in our educational system. And we believe we’ve done just that.
Too often in the past we’ve taken a sporadic approach to education reform. A change here, a mandate there leaves too many inconsistencies and ambiguities. Where we want our system to be a finely woven tapestry, we’ve been left with a patchwork quilt that’s full of holes.
Last year’s round of RICAS (Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System) scores left parents, educators and policymakers frustrated and pointing fingers — especially when compared to the test results in Massachusetts. So it’s no wonder that we looked to our neighboring state, the gold standard of education reform, for answers.
What we came up with is a package of seven bills that takes a comprehensive, long-term approach to education reform, changing the culture right from the Department of Education down to the classroom.
So many people worked hard to create this package of bills. Rep. Gregg Amore and Sen. Ryan Pearson joined with us in taking the lead, and General Assembly leadership, including Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and President Dominick Ruggerio, offered their support.
First, we’re developing a high-quality statewide curriculum that will be aligned with our standards and testing. Next we’re redefining the roles everyone plays, from school committees and superintendents to principals and educators. We’re creating school improvement teams that will take on a greater role in making decisions at the school level, including budgeting issues and hiring. More authority will be given to those who know the schools and students best while receiving the support of their partners in the Department of Education. This model of school-based management works in Massachusetts and has been praised from around the world.
This new structure requires good, quality leadership. To that end, we’re changing the way principals and teachers are certified, fast tracking the certification process to make it easier for proven leaders to become principals. We’re also improving the training for our next generation of school leaders, allowing for flexibility of certification to ensure a more robust pipeline of high quality teachers and ensuring that teacher assessments are aligned to standards for all districts.
In order for this to work, it is imperative that the Department of Education partner with school districts in curriculum selection and implementation, providing state support to those districts and schools. The only way it will work is if we make sure that support is there and we constantly maintain and examine what we do — and how we’re doing it — every day.
This isn’t a quick fix. This is hard long-term work that’s going to require a lot of effort from everyone involved. But if we make that long-term investment now, then the dividends for our state, for our economy and for our children will be extraordinary.