President Obama Uses Rhode Island Education Reform Examples
We’ll not only challenge states to identify high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent, we’re going to invest another $900 million in strategies to get those graduation rates up. Strategies like transforming schools from top to bottom by bringing in a new principal, and training teachers to use more effective techniques in the classroom. Strategies like closing a school for a time and reopening it under new management, or even shutting it down entirely and sending its students to a better school.
And strategies like replacing a school’s principal and at least half of its staff. Now, replacing school staff should only be done as a last resort. The public servants who work in America’s schools — whether they’re principals or teachers, or counselors or coaches — work long and hard on behalf of our children and they deserve our gratitude. Keep in mind I’ve got a sister who’s a teacher, my mother spent time teaching — one of the most important jobs that we have in this country. We’ve got an obligation as a country to give them the support they need — because when principals and teachers succeed, then our children succeed.
So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We’ve got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.
And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests — 7 percent. When a school board wasn’t able to deliver change by other means, they voted to lay off the faculty and the staff. As my Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, says, our kids get only one chance at an education, and we need to get it right.
Of course, getting it right requires more than just transforming our lowest performing schools. It requires giving students who are behind in school a chance to catch up and a path to a diploma. It requires focusing on students, from middle school through high school, who face factors at home, in the neighborhood, or in school that put them at risk of dropping out. And it requires replicating innovative ideas that make class feel engaging and relevant — because most high school dropouts in a recent study said the reason they dropped out was that they weren’t interested in class and they weren’t motivated to do their work.
So that’s why we’ll build on the efforts of places like Communities in Schools that make sure kids who are at risk of dropping out have one-on-one support. That’s why we’ll follow the example of places like the Met Center in Rhode Island that give students that individual attention, while also preparing them through real-world, hands-on training the possibility of succeeding in a career.
Whether it passes or fails, it sure looks like Rhode Island is going to be on the forefront of education reform.