Happy New Year, Commissioner
We may look back at the fifth day of January as the first instance of Education Commissioner Deborah Gist’s changed work environment, thanks to a press release by Sen. James Sheehan (D, Narragansett, North Kingstown):
“If good teachers are the most important element to education, the Department of Education shouldn’t allow uncertified individuals to teach at Democracy Prep school in Cumberland, says Sen. James C. Sheehan.
“It’s a contradiction to say that qualified teachers are critical to each child’s education, but then allow exceptions at one school. The students at Democracy Prep are just as deserving of certified teachers as other students around the state. To allow a group of uncertified teachers to teach at that school is to put the education of the students there at risk,” said Senator Sheehan, a Democrat who represents District 36 in North Kingstown and Narragansett.
“If we truly believe qualified teachers are important, the state is putting the students at Democracy Prep at an educational disadvantage by allowing them to be taught by uncertified teachers,” he said, “and the Education Commissioner’s actions are a contradiction of her own terms and stated educational goals.”
Anybody who wonders why an elected official from Narragansett/North Kingstown would be especially concerned about a charter school in Cumberland needs only to check the Senator’s bio page, which notes his occupation as a teacher in Warwick (specifically, high school history), which makes him a dues-paying member of the Warwick Teachers Union, a Rhode Island Federation of Teachers affiliate.
As we hear so frequently, the objective of charter schools is to act as “laboratories of excellence” (or any such catch phrase), operating under loosened rules compared with the public school system generally. Of course, that notion has been under constant assault, with labor restraints still existing, most of the time, and repeated questioning of whether offering the same education at a lower cost counts as a successful experiment. It would certainly be against Sheehan’s professional and, presumably, union-mindset interests for an experiment of hiring teachers without regard to official certification to succeed. Rather, for it to succeed without permitting the obfuscations that typically meet such success among private schools.
Unfortunately for Gist, it appears unlikely that she’ll have the same strong backing that she enjoyed from Governor Carcieri… and just wait until Governor Chafee turns his attention to the Board of Regents.