At the beginning of 2012, RI-CAN launched The Rising Tide campaign to raise all boats in Rhode Island classrooms. We worked hard alongside advocates like you, fighting to “Put Achievement First,” “Prize Talented Teachers,” and give schools the flexibility and tools to become “Success Schools.” And now that the 2012 legislative session has ended, it’s time to report our progress.
We began the year with the release of our second annual The State of Rhode Island Public Education report. Looking inside our public schools, the report found that in spite of a few promising pockets of success, stagnant levels of student achievement and a large achievement gap continues in our state.
With the help of Rhode Islanders from across our state, we began a dialogue about the kinds of transformation we need in our schools. We had nearly 2,700 action takers throughout our campaign and over 70 news stories featuring RI-CAN and our reform efforts.
Here’s the breakdown of our 2012 policy goals and what we accomplished with each of them:
Put Achievement First: Bring Achievement First Mayoral Academy to Rhode Island. A win!
We rallied for nine months to bring Achievement First, an amazing, gap-busting school, to Rhode Island to help put more of our kids on a path to college: we published an issue brief, released a video and published 7 Facts in 7 Days about Achievement First in the final days before the Board of Regents vote. And you rallied alongside us: more than 800 letters were sent to the Board of Regents, more than 100 phone calls to the Governor were made and 400 Cranston and Providence families signed letters signaling their interest in sending their kids to an Achievement First Mayoral Academy.
On February 2nd that work paid off: the Board of Regents approved the application to open the very first Achievement First Mayoral Academy in Providence. Low-income and minority students have had tremendous success at Achievement First schools in Connecticut and New York—at some schools they even out-perform their wealthier peers—and proved that the achievement gap is closable. Rhode Island kids will now have the same opportunity.
Prize Talented Teachers: More work ahead.
Early in the legislative session, our ed reform champions Representative Jon Brien and Senator Donna Nesselbush introduced H-7863 and S-2531, acts that would reform the way Rhode Island schools rewards, supports and retain great teachers. We turned out more than a dozen supporters at both labor committee hearings, including parents, students and teachers.
Towards the end, we pivoted our efforts to legislation that would have moved our teacher layoff notification date from March 1 to June 1, allowing districts to have a more accurate picture of their school budgets. We launched a weeklong advocacy campaign in which advocates handed out “layoff notices” to legislators and a mobile billboard drove around the State House all day long.
Unfortunately, despite broad support from the education community, the General Assembly failed to pass the bills and our layoff notification date remains one of the earliest in the country. But we haven’t given up: we’ve requested a task force to gather partners and organizations together to draft a comprehensive teacher quality bill for the 2013 session, and we plan to continue to work with legislative leadership to convene this group before then.
Success schools: Must push forward in 2013.
During our fight to bring Achievement First to Rhode Island, we heard a common message: traditional public schools want charter-like flexibilities to run their schools, too. So we took that message to heart and worked to develop a proposal that would do just that. Our Success Schools goal was founded upon the idea that schools should be allowed to remove obstacles and implement a set of proven strategies to raise student achievement. The bad news is this proposal never made it to the General Assembly. The good news is we’re going to fight again for this policy in 2013.
Since our launch in December 2010, RI-CAN has partnered with you to transform the public schools in our state. But the battle for great schools isn’t won in a single year—or even two. Recognizing our work is far from over, more and more Rhode Islanders are pledging to stand up for great schools year in and year out. I am so grateful for your support. Together we are enacting the policies that will help give every Rhode Island child access to a great public school. Because great schools change everything.