The Lamentable Process of Rhode Island Reform


During a hearing on the state’s takeover of Providence schools, WPRI’s Steph Machado tweeted the following comment from Domingo Morel, who wrote a book on state takeovers of schools and who joined the Johns Hopkins team to review Providence:

“It’s pretty unique” that the mayor, city council and school board haven’t objected to the state taking over the PVD schools

Perhaps these amount to the same thing, but one wonders whether the reason is that they know they aren’t capable of fixing the problem or want to pass the buck for the responsibility.

On most of Rhode Island’s intractable problems, especially those that manifest most significantly at the local level, one gets the sense that the strategy goes something like this:

  1. Try to mitigate the harmful effects of the problem while not making any difficult decisions.
  2. Allow the problem to get so bad that somebody has to step in, whether it’s the electorate with permission for a big bond or tax increase or the state or federal government with a takeover.
  3. Accept (maybe even take credit for) this manifest proof of incompetence.
  4. Work to limit the impact of any actual reforms to the status quo system and to siphon any increase in funds away from the problem.
  5. Proceed to revert to the way things were once the spotlight moves away.

Of course, this process isn’t purely a function of our elected officials.  We the people, after all, allow them to bring things to this point because we’re not willing to elect and support candidates and elected officials who could turn it around.

  • D. S. Crockett

    Politicians have passed the buck since day one. Unfortunately, the uninformed, apathetic public has let them get away with it.

  • Joe Smith

    I’ve been puzzled why the media let’s Elorza get away with the “the state has powers” the city (or I) don’t have that would make a difference.

    Here is what he said in July (ProJo, Madeline List, Jul 19)

    “At the local level we know that we don’t have the power, tools and the authority to bring about the transformational change that we need and as a community we are open to all options that support the unique needs of our students and their families,” he said.

    Not sure if this next paragraph is attributed to Elorza or the reporter’s interpretation:

    Items the state could help address include: providing more professional development training for teachers — the current teacher’s contract only provides for one day of professional development — hiring qualified teachers quickly, moving resources quickly to meet demands, increasing funding for English-language learners and adjusting class schedules.

    Well, let’s see. Item 1 is a contract item the Mayor negotiated. Item 2 if he means change “qualified” is a state certification issue – if he means the local hiring process, well, he has a lot of control on that. Moving resources – that’s a management right unless fixed by the contract or law so what “resources” does he mean. I’m guessing people so that is a contract issue, again he negotiated. More funding – that’s the city as he and the city council level funded schools for every year of his administration but one.

    I’d also say you see some of this behavior in private companies too – it makes a nice niche for as a consultant.