What Would “Empowerment Schools” Really Empower?


I’m getting a bad feeling about this proposal by new state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner.

From budgeting to class schedules, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner on Wednesday unveiled a plan to give principals and teachers sweeping control over most of the major decisions made in their schools every day.

Participation by schools, including the ominous open enrollment aspect of the plan, would be completely voluntary (at this point). What is so concerning about the plan is that this comment appears to be the sole reference to the critical question of how “empowerment schools” would improve student achievement.

Wagner said principals and teachers should be given more flexibility because they’re the ones who know their students the best.

The question of how to improve student achievement has to be the focus of state education policy. But it seems to have been largely left out of the “empowerment school” proposal.

With regard to the critical matter of student achievement, why aren’t we pursuing what works rather than trying to reinvent the wheel? Student achievement rose during the tenure of former Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. We need to continue what she was doing before the General Assembly deplorably interfered by suspending the NECAP standardized test (“thoughtful pause” – snort) to appease their union masters.

Or if anything to do with the prior Education Commissioner is too upsetting for some people, the gold standard of education for years has been right next door in Massachusetts. As WPRO’s John Loughlin has said repeatedly, let’s simply emulate what they did to achieve this.

Refusal to take either of these paths means our elected officials are continuing to put special interests over the best interest of and highest education results for our children. Especially in the era of ratcheted back standardized testing, there is a real danger that “empowerment schools” will only empower a lack of education accountability and a corresponding lowering of student achievement when we need to do exactly the reverse.

  • Slow Poke

    The ProJo article on this revealed the position of the teachers’ union leaders on this empowerment idea- if any aspect of the plan threatens teacher compensation or instigates teacher review or evaluation, the union is against the plan. The unions are truly the skunks at the party, focused on their own rewards- at whose expense, they don’t care.