RIDE Gets Requirements and Accountability Backwards


The Rhode Island Department of Education has announced that its Council on Elementary and Secondary Education has put together new graduation standards, and the result is a disconcerting step toward dilution built on a faulty concept of the purpose of diplomas.  Here’s the department’s erroneous notion:

“Our new diploma system provides a menu of options for students, recognizing that one size does not fit all,” said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. “The diploma belongs to the student, not us. The new Diploma System lets students personalize and own their diploma as it will better reflect their interests and strengths.”

Wrong.  As much as public school administrators might like the fluffy requirements and metrics of higher education, secondary school is not college.  The diploma does not “belong to the student.”  Maybe one could say that of his or her transcripts, but the diploma belongs to the district, to all of its graduates collectively, and to the community it represents.  It is a certification that the student met the standards of that broader group — that the district and community declare the student to have achieved a baseline of competence and knowledge that all graduates can be expected to match.

Instead, RIDE is attempting to put an inconsequential rider on diplomas called a “Commissioner’s Seal” that would indicate competence on the standardized tests that ought to be a requirement.  This is backwards.  The state government should not be devaluing diplomas and then giving those students who actually do perform at the expected level a little bonus phrase that means nothing to anybody outside of the Rhode Island education system.

But it gets worse:

Students can also earn optional Pathway Endorsements, such as a Seal of Biliteracy, by demonstrating their learning in a topic of personal interest (e.g., world languages, science and technology, public service, career-technical education). Following guidance that the R.I. Department of Education will develop, local school districts will establish lists of Pathway Endorsements that their graduates can earn, as well as the criteria for demonstrating learning (e.g., completion of a series of courses, completion of an advanced or experiential learning project, earning industry-recognized credentials).

Such “pathways” might be great as an addition to a basic standard, but in this case, they’re being floated as alternative replacements for the basic standard.  Moreover, RIDE’s plan is for these various “seals” to become the metric by which the state government grades and compares schools, meaning that districts will have incentive to create wishy-washy programs that ensure that every student can earn at least one “seal.”

Additionally, take particular note of those phrases “will develop” and “will establish.”  Everything is in the future and to-be-determined:

“Under a new accountability system, we may set goals to encourage schools to increase the percentages of graduates earning these designations,” Wagner said.

Meanwhile, the years will roll by, and one graduating class after another will come and go.  These new graduation requirements will apply to the graduating class of 2021, and then the state will take another five to 10 years to determine that the system isn’t really working, followed by another decade or two of half-hearted bickering between politicians, labor unions, and other special interest groups before another inadequate system is designed to be the vessel for meaningless phrases like “the 21st century workforce.”

Unless Rhode Islanders, generally, and parents, specifically, begin demanding real accountability, real power, and real choices, this process will repeat and repeat until it becomes necessary to start talking about “the 22nd century workforce.”

  • Guest

    What this sounds like is Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education driving top down new state-wide standards via RIDE Council on Elementary and Secondary Education just what the Federal
    Department of Education did not want to happen because it does not work and because one size does not fit all students.

    State of Hawaii has been working diligently for many years on developing new approaches to education for the 21st Century and accelerated them when new mandates by Federal Department of Education for upcoming 2017 changeover from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements to the
    new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which replaces NCLB in 2017.

    The powers to be in Washington, DC finally woke up and started to listen to feedback from states, administrators, principles and parents and finally realized NCLB was not working and actually dumbing down students, frustrating teachers, overloading teacher and schools with burdensome
    paperwork. New standards were asphyxiating classroom creativity and independent thinking when everything had to be justified to some standard or test in lesson plans. Because of new accountability mandates, some teachers were just teaching to the test.

    When Governor of Hawaii found out about the new federal initiative to stop NCLB and innovate ESSA he immediately created a ESSA transition team to research new federal mandates and working closely with Hawaii Department of Education and state school superintendent and assistant superintendents to develop design ideas for a Hawaii Public Education Blueprint. In Hawaii neighborhood parents already take ownership of their local schools and provide free services as needed (painting, cleaning, beautification landscaping).

    In order for a state to drop NCLB requirements and transition to ESSA a state must bring ALL state-wide stakeholders together (Governor,
    politicians, administrators, school districts, educators, parents, students,
    education suppliers, local businesses and interested residents) in order to
    build together a state-wide education plan and educational system that emphasizes creativity and innovation. The main goal is inclusion of all people and not to be top down driven mandates but to give back local control of education of students to frontline principals, educators and parents.

    The Governor’s ESSA team has been holding monthly visits to each state community meeting with all stakeholders and collecting input plus
    reaching consensus on talking and design points. In some way shape or form all or Hawaii’s 1.4 million state-wide population has been touched by the ESSA team including those unfortunate people that are homeless and have children.

    On a warm sunny afternoon in July 2016 Hawaii’s Governor held the Hawaii Education Summit (7am to 3:30pm) at the convention center and
    any state resident could attend and was provided with free breakfast and lunch (over 1,000 attended including myself). Speakers from Washington, DC Department of Education, Hawaii Department of Education, Administrators, Students and media people were guest speakers. It the morning were workshops with subject matter experts on the 8 design ideas the ESSA team through state-wide community input had collected and in the afternoon we all got together and played the devil’s advocate with the what ifs of ideas till we reached consensus on the sticking points.

    State of Hawaii is well on its way breaking out of the stifling archaic NCLB model with current Hawai‘i P-20 Partnership for Education (educational
    leaders have set a goal of having 55% of working-age adults hold a two- or
    four-year degree by the year 2025); students in high school can now take
    college courses for FREE and receive college credits and Hawai‘i P-3 Initiative (where all Hawaii’s children will be successfully reading and comprehension at grade level by grade 3); Hawaii’s elementary grades can attend University of Hawaii weekend laboratory courses to learn advances in science. Hawaii is the first state in nation to build and operate an 86 school, over 500 students in class (public, private, charter; elementary, middle and high school) state-wide student high-speed voice, video, data news network which is broadcast on PBS TV weekly news show during one-half hour primetime called HIKI NŌ (Hawaiian for “Can Do”) giving students from all parts of the state equal access to workforce and 21st century learning skills – digital literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, and communication – that are essential for success into today’s economy. The students are filling a void left by commercial news
    networks and lending their voices to community topics and concerns.

    State of Hawaii will be presenting the Federal Department of Education a positively written full ESSA State-Wide Comprehensive Education Plan and Program with Goals, Standards and Rationales Models for K through 12 put together collectively by 1.4 million state-wide residents for transitioning from NCLB to ESSA as required in year 2017 preparing our students for the 22nd Century workforce as we are already working in the 21st Century.

    PS: The current Governor of Hawaii David Y. Ige is not a career politician but holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, a master of Business Administration degree in Decisions Sciences from
    University of Hawaii. First lady of Hawaii Dawn Amano-Ige holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from University of Hawaii, a master’s degree business from Chaminade University in Honolulu and a professional diploma in elementary education. She started her career as a teacher in 1997 and is now a vice principal of an elementary school.

  • jimri

    Anyone who sends their kids to public school is guilty of child abuse.

  • Joe Smith

    It is a certification that the student met the standards of that broader
    group — that the district and community declare the student to have
    achieved a baseline of competence and knowledge that all graduates can
    be expected to match.

    Okay..so let’s define who is that ‘broader’ group. Given for many districts, *local* taxpayers pay the highest share of education, should *local* taxpayers through their elected *local* leaders define that competency. If it’s low, then people and businesses won’t move in.

    I find it puzzling in as much as you rail against the state mandating so many things, you want the state to mandate items that localities may or may not want. *Nothing* (err maybe the ACLU) stops a local community from imposing higher standards (including some forms of standardized testing).

    For communities where the state (meaning the broader state group of taxpayers) picks up 50% or more of the cost, sure, let the state decide. The state should be saying here are the basic competency areas students need to have – and since we’re still stuck in the Carnegie Credit model system – and the minimum “credits” in those areas. But how, how much more, and what other skills a locality wants to certify its graduates should be left up to the individual communities. If you think standardized testing mandates produces better education, move to a district that has it.

    I do agree these ‘seals” are back channel and disingenuous ways that the Commissioner is using to get around the lack of support for his ideas. Sure, we don’t mandate testing, but unless 95% of your kids take it and a certain % pass, then you get tanked on your rating.

    RIDE sucks a lot of oxygen on wasted efforts or efforts that seem to exist merely for the sake of collecting data to show, well, we’re collecting data. UCOA mandating – has RIDE ever produced a single actionable and cost saving recommendation for the $$M of dollars in time and money spent on that system? RIDE should act more like NEASC in evaluating school districts, but RIDE is *supposed* to do that for charter schools and that evaluation system is a joke so maybe that is wishful thinking.

    • Justin Katz

      As I’ve written before, I don’t think the top-down state-mandated course for reform is the way to go. It infringes on local rights and, as we saw with Chafee, is subject to a political ceiling.
      But it’s *something.* In large part owing to the involvement of teachers unions, our system has become unaccountable to anybody. In that environment, there has to be some standard system of accountability, and the unions and other inside interests are simply too powerful and organized at the state and national levels for locals to be expected to fight them.
      Give families the ability to choose where their children go to school — in and out of the public system — and they’ll bring more than enough accountability to dispense with the whole standardized testing requirement thing.