In September, CCRI reported a 47 percent jump in its enrollment of full-time students who have just graduated high school, a boost that the college attributed to the promise of two years of free tuition. But the college later acknowledged that only a fraction of those students were on track to graduate in two years. (Providence Journal, March 2018)
Governor Gina Raimondo unveiled a laudable three part plan this week to provide free tuition to URI and RIC. Our workforce is undereducated and it is hurting our state in too many ways to count. But where is the conversation about the twelve years before students are eligible for free college tuition?
Whether it’s the single digit proficiency in reading and math at Roger Williams Middle School, the stunningly low math achievement at Cumberland High School, or the high teacher absenteeism rate statewide, we have a problem.
Of the students who take Algebra 1 at Cumberland High School, only 5 percent showed proficiency. That number increased to 39 percent for the students who took the Geometry test.
And at Roger Williams Middle School, only 3 percent of students are proficient in math. That means that, in a typical classroom of 30 kids, only one is on grade level.
Are we willing to accept those results? As parents, elected officials, educators, faith, business and community members are we willing to shrug and just accept such dreadful outcomes? And do we think we make ourselves better by making college free?
Despite the hope that comes baked into the RI Promise scholarship program, the situation only worsens when students move up to higher education where far too many pay for courses they aren’t prepared for and often don’t complete. It isn’t everybody. But it is far too many.
While the number of students enrolled in CCRI saw a dramatic increase with the availability of the RI Promise scholarship, only 15 percent of first year full time students are on track to graduate. 231 students out of 1,577 are currently meeting the bar—set by the the General Assembly— of a 2.5 GPA.
The Governor and others are right to talk about the need to bring jobs to our state but the business community, locally and nationally, has well-founded concerns about the K-12 system’s way of doing things.
A recent survey conducted by Business Forward and reported on at The 74 reveals that a majority of the 234 business leaders surveyed believe that K-12 schools are currently “on the wrong track” and are not confident in the current education pipeline from which their future employees will emerge. They expressed particular concern for the “neediest” students who they see as “integral talent” for their businesses.
And while most business leaders indicated they did not think schools should be run like businesses, they did offer criticism of what they see as an outdated factory model that sees students as “outputs” or widgets”. They make the point—one that is highly controversial in the education space but spot on in my book—that students should be seen as customers and schools as the service provider. Amen.
Of the reforms that the business leaders called for, 59 percent want to see greater school autonomy, 39 percent believe we need to replace underperforming schools, and 34 percent want to see charter schools expanded.
So what is the Governor of Rhode Island saying about K-12 education these days?
Well, she rightly has a lot to say about crumbling buildings but has gone almost silent on school performance and student achievement. She oversees a state with a gigantic math problem—on the most recent NAEP test, her state—our state—came in 44th out of 50 states in 4th grade math and 46th out of 50 in 8th grade math. And our reading and writing proficiency is nothing to brag about either as we find ourselves in the middle of the country (but always in the top tier for spending.)
Raimondo says that her three-part plan will provide “universal job training for everyone in Rhode Island.” I like the sound of that. She goes on: ““Whether you are 18 and just starting out, 35 and stuck in a job without a future, or 50 and need to start over, there will be an opportunity for you to get the training and education you need to keep up and get ahead in Rhode Island.” Amen to that.
But there is a giant elephant in the room, Madam Governor. We are graduating students who can’t read. We are pushing kids through a system and then paying for them to take college level courses for which they are not ready.
We need your voice now or we will be spinning our wheels in higher education because we haven’t been courageous enough in attacking the K-12 problem. The future of Rhode Island’s children and its workforce literally hang in the balance.