We learned in recent weeks that our state’s “paper of record”, the Providence Journal, let its editorial page director go after twenty one years because they no longer think having an editorial page is a good idea. Putting aside the reasons they gave for the decision versus what all thinking people know to be the truth, Ed Achorn deserved better and his sudden exit from the paper is a loss.
I have never been in lock step with Achorn on every issue—which is part of what I appreciate most about reading his writing. But on the issue closest to my heart, K12 education, he has been a champion for the children and families who most need one. When it comes to the educational injustice that plagues our state—and our nation as a whole—Achorn has consistently been a voice for those with the least power, the least influence and the least political capital.
He cares deeply about low income parents zoned to schools that have been failing their community for generations and believes that they deserve an escape hatch. He believes that student outcomes matter. He criticizes the union contracts for their inflexibility and resistance to change. He is a student-centered guy.
Achorn knows that residential school assignment has not worked out well for far too many low income children and he has spoken up on their behalf. While unions and status quo protectors have done their best to kill any and all forms of educational freedom for families—despite exercising choice for their own children, of course—Ed Achorn has highlighted the tuition-free options getting good results for students and high marks from parents. He thinks parents should have as many quality options as possible—I agree.
The education of Rhode Island’s children has been disrupted by COVID-19 in a way that we have never seen before. It is unlikely that the school day for our children will look ‘normal’ in the near future or maybe even ever again. Achorn would have followed it closely and helped us think it all through—but the paper had other plans.
We need to know how much students have regressed. We need to know what percentage of students have been more engaged during distance learning than they ever were before. We need to ensure that students are expected to complete work from home have the internet and devices required to make that happen. We need to take hard looks at the various scenarios on the table for re-opening in the fall. And we need to have honest conversations about how much we can expect from our schools—is it sustainable to expect our institutions of learning to also function as social service agencies?
Ed Achorn would have helped us answer these questions and have the hard conversations. He would have called out disparities and injustices and pushed back on the excuses put forth by those who have always been more loyal to the system than to students.
In case you missed his final note to readers, you can find it here.
I can only hope that he will find some time, when he isn’t writing books about Abraham Lincoln and baseball, to share his thoughts about the K12 landscape in our state.
To keep up with his work, including frequent writings about the issues of the day, his website is here.
Thank you, Ed, for the decades you gave to us and for having the courage to put your opinions out there. We are all better for it.