The Education Blog

The Education Blog is written by Elisabeth Harrison, Education Reporter and Morning Edition Host for Rhode Island Public Radio. Harrison’s work ranges from reporting on institutions like Brown University and the University of Rhode Island to efforts to reform low performing public schools in Central Falls and Providence.

Elisabeth Harrison

Two experimental high schools scheduled to open in Providence this fall will be known as 360 High School and Evolutions High School.

Both schools will be located inside larger, existing high schools. Evolutions will be inside Mt. Pleasant High School, and 360 will be at Hope High School.

Elisabeth Harrison / RIPR

Rhode Island officially has a new education commissioner after a vote Monday to confirm Governor Gina Raimondo’s nominee, Ken Wagner.

So far, reaction to Wagner has been optimistic, but some teachers have expressed reservations because he lacks experience in the classroom. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Elisabeth Harrison sat down with Larry Purtill, a member of the State Board of Education and the president of the National Education Association Rhode Island, one of two teachers’ unions in the state.

John Bender / RIPR

Rhode Island lawmakers passed legislation requiring more music performance opportunities in public schools. The bill mandates that all public secondary schools offer performing ensembles such as band, chorus or orchestra.

Most public schools in Rhode Island have performance ensembles, but some are offered before or after school and sometimes for no credit.  Advocates say the new mandate is a step towards incorporating these ensembles into standard arts curricula.

Elisabeth Harrison / RIPR

Charter schools dodged a bullet, this month when Rhode Island lawmakers ended the legislative session without agreement between House and Senate bills that could have changed the way charter schools are funded and restricted their ability to grow. 

Rhode Island Public Radio’s Elisabeth Harrison asked Tim Groves, the head of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools, whether he thinks public opinion is turning against charter schools.

Elisabeth Harrison

After months of anticipation, the General Assembly failed to pass a single bill related to charter schools.

That's good news if you're in the charter school world. It means lawmakers failed to reach agreement on bills that would place new restrictions on the expansion of charter schools and reopen the state funding formula to reduce money for charter schools.

Elisabeth Harrison / RIPR

One of Rhode Island’s most controversial school leaders is retiring. Fran Gallo, the superintendent of Central Falls public schools, steps down on Friday. Her tenure included the firing and re-hiring of high school teachers, which thrust Rhode Island into the center of a national debate over public education. Gallo sat down with Rhode Island Public Radio’s Elisabeth Harrison at her office in Central Falls to look back on the firings, and what she’s learned from Rhode Island’s smallest school district.

Elisabeth Harrison

Calling it "the most restrictive and punitive charter school bill in the entire country," the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies lobbied against the legislation, which would require local approval for new and expanding charter schools.

RIMA, one of several charter school and public education advocacy groups to raise concerns about the legislation, cites negative consequences, including a "fiscal catastrophe" for schools in the process of adding grades.

The group used Providence-based Achievement First, which has opened two elementary schools, as an example.

Elisabeth Harrison / RIPR

A pair of bills that could make it harder to open more charter schools are again up for committee votes at the Statehouse.

The House bill would place a one-year pause on the creation of new charter schools. After a legislative committee found reasons to re-evaluate the way the state funds public charter schools and public school districts, the bill calls for more time for lawmakers to consider changes.

Governor Gina Raimondo has announced two businessmen to lead the State Council on Elementary and Secondary Education and the State Council on Post-Secondary Education. 

To chair the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees public schools, Raimondo picked Daniel McConaghy, an executive vice president at Gilbane Building Company.

McConaghy also serves on the board of trustees for LaSalle Academy, a private, Catholic school that counts Raimondo among its lengthy list of prominent graduates.

With Education Commissioner Deborah Gist posting on Facebook that she has left her her job, who is in charge of the Rhode Island Department of Education?

RIPR file photo

The latest version of the state budget would cut nearly $1 million from the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, but most of the governor's other education programs remain intact.

In a written statement, acting Education Commissioner David Abbot praised the budget for increasing aid to school districts, expanding funding for preschool and all-day Kindergarten and boosting aid for school construction.

However, he expressed concerns about an $800,000 cut to the State Department of Education.

Paul Stein JC

As public schools work to raise test scores, many parents have commented that kids don't get to play as much as they used to. The mid-morning recess has all but disappeared, and classrooms, even in kindergarten, offer fewer and fewer opportunities for art, music and imaginative play.

Providence has named the head of an education consulting firm to lead its school district, while the school board prepares to launch an official search for a new superintendent.

School board members tapped Chris Maher, president of the firm Mass Insight Education, as interim superintendent on Monday night. District spokeswoman Christina Spaight O'Reilly says Maher is eligible to apply for the permanent post.

Current Providence Superintendent Susan Lusi has announced she will step down after this school year, citing a desire to pursue other professional opportunities.

The Rhode Island School of Design celebrates commencement on Saturday at the convention center. At one point it appeared as though 666 students would receive degrees, but the count has gone up to 669.

Either way, the number seems fitting for cult film director John Waters, who is scheduled to address the graduates. Waters is known for movies that push the boundaries of good taste.

RISD President Rosanne Somerson says RISD is known for quirky moments at commencement. Part of the university's tradition involves a unique take on the traditional black robe.

RIPR file photo

Brown University ranks among the top 10 universities whose undergraduates go on to win the prestigious MacArthur "genius" grant, according to new data from the MacArthur Foundation.

Since the foundation began awarding the grants, which honor individuals with great creative potential, Brown graduates have received 14 awards. Harvard produces the most recipients by far with 72 grantees.

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