As the candidates officially launch their 2014 bids for governor, I plan to ask each of them to lay out their positions on top education issues. I started with democrat Angel Taveras.
As mayor of Providence, Taveras joined several state lawmakers in speaking out against a policy tying the standardized test known as NECAP to high school graduation. Taveras says his concern was with the test itself, not the principal of tying testing to a high school diploma.
"I think testing is important." Taveras told me. "We have a fire department class, they take a test to get on, the police department, they take a test to get on, promotions based on tests, and the idea that we’re not going to prepare our kids to take a test, they need to know how to do that."
Taveras says he believes students must learn to be critical thinkers, but he does not think testing and critical thinking are mutually exclusive. As governor, Taveras said he would not stand in the way of using a different test as a high school exit exam.
"Is it the right test, is it tied to the curriculum, is it actually measuring something that's valuable," Taveras said, signaling that he would support using the test known as PARCC, which Rhode Island has pledged to adopt.
Taveras has repeatedly said he feels strongly about improving public schools, and he knows the importance of education from personal experience. Taveras grew up in a tough part of Providence, attending public schools, where he credits teachers with helping him on his journey, as he puts it, "from Head Start to Harvard." Taveras has said he wants to see more low-income and minority students succeed the way he did.
While Taveras disagreed with State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist about using NECAP as a high school exit exam, he said he has yet to make a decision about whether she is the right person to lead the State Department of Education.
"We agree on some things, we disagree on others," Taveras said, noting that he joined Gist in pushing for the charter school chain Achievement First to open in Providence. "What I’ll do is I’ll make a full assessment of her and other department directors when I become governor, if the voters choose to give me that great honor."