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.

School safety procedures dominate the agenda today at the State Senate Education Committee. Lawmakers say the discussion will feature State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, State Police Superintendent Col. Steven O'Donnell and officials from the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.

The oversight hearing follows the shooting last month at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school that left 26 students and teachers dead.

Connecticut’s legislature is also slated to review school safety standards in the wake of the tragedy.

A new program at the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) pairs high school students with middle schoolers, on the theory that a mentoring relationship with an older student might discourage dropping out.

PASA organizers say they are focusing on 8th graders, who often face a tough road when they transition from middle school into high school. Just 66 percent of Providence students graduate from high school within four years.

The new budget proposal from Governor Lincoln Chafee is a complex document, so here are a few highlights for schools and colleges.

There's a slight increase in this budget proposal for public colleges and universities. Oddly, officials disagree about the exact amount of the increase. The governor’s office first reported $8 million, but higher education officials say it’s closer to $6 million. The Office of Higher Education says it is grateful for any increase, after years of decreases under former Governor Don Carcieri.

The good news this week is that American students stack up better against their international counterparts, if socio-economic background is taken into account. Edweek has a good roundup of the new study by the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the Economic Policy Institute.

A new exhibit of work by the artist Christopher Ho entitled “Privileged White People” is now on view at New York’s Forever & Today, Inc. gallery. The show features large photographs of people like President Bill Clinton and the actor James Van Der Beek, of Dawson’s Creek fame.

  • Sawyer probe continues

State and federal law enforcement agencies are checking the books at the Sawyer School for criminal activity following its abrupt closure just after Christmas. State education officials have recovered student records from the school and are planning to hold an event at CCRI next week to provide transcripts and counseling for students wondering how to proceed with their degrees.

The Sawyer School was apparently bleeding federal aid prior to its abrupt closure on New Year's Day. The Federal Department of Education says the for-profit school had gone from nearly $7.5 million in federal tuition dollars for the 2011-2012 academic year down to $2 million this year.

What happened? Well, one answer is declining enrollment. Sawyer reported 796 students in Rhode Island in the fall of 2011, but only 302 students when it shut down earlier this month.

Governor Lincoln Chafee has announced his picks for the new 11-member board of education, which replaces two former boards overseeing K-12 schools and colleges and universities.

The selections are mostly alums of the two boards that lawmakers dissolved in a June vote. As of December, Chafee had named only his choice to chair the board, leaving Rhode Island with no board in charge of education on January 1st.

Here are bios for the education board picks from a statehouse communiqué:

The FBI has joined the investigation of the now-defunct Sawyer School, a for-profit technical college that closed its doors on the first of the year.

State police say they're seeking to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing, or whether this is simply a case of a business going under.

Either way, Sawyer's closure left roughly 300 Rhode Island students and 1,200 students in Connecticut with partially completed certificates to become medical office assistants and other office administrators.

Rhode Island Public Radio's Political Analyst Scott MacKay answers my questions about the political machinations that left Rhode Island with no board for either K-12 public schools or colleges and universities at the start of 2013.

  • Who’s overseeing the state’s public schools, colleges and universities? The answer… it’s not clear, and it’s complicated.

The State Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to delay creation of a State Board of Education to replace the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Schools and the Board of Governors for Higher Education. The vote comes after those two boards dissolved on January 1st, leaving a question mark about who is in charge of the state’s K-12 public schools and three institutions of higher education.

RISD President John Maeda reveals the parent-teacher conference that marked him for life, how he came to see the computer as a spiritual space for thinking and what he learned from sitting in a sandbox for several hours a day.

Wesleyan has ended its blanket need-blind admissions policy, saying it can no longer afford to admit every qualified student. Like Brown University, Wesleyan promises financial aid to any student who needs it. For a small number of applicants, that means they will not gain entrance to the college this year because they do not have enough money attend.

A New York Times article published this week suggests a growing practice of prescribing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs to low-income children who struggle in school.

The drugs, like Adderoll and Risperdal, can increase focus and improve a child’s behavior, but they are also addictive stimulants that can have negative side effects, including psychotic episodes.

The Board of Governors for Higher Education has just three full meetings left before it ceases to exist, at least in its current form.

The state is dissolving both the Board of Governors and the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. Instead, a single board will oversee the state’s public schools and colleges and universities starting on January 1st, 2013. (No word yet, by the way, on when Governor Lincoln Chafee will announce his appointees for the new board)

Items the Board of Governors may address in its final days include: