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.

The Senate Education Committee holds hearings today on nominees for a new State Board of Education. The picks from Governor Lincoln Chafee include teachers' union president Larry Purtill and Colleen Callahan, also a teachers’ union leader, and a member of the former Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

State lawmakers dissolved the Board of Regents along with the board overseeing colleges and universities to create a new combined board of education. The move was aimed at improving coordination between higher education and K-12 schools.

State education Commissioner Deborah Gist is slated to discuss Rhode Island’s controversial teacher evaluations during a panel discussion this morning at the Fordham Institute in Washington, DC, a conservative public policy think-tank.

Members of the Providence Student Union
courtesy of

Students protest high stakes testing in Rhode Island and Providence puts a history teacher in a physics classroom. These are some of the most heated controversies recently on the education beat. But there’s a little known force behind both of these stories. It’s a student group called the Providence Student Union. Co-founder Aaron Regunberg is a recent Brown graduate. Elisabeth Harrison asked him how he became an activist in the public schools.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you.

Relations appear tense between the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, one of two teachers’ unions in Rhode Island, and State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist.

Gist sent a letter to Superintendents at the end of January reminding them that state regulations require staffing decisions to be based on performance, rather than the number of years a teacher has been on the job, a practice common in many schools.

Schools close as budgets stretch and buildings age

East Providence is closing Oldham Elementary School citing the high cost of upgrading the building. The district has faced serious deficits in the past, contributing to municipal financial woes. The Providence Journal reports that district officials Oldham would have needed an estimated $2 million in renovations to stay open. As a result of the closure, some students will be shifted to other schools.

State education officials are defending standardized testing as a graduation requirement starting with the class of 2014. Students opposing so-called "high stakes testing" staged a protest yesterday at the Statehouse.

State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist responded by saying her goal is to make sure students finish high school with the right skills for college or a career. If the testing rule took effect this year, 44 percent of seniors would be at risk for not graduating.

Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin are asking the Federal Labor Department to reverse an enrollment freeze at Job Corps, a technical training and GED program with sites around the country, including Exeter, Rhode Island.

In a letter, a group of 17 senators say the freeze will have an adverse effect on thousands of young people.

Harvard University is partnering with the National Football League on a $100 million research project looking into serious health problems among NFL players. The initiative announced in today's Boston Globe will focus on 1,000 retired NFL players to better understand and potentially treat a wide range of physical ailments.

A group calling itself the Providence Student Union will ask for an end to high stakes testing this week. Starting with the class of 2014, Rhode Island students will not be allowed to graduate unless they get a score of "partially procficent" on the standardized test known as the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).


Gist: Mandatory school safety plans unlikely

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist speaks directly to teachers about a controversial new evaluation system. The video first appeared on YouTube earlier this month.

More boys are dropping out of school than girls, and the disparity is greater in Rhode Island and Connecticut than anywhere else in the country, according to a new report from the Federal Department of Education.

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.