I went to an East Greenwich school this morning to interview state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist about the education disparity between the affluent suburbs in Rhode Island and the poorer inner cities. While I was waiting for her a 7th grade student came into the office to report finding a diamond.
This pretty much sums up public education in Rhode Island. In Central Falls, seven of ten students are in danger of not graduating. In East Greenwich, students literally find precious gems on the floor.
East Greenwich and Barrington offer better public education than Central Falls, Woonsocket, Providence and Pawtucket not because they have better students or better teachers or better test scores. It’s because they have more money.
It’s true that the state spends more on the average student from impoverished school districts than it does on the affluent ones, but even still it’s very hard to argue that kids in East Greenwich aren’t getting a much better education than kids from Central Falls are. In this clip, Gist admits that by her own metrics, EG students do get a better education than Central Falls students.
In fact, if resources were doled out by a school’s need rather than the public sector’s willingness to pay, students in Central Falls would get way more tax dollars than would students in East Greenwich. But we only use those metrics to decide who fails, not where to apply our resources. The state is implementing a new funding formula that will help, but it is not enough and it is being phased in very slowly to mitigate the hit to taxpayers.
In the meantime, the haves are getting a good public education in Rhode Island while the have-nots are not. The question is not whether we are doing more for the have-nots, the question is are we doing enough.
This is the single most important issue in local public education. Not whether we use test scores or grades to measure performance, and not whether we focus our resources on the many in traditional public schools or the few in pilot program charter schools, but how do we make sure kids in every corner of the state get good educations. Is it by giving them more tests, or is it by appropriating more resources? The right answer might not be the easiest or cheapest answer. It rarely is.
Here’s my full 7 minute interview with Gist.