A new Economic Policy Institute report that is highly critical of the so-called “education reform” movement reads like an indictment of Deborah Gist’s tenure as commissioner of public schools in Rhode Island.
The report compares large urban school districts with New York, Chicago and Washington DC – three cities that have implemented strategies almost identical to Gist’s – and discovers “the reforms deliver few benefits, often harm the students they purport to help, and divert attention from a set of other, less visible policies with more promise to weaken the link between poverty and low educational attainment.”
Here in Rhode Island, the achievement gaps have increased as well as we’ve implemented the same agenda as New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. In fact, Gist is a protege of Michelle Rhee, the DC-area reformer whom the report was specifically critical of.
While Rhode Island and/or Gist were not cited, the report deals with almost every controversial decision Gist has made during her tenure: teacher firings, school closures, high stakes tests, charter schools, poor educator morale, poverty. It even addresses the rhetoric so-called “reformers” use to dodge questions about actual results:
Some reformers position their policies as higher minded than the policies advocated by others. Rhee and Klein advance a “no excuses” response to those who say poverty is an impediment to education, and frequently label those with whom they disagree as “defending the status quo” (StudentsFirst 2011). Others, such as Duncan, acknowledge the impact of poverty and promote a larger range of policies, while still emphasizing the same core set of reforms. But the question most critical for the millions of at-risk students and their families—and the nation as a whole—is not whether one group or another is “reforming” or “making excuses,” but what works and what does not.