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Rhode Island is a mess. Two years ago, the state took control of the Providence public schools. The Governor, Gina Raymond, is a former hedge funder and not a friend of public schools. She loves charter schools and welcomed them to her state. She is now Biden’s Commerce Secretary and has been succeeded by her Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee, who is also a privatizer. The relatively new State Commissioner is Angelica Infante Green, who comes from Teach for America and had a desk job in the New York State Education Department. She is a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change. The Providence Teachers Union originally supported the state takeover, hoping that it would bring new resources to the schools. Instead, the takeover has meant disruption, turmoil, threats to teachers, and bitterness between the hard-charging, inexperienced State Commissioner and the teachers.
Mary Beth Calabro, the president of the Providence Teachers Union, has been a teacher for 24 years and president of the union for five years.
Less than two years later, and with the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowing nearly all of the takeover, Calabro now says that the relationship between the union and Infante-Green has deteriorated beyond repair, and she is asking state lawmakers to give control of the school district back to the city of Providence. She is also calling for Infante-Green and Superintendent Harrison Peters to be removed from their positions.
The union voted “no confidence” in both the state commissioner and the city superintendent. Calabro warned that the district was forcing teachers out with its hard-nosed tactics.
“We had hope that our state takeover here would provide the much-needed support, resources, and changes to help our students move forward,” Calabro said during a Monday press conference. “And we had hope that our educators’ collective skills, experience, and expertise would be seen as a welcome part of transforming out schools. Sadly, our hopes have died.”
The state commissioner made clear from the beginning that she wanted to control the union and its contract:
The most recent sticking point between the union and management has revolved around a provision in the current union contract that gives veteran teachers preference over newer teachers when it comes to hiring. Seniority tends to be a sacred cow for public employee unions, and the teachers have resisted changes that would give Infante-Green and Peters more control over the hiring process.
Both Infante-Green and Peters say they believe the Crowley Act, the state law that gave them the power to take control of the school district, allows them to make unilateral changes to the contract. But they fear that such a tactic would send the two sides to court, prolonging a series of negotiations that has already resulted in the city paying more than $1 million to lawyers advising management.
The Boston Globe turned to Brown University professor Kenneth Wong, who was previously known for praising mayoral control as the answer to urban school problems.
Kenneth Wong, an education policy expert and professor at Brown University who has advised city and state leaders on a wide range of school funding and reform initiatives over the past decade, said he sees the next few weeks as crucial to finding common ground.
Wong said the state deserves some credit for some initial progress during the takeover. The state has issued a clear set of goals for Providence schools, like raising the graduation rate from 73.6 percent in the 2018-19 school year to 89 percent by the 2024-25 school year, and slashing chronic absenteeism from 37 percent to 10 percent during the same period.
Frankly, it is hard to see why the state deserves any credit for setting ambitious goals when it has not supplied the means to reach them and is driving away experienced teachers. The one thing that we supposedly learned from the ambitious “national goals” of 1989 was that setting goals is easy, reaching them is hard.
Here is a piece of advice for Commissioner Infante-Green: No teachers, no education. A good leader provides encouragement to the troops; a bad leader puts them in the line of fire.
Meanwhile, the new Governor Dan McKee, aligned himself solidly with the Walton-funded parent group that wants more charter schools. Democrats in the legislature have lined up behind a three-year moratorium on charters, but McKee made clear that if the bill passes, he will veto it.
The article in the Providence Journal accepted at face value that the pro-charter lobby was led by ordinary parents, but Maurice Cunningham of the University of Massachusetts has demonstrated that the group called “Stop the Wait, Rhode Island” is funded by the Waltons and other Dark Money billionaires. And see here as well.
Governor McKee is doing the bidding of the Waltons of Arkansas.