School Improvement

'Devastating' Report Documents 'Broken System' in Providence District

When city and state leaders in Rhode Island saw the lousy results of a new standardized test among Providence Public School District students, they called in experts from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy to examine what the problems were. What they found at the 24,000-student district included challenges many educators will recognize, including a lack of quality curriculum and learning standards alignment both within schools and across the district.

The report, "Providence Public School District: A Review," was commissioned by Governor Gina Raimondo in April 2019 and published last month.

After talking with parents, school leaders, teachers and others; visiting schools across the city; and reviewing data and documents provided by the city of Providence and the state, the institute's experts concluded that:

  • Most students weren't learning "on, or even near, grade level," and expectations for learning were low;

  • The majority of teachers were "demoralized and feel unsupported" and had too few opportunities for professional development;

  • Parents were feeling "shut out" from their children's education;

  • School leadership was lacking, and principals felt that they were being held accountable for results with "neither resources nor authority to influence"; and

  • School buildings were "deteriorating across the city" to the point where "some are even dangerous to students' and teachers' wellbeing."

However, the report's authors did recognize "one particular success [that] consistently emerged across all constituencies": Every group acknowledged the presence of "many devoted teachers, principals and some district leaders who go above and beyond to support student success." The institute's experts suggested that the state and city use this "core group of leaders and teachers" as the "foundation upon which Rhode Island and Providence can build in the future."

Raimondo's response: "This report is devastating for the generations of students who have been denied a quality education, for the teachers who haven't been supported, and for the parents who haven't been heard. After seeing this report, there is no question that the system is broken, and Providence schools are in crisis." The governor said she had "tasked" Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green to run a series of "community conversations" in coming weeks to develop a set of recommendations "for the best path forward."

The report is openly available on the Johns Hopkins website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.