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Task force calls for school reform

The Rhode Island Urban Education Task Force, created by Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 in January 2008, released its final report last week, outlining proposals for raising student achievement and improving the quality of urban education.

The report gives recommendations in seven key areas of student achievement and school improvement. Specific proposals include  the implementation of statewide pre-kindergarten education, development of a comprehensive early literacy program with emphasis on teaching English to non-native speakers and expanded curricular offerings — including Advanced Placement courses, courses offered at nontraditional times of the day and partnerships with adult education programs.

Before mapping out the recommendations, the group held community forums across the state — many of them in Providence — to get input from many different stakeholders in the education system, said Warren Simmons, chair of the task force and executive director of Brown's Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

"It was a conversation about how the state as a whole could work together to improve urban schools," Simmons said, adding that over two years, the task force heard from educators, labor leaders, superintendents and parents — especially those of minority students.

The task force also heard presentations from a number of experts on education reform.
Now that the task force's report has been released, Simmons said the next step is to determine which recommendations can be implemented and how they should be funded.
"We're going to have a dialogue about the process for the foreseeable future," he said. "This is a political thing."

One source of funding will be institutions such as the American Federation of Teachers, which has already committed seed money to begin teacher-quality assessments, Simmons said. Rhode Island, he added, will seek grants from the Race to the Top Fund, a $4 billion program created by the federal stimulus bill and overseen by the U.S. Department of Education to reward innovation and accomplishment in education.

Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education, said the department does not have an official position on the report, but is ready to implement the measures that are ultimately given the green light.

Krieger said the task force included Department of Education representatives, who expressed the department's perspectives and concerns.

Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Carcieri was enthusiastic about the report's proposals.

At least one future discussion about the report's implementation will concern the creation of an urban education consortium to ensure that the goals and benchmarks set forth by the task force are met, Kempe said.

She said two of the task force's recommendations — the extended school day and a statewide pre-kindergarten program — have already been implemented in pilot programs in Providence.

Kempe said she does not expect unanimity on many proposals, but believes that all sides will come together and find common ground.

"At the end of the day," she said, "everyone agrees we need to reform urban education."
 




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