Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering history today, creating it always

Equality is often treated like a lesson, something that can be taught to fruition. "I Have a Dream" is played on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. February brings Black History Month, and we celebrate important leaders from the past who risked their futures to shape so much of what we can appreciate about today.

Honoring these days is important; however, it is perhaps more important not to view the celebration of them and the achievement of full equality as one-in-the-same. Education is the most vital pathway to equality of opportunity, but it requires the tireless work of teachers and leaders every day.  And there's always more work to do.

The implications and possibilities for this work are incredibly relevant and important in Rhode Island. According to RI-CANonly 18 percent of eighth-grade low-income students are at least proficient in reading, and only 16 percent are at least proficient in math.  Only 17 percent of our black eighth-graders are proficient in reading compared to 41 percent of white students.   

Achievement among our Hispanic students is even lower. Only 14 percent of eighth grade Hispanic students are proficient in reading, and 86% of Hispanic students enter high school reading below grade level (The State of Rhode Island Public Education, RI-CAN, 2010). That's enough children to fill Veterans Memorial Auditorium to capacity- 14 times.

These gaps-- called achievement gaps and opportunity gaps depending on the context or the individual with whom you're speaking-- exist in schools and affect children nationwide.  Even our highest performers are not doing all that well compared to other students globally, and the US education system now places 17th in a list of 40 ranked countries.

Schools approach these gaps with different solutions.  Even an experienced educator would have trouble naming all the educational models that exist-- the Montessori schools, 90/90/90s, Waldorfs, "No Excuses" charters, etc. etc. No model is without its criticisms, and every great school looks to consistently improve.

BVP's model is one grounded in a commitment to build an intentionally diverse community of learners while holding all to high expectations. Scholars are both actively recruited and intentionally accepted from four unique sending districts, two from the suburban communities of Cumberland and Lincoln and two from the urban communities of Pawtucket and Central Falls.  

As a school that is a member of the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies (RIMA), BVP works in alignment with RIMA's vision that all students, regardless of background, deserve the opportunity to succeed in college and the world beyond. BVP is only one of seven schools to be profiled as a "successful example" of an integrated charter school in research published by the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and The Century Foundation.

In honor of our commitment to constantly improve the way we approach our own work in this area, next week Blackstone Valley Prep will host a family and staff book talk with Mike Petrilli, the author of the new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent's Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools. You may remember the title from Executive Director Jeremy Chiappetta's blog review at the end of November. 

Really, though, this is ongoing work that requires the ongoing conversation of individuals like you.  Remember history today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but don't forget your ability to create it every other day of the year.  

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

D+? Parent Empowerment Through School Choice

Students First released a state policy report card this past Wednesday, evaluating each state's education laws and policies.  Although the report provides critical feedback for systemic changes both state and nationwide, the report is especially relevant for parents and educators in Rhode Island

Rhode Island scored a C+ overall, gaining points for standardizing the evaluation of teachers, creating alternative pathways for certification and prioritizing teacher/educator effectiveness. You can read the full report here.  States were judged in three categories: "Elevate Teaching," "Empower Parents," and "Spend Wisely & Govern Well." 

Although overall, Lil' Rhody held its own at #5 on the list, just below D.C., Indiana, Florida and Louisiana, it received a D+ in the category of parent empowerment.  

That's not a grade worth posting to the fridge. 

Like any good parent/teacher/educator/policymaker/leader/human, we look for how to improve. The report suggests three steps, one of which is to increase the amount of high-quality school choice options and provide comparable resources for all public options. 

Blackstone Valley Prep works hard to be a high-quality choice for the families of Pawtucket, Cumberland, Central Falls and Lincoln, and we continue to improve our  outreach efforts in those communities.  At this time, the lottery application has been open for about 11 weeks, and already approximately 300 more applications have been submitted  compared to last year's overall total.  The application will not close until March 1.  

A great way to advocate for high-quality school options is to celebrate the upcoming School Choice Week starting on January 27, a nationwide movement to bring awareness to the need for effective education options for all children. BVP is celebrating by hosting school tours all week, culminating in open houses at all three of our schools on Saturday, February 2, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

But what else can you do?

  1. Put a dent in that D+ by spreading the word, volunteering your time, and advocating for school choice in RI.  
In need of some inspiration to get you started? 
  1. Watch the video below to hear BVP Parent Tracey Dann talk about the importance of knowing your options.
  2. Reach out on facebook, twitter (#gotcollege), however/whenever, and tell us YOUR school choice story.