On Monday, December 15, 2011, RIPEC will release the 2011 edition of its report “Results: Education in Rhode Island”. This report examines, in one publication, student performance in conjunction with a number of factors that have an impact on education in the Ocean State. The importance of a quality education and the size of the investment ensure that public education remains one of the most important – and debated – public policy issues facing the state and country. The Rhode Island Department of Education has started to implement an ambitious education agenda, and we are beginning to see results, such as a growing number of students achieving proficiency on the New England Common Assessment Program assessments. Additionally, for the first time since the National Assessment of Educational Progress was first administered, Rhode Island 4th graders scored above the national average on the mathematics assessment. The department, working with local school districts, has moved forward on a number of key initiatives central to its strategic plan, such as finalizing implementation of the Uniform Chart of Accounts, adopting Common Core State Standards, and developing an educator evaluation system.
These reforms have garnered national attention and were key parts of the state winning a $75 million grant in the Race to the Top competition. Notably, these improvements and changes have occurred during a time of extraordinary fiscal stress – the growth in education-related expenditures has significantly slowed over the past few years, largely in response to cuts to state aid and a declining local revenue base. That the state continues to move forward with the reform agenda, fully funding the first year of the funding formula, for example, is recognition of the importance of education and the necessity of these reforms.
At the same time, it is evident that much work remains, and it is critical that the focus remain on improving the state of education in Rhode Island. Based on the most recent nationally comparable data, Rhode Island ranked 6th highest in the country for per pupil education expenditures, but 29th highest in 8th grade NAEP mathematics and reading performance. Further, Rhode Island under-performs relative to the national and regional averages on the SAT and has a higher percentage of adults without at least a high school diploma than the other New England states and the nation.
The state has a unique opportunity to reform its education system. At the same time, the reform agenda outlined in RIDE’s strategic plan is aggressive, and will require both dedication and follow-through. At this critical moment, it is crucial that the focus remain on improving the state of education in Rhode Island. Reforms, such as the funding formula, must be allowed to work, and the state must continue progress towards goals such as the development of a longitudinal data system. These efforts are public investments in the state’s economic and social future that will yield a return if done in a thoughtful, dedicated manner.