Response from Deborah Gist

by allthingsace

I am very pleased to have received this comment back from Ms. Gist. Her first hand response is very much appreciated.

You raise some good questions about Race to the Top, which I would like to answer. With our 15-percent dropout rate, our significant and persistent achievement gaps, and with proficiency rates in the single digits in some of our schools, I think most would agree that the system is in fact broken and the need for reform is urgent. First, our Race to the Top proposal is entirely based on our strategic plan, Transforming Rhode Island Education. The plan, which we developed over many months with lots of input and feedback from hundreds of Rhode Islanders, sets forth our goals and priorities, as well as our strategies for achieving these goals. Race to the Top seeks federal funds to help us with this work. We’re going to do that work whether or not we receive Race to the Top funds. Race to the Top will make our work move faster. But make no mistake: We will be moving urgently to improve our schools.

My highest priority is to ensure that every student has highly effective teachers and every school has highly effective leaders. To do so, we need to improve recruitment, mentoring, training, support, and development for all teachers and school leaders. One facet of this is developing high-quality evaluation systems. Last month (December 2009), the Board of Regents adopted the first Rhode Island Educator Evaluation System Standards. A high-quality evaluation system will support educators and help them develop and improve their professional practices. The evaluation-system standards require, among many things, that evaluations be “determined primarily by evidence of impact on student growth and academic achievement.” Our job is to ensure that these evaluations are fair, transparent, and consistent across schools and districts. A strong evaluation system based on evidence of student growth will help all teachers to improve their skills and will ensure that students receive the
high-quality instruction that they deserve. We will build these systems alongside teachers and school leadeers.

You are right that Race to the Top will offer funding for four years only. That’s why our proposal seeks funds for developmental work, which may entail high upfront costs for the initial years but, once in place, can be sustained our current investments in educaiton.

I hope this helps you understand some key elements of our Race to the Top proposal. I assure you that Rhode Island will be on the forefront of education transformation. We will have world-class schools. I look forward to working with the entire Rhode Island community to make sure that happens, and I hope you will support this challenging and vital work.

Deborah Gist