The Case for Expanded Educational Choice in Rhode Island

Return to Ed Choice homepage here | Go to BrightToday.org website

The Rhode Island public school system is failing far too many students and families. Collectively, our schools yield one of the lowest values in New England and the nation when it comes to educational performance as compared with per pupil spending. The public recognizes this major problem for our state.

Bright Today FinalWhile some long-term reforms are underway, there remain tens of thousands of Ocean State families who do not have access to near-term solutions for their children and who do not have the luxury of waiting for promises about tomorrow’s reforms. The limited, current options available to parents in Rhode Island do not satisfy their demands for a quality education — today.

Our precious educational dollars can be more effectively utilized by empowering parents with the freedom to choose the best educational paths that will help their children learn and grow, while also brightening Rhode Island’s future. This is what the BRIGHT TODAY EDUCATIONAL CHOICE CAMPAIGN is all about.

Read the full policy brief.

Center Holds “ABCs of School Choice” Event in Honor of Milton Friedman

Know as the “father of school choice”, Milton Friedman was feted on July 31 in Providence on what would have been his 102nd birthday!

Because every child deserves a BRIGHT TODAY educational opportunity.

[button url=”http://www.rifreedom.org/ABC” target=”_self” size=”medium” style=”royalblue” ] More on the event [/button]

State of the State

Center’s CEO discusses the recently passed FY-2015 budget, BIG QUESTIONS for gubernatorial candidates, and the state of the state on “State of the State” cable TV.

[button url=”http://vimeo.com/channels/365354/99366876″ target=”_blank” size=”medium” style=”royalblue” ] Cable TV Interview [/button]

School Choice Survey in RI: Myths Dispelled

60% of Rhode Islanders give negative rating to RI’s public school system; 56% support school choice vouchers, including 62-63% of parents, youth and urbanites. It is a myth that school choice drains funds or the cream-of-the-crop student from public schools ….

[button url=”http://www.rifreedom.org/?p=9774″ target=”_self” size=”small” style=”royalblue” ]6 Myths Dispelled, Poll Results[/button]

The School Choice Idea in Rhode Island: Myths, Opinions, and Realities

60% of Rhode Islanders give negative rating to RI’s public school system; 56% support school choice vouchers, including 62-63% of parents, youth and urbanites.

Download Myths & Opinions Report (PDF)

2014 National Survey

Significant Poll Findings, 2013

  • Nearly three out of four voters in Rhode Island (72%) say they pay attention to issues in K-12 education.
  • Only 29% of Ocean State voters would choose a traditional public school as their first their family’s first choice for education
  • 56% of voters support school vouchers, which is significantly greater than the proportion opposed (33%). Even without a definition of any kind, support for vouchers is greater than opposition by a nearly two-to-one margin. (40% favor vs. 23% oppose)
  • The demographics most likely to favor vouchers are school parents (62%), urbanites (63%), Republicans (65%), conservatives (67%), young voters (62%), and low-income earners (63%). Liberals are the least likely to support (49%).
  • There is much higher support for vouchers with universal eligibility (62%), compared to the proportion who supports means-testing (32%).
  • Rhode Islanders are much more likely to say K-12 education has gotten off on the “wrong track” (52%), compared to the one-third of voters (32%) who say it is heading in the “right direction.”
  • Six out of ten respondents gave negative ratings to the state’s public school system. (35% said “good” or “excellent”; 60% said “fair” or “poor”)

Report Introduction

The public policy debate about school choice — about allowing Rhode Island’s children and their families the freedom to determine what educational approach best suits their needs — is coming to the Ocean State in a big way. As the public, the news media, and elected representatives begin the conversation, it is important that they start from a foundation of facts. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity therefore enters into the initial discussion:

  • A review of some of the common myths about school choice
  • A state-specific analysis of results from an opinion poll conducted in cooperation with the Friedman Foundation

The poll data shows that Rhode Islanders are displeased with the state of their education system and, more importantly, support reform policies strongly when they are explained.  Advocates for school choice should therefore be encouraged that many of the detractors’ arguments are myths.

For the complete polling data collected by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in cooperation with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, see here.

***

Read more about RI Families for School Choice at EdChoiceRI.org.

***

Excerpts from Media Release, 10/29/13

Providence, RI — Six out of ten Rhode Island respondents gave a negative rating to the state’s public school system, while support for school choice programs, including vouchers, has broad appeal that crosses political and ethnic boundaries, according to new survey of registered voters in the Ocean State.
.
“The broad appeal of school choice might best be exemplified by the poll’s findings that the top two groups giving a poor-or-fair opinion of public schools (80% of the black community and 79% of state Republicans) are not normally closely aligned when it comes to public policy”, said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “It must be our responsibility as state to ensure that all families are empowered with the choice to provide their children with a quality education that creates opportunities for a brighter future.”
.
The poll released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, in cooperation with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, found 56 percent of respondents favor vouchers, which allow parents to use a portion of their children’s state public education funding for private school tuition. Among African Americans, 76 percent support vouchers, while 54 percent of Democrats concur. The survey was conducted by Braun Research, Inc., which has been used by such research firms as Gallup Organization and the Pew Research Center.

Bryan Morillo Essay

Second Place Essay: 2013 “School Choice” Essay Contest – Bryan Morillo

See the Media Release here …

(July, 2013) Bryan Morillo is seventeen years old. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to Providence when he was three years old. Bryan graduated from Mount Pleasant High School, and is about to enroll at CCRI, where he wants to study political science and economics.

Bryan Morillo accepts his prizes as runner up in the 2013 Friedman Legacy Day School Choice Essay contest!

Bryan Morillo accepts his prizes as runner up in the 2013 Friedman Legacy Day School Choice Essay contest!

Bryan hopes to get involved in elected politics. He would like to see fewer policies that take away rights from the individual, and a return to the basic, limited principles of the Constitution. Bryan believes this will help people feel more empowered, rather than further empowering disconnected politicians and bureaucrats.

Bryan’s essay is below …

***

How school choice could have affected my life

As a graduate of the providence school system I understand, just as thousands of others understand, how lack of school choice can negatively affect an individual. Before I delve into what school choice means I first want to give insight into what I’ve experienced without it. Lack of school choice has far reaching effects as I have witnessed for myself. These effects range from: Higher dropout rates, lower test scores and a lack of motivation to succeed in life. These are all things that I personally can attest to.

Even though I was not born in Providence this is the city I was raised in. As I grew up in the Providence school system I have seen a great number of my peers drop out of school. Although they were not all similar in character or personality, nearly all of them had the same reason for leaving school. It was not relevant to what they wanted to do in life. The goals they had set up in life didn’t seem to be achievable through continuing school.

For the longest time I too did not see the relevance of school in my life. The reality was that as I left middle school I was presented with 4 public schools as a choice. Any private school was either too far or too expensive for me to attend. So I resigned myself to Mount Pleasant High School. I felt no urge to push myself to do better in anything academically. I knew I could simply do just enough to get by and so I did.

All public schools in Providence have pretty much the same curriculum and thus do not have much difference except in faculty and location. Furthermore the curriculum presented no serious challenge, making it easy to simply go through the motions of showing and filling whatever sheet you were handed. The classes were either not necessary or inconsequential. Not to mention the variety in classes to choose from was nonexistent. You got the classes the guidance office gave you, end of story. In hindsight it was quite easy for me to want to drop out of school because school didn’t anything like what the real world would offer.

In the end I graduated high school unprepared for the real world and with no sense of accomplishment. It had become apparent to me that anything useful I picked up came from outside of school. It seemed that the school system made education more difficult to receive by failing to provide the student with what they need instead of what the curriculum desired. So it was the lack of availability in schools that condemned the students of providence to an attitude of “sit at home and collect a check.”.

However when you introduce true school choice to the situation you can deal with a plethora of problems. People wouldn’t have to resign themselves to the status quo if they knew they could achieve more. Not just more out of their school but in life in general. The ability to go to a school that better suited the student not only would reduce the dropout rate, because they are doing what they want to do, but also give them the motivation to push harder because there would be other students there striving to be the best. Students wouldn’t see testing as an annoyance but rather as a gauge of their abilities. The school system would succeed where it has previously failed for years and all it would take is to simply give students a say in where they want to go.

This would also carry well into college because now, a fresh batch of high school graduates, all of whom are well trained in their skill of choice would be entering into the halls of universities and colleges with an entirely different mindset than the previous generation. A larger percent now having an idea of what they want to do in life or what their career of choice will be. Colleges will be able to better perform their jobs because the high schools did theirs. In turn producing a generation of motivated individuals who have a sense of not only identity but purpose.

All of this does not have to remain speculation. The truth is that if this could be implemented the youth of Providence would be changed forever but for that to happen people must for first care for the youth of Providence. As a member of People United For Change I can speak for everyone by saying we care. It’s simply a matter of others caring too. Caring for the community and caring for the future as well. This is what school choice means to me. 

School Choice Essay Contest Winners

Read Tiffany’s essay here …  Read Bryan’s essay here …  Listen to Tiffany and Bryan on the Helen Glover Radio Show 920WHJJ-AM

Media Release: July 31, 2013

Providence, RI — In celebrating “Friedman Legacy Day 2013”, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity will award prizes today to Tiffany Rezendes and Bryan Morillo, the top two essayists in a private essay contest it conducted with the youth-run empowerment organization, People United For Change, based in the Wiggins Village section of Providence.

Friedman Legacy Day is an annual celebration of the life and work of Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize winning economist and one of the early pioneers of school choice in America. Today would have been Friedman’s 101st birthday.

Tiffany Rezendes and Bryan Morillo were announced as the top two essayist in the 2013 Milton Friedman Legacy Day Essay Contest celebration. Thanks to People United for Change for partnering with our Center.

Tiffany Rezendes and Bryan Morillo were announced as the top two essayist in the 2013 Milton Friedman Legacy Day Essay Contest celebration. Thanks to People United for Change for partnering with our Center.

Essayists were asked to write about how school choice has, or may have, made a difference in their lives or in someone they know. Both winners attended Providence district schools and each will receive an IPad donated by a Board member of the Center.

“A major assertion of Milton Friedman was echoed as a common theme in the personal essays we received; namely, that poor families are most affected by a lack of school choice,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the Center. “He believed that residents of low-income neighborhoods, more than any other population, are disadvantaged as to the quality of schooling they can get for their children.”

Rezendes, 20, wrote about how one of her closest friends dropped out of high school due to a lack of a challenging curriculum in her Providence school, with no option to choose a school that was better suited to her interests, and how “she just gave up once she found out she wasn’t accepted into Classical because all her hopes of having a great education had to be lowered to settle for a below average school experience.”

Morillo, 17, discussed how lack of choice in schools “condemned the students of providence (sic) to an attitude of ‘sit at home and collect a check’ … ” because of a curriculum that left many “unprepared for the real world”, and “making it easy to simply go through the motions …”

People United for Change is a youth-run organization based at Wiggins Village in Providence, focused on empowering people to bring about positive and meaningful change, through unity, to the city of Providence and the state of Rhode Island.

Read Tiffany’s essay here …

Read Bryan’s essay here …

ABOUT the Contest

The School Choice Essay Contest asked students to write about how school choice could have positively affected their life, or someone close to them. Essays were scored from 1-10 in each of four categories: emotional appeal, realism, defense of school choice, and quality of writing. Each of the five judges read and scored each essay.

JUDGING PANEL

Dr. Angela Dills, PhD – Economics Professor, Providence College. Doctor Dills has championed school choice for several years through research and speaking.

Matthew Fabisch – Attorney, Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil Rights. Matt has worked extensively on the legality and principles surrounding school choice.

Creusa Michelazzo – Providence-based small business owner. Macremi specializes in PR, production, and community/business development.

Akash Chougule – Outreach Coordinator, RI Center for Freedom. Akash conducts the Center’s youth outreach to state and national liberty organizations.

Tyler Tassinari – Student, Arizona State University and Center Intern. Tyler is spending his summer doing school choice research for the Center.

School Choice Essay Contest Winners

In celebrating “Friedman Legacy Day 2013″, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is pleased to announce the winners for the top two essayists in a private essay contest it conducted with the youth-run empowerment organization, People United For Change.

[button url=”http://www.rifreedom.org/?p=9364″ target=”_self” size=”small” style=”royalblue” ]Read The Essays …[/button]

Tiffany Rezendes Essay

Winning Essay: 2013 “School Choice” Essay Contest – Tiffany Rezendes

See the Media Release here …

(July, 2013) Tiffany Rezendes is twenty years old. Tiffany was born and raised in Providence and educated in the Providence public school system. Unlike many of her friends, who dropped out under-performing schools, Tiffany was accepted to and graduated from Classical High School.

Tiffany Rezendes poses with her IPad prize as winner of Friedman Legacy Day 2013 School Choice Essay Contest winner!

Tiffany Rezendes poses with her IPad prize as winner of Friedman Legacy Day 2013 School Choice Essay Contest winner!

She now studies liberal arts and psychology at CCRI. After college, she wants to do whatever will do the most to help people in her community. She is considering ministry because she believes that empowering people religiously will make the biggest, most positive impact on all other areas of people’s lives.

Her winning essay is below …

***

School choice

School choice was never really an issue of interest to me for two reasons. One reason was that I had no idea what school choice even meant. I was never taught that the possibility existed for students to choose the school they wanted to go to regardless of where they live or of their family’s economic status. I was always taught that when it came to school you either found a way to come up with the money to pay for the good schools (Moses Brown, LaSalle Academy), was smart enough to get into the charter schools and college prep schools or to just settle for the public school closest to your house. The second reason why school choice was never important to me was that I had the opportunity to attend Classical High school, so I didn’t have to worry about being sent to just any public school in my area, I was already at one of the best schools in Rhode Island. However, to my dismay this wasn’t the reality for many of my friends, who had no other choice but to choose one of the below average public schools.

It isn’t surprising that on the list of the top schools in Rhode Island not one Providence public school (Mt. Pleasant, Hope, Central) is listed (U.S.News & World Report LP.). The top school on the list is Classical high school, which you take a test to get into, and the only other school on the list from Providence is Times2 Academy, which is a charter school, which you have to be chosen from a lottery to get into. This leaves the “choice” for students to be really no choice at all. You either get into one of the “smart” schools, pay to go to the good schools, or settle for the many below average public schools. A choice would mean that all students regardless of geographical location, economic status, or level of intelligence would have the opportunity to attend an institution where they know they can receive top-notch instruction from teachers who truly care about their educational success.

Many of my friends and fellow junior high classmates were there with me on the day of the Classical test. And sadly I can say that many of them were not accepted and because there is no school choice in Rhode Island they were forced to choose one of the local public schools in their district. And to further this point it pains me to say that I found out that two of them that I knew of dropped out of high school because they lost interest and motivation. I’m going to focus on one of these people for this essay.

My best friend Jess attended three Providence public schools within just the time span of her freshman year of high school. She went to these schools because they were the only options presented to her. I can imagine how demoralizing it must have been for her to not be able to attend the school she wanted (Classical) and then have to settle for one of the low standard public schools which everyone knows have horrible ratings when it comes to test scores and graduation rates. I strongly believe that if Jess had the opportunity to choose one of the top schools like Moses Brown or LaSalle, she would have graduated and would have been in college now. Jess was willing to work hard if she was put in an environment that would challenge her, but I think she just gave up once she found out she wasn’t accepted into Classical because all her hopes of having a great education had to be lowered to settle for a below average school experience.

In Providence the mindset of the youth is pretty much that, if you want a good education you have to get into Classical and if you can’t do that than your next best option is one of the charter schools because no one can afford the private schools. Everyday students are making decisions to drop out because of the lack of excitement to learn in their classes, the lack of creativity with which classes are taught, the outdated information being fed to them, and teachers who don’t care enough.

School choice solves these problems not only by giving students the opportunity to attend high achieving institutions and an equal chance at a good education, but it also causes competition among the local schools which will cause them to improve. If those low scoring schools have no students they will be forced to improve their curriculum, making it more relevant and interesting to the students and also to only hire and keep teachers who are well qualified and who really care about the education of their students.

I strongly believe that school choice plays a pivotal role in changing our broken school system into one that will thrive and become more relevant, inspiring, encouraging, challenging, and one that will better prepare its students for whatever they decide to pursue after high school whether that means entering the workforce, becoming an entrepreneur or entering a post secondary institution. There is no excuse that can explain why statistics show that so many Providence public school students score below average in math, reading and writing and upon entering college have to retake basic remedial classes, which they should have already been taught in high school. I know a lot of people, myself included, who have no idea why we must take these basic math, english, and history classes again if this is material that we were expected to master in high school. Year and year again students are taught the same information, yet still do not understand it. Why? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that information is not being taught, its being crammed in, rushed through and passed over. Students aren’t being challenged to learn through application and critical thinking, but rather being taught to simply memorize facts in order to pass tests and then forget the information. And even though I attended Classical high school, “the best school in Rhode Island” I still rarely had the experience of being able to critically think and apply what I was learning.

The question before us now is not whether school choice could change people’s lives but rather when will we allow this change to take place? It is clear that school choice will make a difference, but are we going to give it a chance? Obviously it is clear that I believe we should, and I know many people who also agree. Will you join me in giving every student an equal opportunity to pursue an educational experience that will actually do what it is supposed to? High schools that will turn students into informed citizens, equipped with the necessary knowledge to make them capable of walking their path to success regardless of where that path may lead. 

Second-Year Report Card: Lack of Bold Action = Lack of Improvement

Related Links: 2012 Report Card

It isn’t surprising that a year of no bold legislative or executive action to free the Rhode Island economy or education system from its shackles, or to lighten the heavy hand of government, was a year of no significant improvement in the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s annual Report Card on RI Competitiveness.

What changes the Ocean State saw in the report card’s ten major categories came in large part due to changes of the subcategories, a technical change in the Center’s methodology, and tiny shifts that were able to cross a line into a new letter grade.  In 2012, Rhode Island had five grades of F, two of D-, two of D, and one of D+. In 2013, the tally is three of F, four of D-, one of D, and two of D+. (One of the lost Fs was purely a change in the method of ranking states.)

The sheer number of below-average grades does much to explain Rhode Island’s continuing economic decline and population exodus.

“For all the talk last year about the positive legislative steps we supposedly took, the state’s dismal grade point average has barely moved”, said the Center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse. “We’ve all seen the depressing headlines, but when compiled into a single report, the report card shows how poor public policy is strangling economic opportunities for families in our state.”

The report card organizes 53 national rankings into the following major categories:

  • Tax Burden (D-)
  • Business Climate (F)
  • Spending & Debt (D-)
  • Employment & Income (D-)
  • K-12 Education (D+)
  • Energy (D+)
  • Infrastructure (F)
  • Public Sector (D)
  • Health Care (D-)
  • Living & Retiring in RI (F)

Whether the decision is thoroughly researched or simply based on impressions, these are the categories on which the Ocean State is judged when businesses and individuals make important decisions about their lives and their economic well-being. Having the information all in one place may be discouraging, but it gives those with a vested interest in the health of the State of Rhode Island clear guidelines for what problems must be addressed.