Education Analysis: RI and National Test Score Trends, Steam Runs Out on Reform

Judging by trends visible using the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s online, interactive tool to compare scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, Rhode Island’s period of education reform produced some improvements, but they appear to have hit a political ceiling.

Key findings show that for Rhode Island students:

  • Previous performance improvements from earlier in the 2000s have flat-lined in recent years
  • Overall performance is worst among all New England states
  • Hispanic performance is last among New England states
  • Low income student performance is also last in this region
  • As a group, states with relatively strong school choice options improved in 2013 among every demographic group, whereas Rhode Island either lost ground or didn’t gain any.

Click here to read the more details about the findings.

BrightToday Campaign Launch – Media Release

January 12, 2015
Diverse Coalition Launches School Choice Campaign
Center Publishes “The Case for Educational Choice”
Only 29% would choose a government-run school
Providence, RI — With few options available for families of an unacceptably high number of public school students who are failed by a sub-standard public educational system in Rhode Island, a diverse coalition of school reform advocates launched today a long-term educational choice public policy campaign. The nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, for its part, published The Case for Expanded Educational Choice, a paper that includes national research and the collective perspective of the coalition partners.

The main tenets of the coalition initiative, named the “Bright Today Educational Choice” campaign, are that no child should be condemned to attend a failing school; that every family should feel confident that their children can dream of a bright future; that no child should have to wait for tomorrow’s reform promises; and that every child deserves an education of their family’s choice – today.

A dedicated campaign website can be viewed at

According to the paper, with the supply of existing school choice programs in the Ocean State not adequately meeting high parental demand for choice; and with public opinion recognizing the shortcomings of the government-run school system, the coalition suggests the time is now for Rhode Island to empower parents with new options to choose a proper educational path for their children. In a 2013 poll, only 29% of Rhode Islanders indicated they would select a regular public school as their first choice.

The Center joins a growing coalition, currently comprised of the nationally renownedFriedman Foundation for Educational Choice, as well as number of local groups, including Rhode Island Families for School Choice, FACE of Rhode Island, theRoosevelt Society, the Gaspee Project, RI Catholic Schools Parents Federation, and the Providence Hebrew Day School. The size and breadth of the coalition is expected to rapidly increase in the coming months. The Center also announced that Gertrude Jones andLuis Vargas will serve as community outreach advisers for the Bright Today campaign.

Gertrude Jones

Jones, a diversity advocate and former Lifespan executive and President of the Providence School Board, said “take the time to review the definition of insanity, and then ask yourself why we keep educating our children with the same system while expecting different results. Educational choice creates real freedom for families and can give Rhode Island’s children a fighting chance at lifelong success.”.

The Bright Today coalition will announce specific policy solutions in the coming weeks and expects to have bi-partisan legislative support in the Rhode Island General Assembly for a package of related bills. Further, RI Families for School Choice will host its annual school choice Legislative Reception at the Statehouse on the afternoon of January 29, as part of the National School Choice Week celebration.

“At the end of the day, we have to realize that we have failed to provide our children with an education that will translate to real-world success. It is time for us to empower parents and then, as so many other states have seen, watch as our children thrive in an educational environment that matches their unique learning needs,” commented Vargas, a 2014 candidate for General Assembly in South Providence and successful product of school choice himself.

The Center expects to release a number of education studies and transparency tools in the coming months, including a study on Rhode Islanders’ already high propensity to choose private schools; a demographic study on long-term spending pressures; an interactive tool to compare performance of RI K-12 students with other states; and a financial modeling tool that will estimate the revenue effect of specific school choice policies.

Parents or individuals wishing to stay informed about or become involved with the campaign, should register at the RI Families or School Choice website, The Center has also set up an educational choice home page on its website that can be viewed

Media Contact:
Mike Stenhouse, CEO
401.429.6115 |
About the Center
The nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is Rhode Island’s premiere free-enterprise think tank. The mission of the 501c3 nonprofit organization is to return government to the people by opposing special-interest politics and advancing proven free-market solutions that can transform lives by restoring economic competitiveness, increasing educational opportunities, and protecting individual freedoms.

Why More Educational Choice Options are Needed in Rhode Island

The government school system is failing for to many Ocean State students. Every family should have hope that their child can hope for a bright educational future – TODAY!

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The Case for Expanded Educational Choice in Rhode Island

Return to Ed Choice homepage here | Go to 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=”” 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=”″ 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=”″ 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


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.


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.