State of the Student Policy Recommendations
Teaching and Learning
Students would be more engaged in school if lessons were taught more creatively. Specifically, we need:
- More project-based learning. Projects are fun and interesting and force students to think and come up with answers for themselves.
- More hands-on learning. Lots of students learn best when they can actually do something.
- More group activities. Group activities help us learn how to work and learn together.
- More discussions and debates in class. Engaging in dialogue is more exciting and more worthwhile than just listening to a lecture, and it lets us learn from each other!
In order to accomplish this, the Commissioner of Education should focus on:
- Giving our teachers more flexibility. Many teachers want to teach in these creative ways, but are held back by standardized curricula and an obsessive focus on test scores.
- Providing teachers with professional development to help them teach in these ways. Some teachers want to be more creative, but need help learning how. Other teachers might not recognize why this is important, so we need to show them.
- Decreasing class sizes. It is always harder to have real discussions, projects, and hands-on learning when there are too many students crammed into one room!
We need a broader curriculum that gives us the same opportunities that students at high-income schools receive! Specifically, we need:
- A real fine arts education, including opportunities to delve into painting, drawing, creative writing, poetry, music and theater. We also need more electives, and electives should count as credits-right now, if students fail two courses, they lose most elective opportunities.
- More technology classes, including basic computer skills (which many students don’t have) and also more advanced computer skills, which are necessary in a changing modern world.
School Buildings, Supplies and Transportation
We need schools that we can feel comfortable and safe in, and that we can actually get to. We need:
- Schools that meet basic standards of human decency. That means no more leaky roofs, no more pests, and enough books and equipment for everyone to have what they need to perform in class.
- Free public transportation for all students who need it to get to school.
In order to accomplish this (and other proposals), the Commissioner should focus on:
- Enacting a new funding formula that does not short-change low-income districts. While the recently-enacted funding formula was an improvement, it still does not provide close to the resources we need.
- Re-allocating the $75 million from Race to the Top so that it actually goes to schools and classrooms and helps students, instead of being wasted on consultants and contracts and more standardized testing!
We need an assessment system that actually measures what students know and can do, that challenges students to be their best, and that does not narrow the scope of our education. Specifically, we urge:
- Rhode Island to consider implementing a performance-based assessment system like that used by the New York Performance Standards Consortium, requiring students to prove their knowledge through multiple performance-based assessment tasks that show oral and written skill, including an analytic literary essay, an applied math project, an original science experiment showing understanding of the scientific method, and a history research paper showing valid use of argument and evidence.