ERIKA SANZI – Parents deserve information about the performance of their child’s school

ERIKA SANZI – Parents deserve information about the performance of their child’s school

Parents receive multiple report cards for their children during the course of the school year and the information is valuable, but limited. We get a sense of our child’s performance in each school subject and an indication of the number of days they’ve been tardy or absent, but this snapshot tells of how our own student is doing but tells us nothing about the overall performance of the school they attend.

In a packed room at a Providence elementary school on a Saturday morning in July, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee stepped to the microphone and said, “we are not being honest with parents.” It was the final community forum hosted by new state education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza in the wake of the Johns Hopkins damning report on the Providence Schools. McKee went on to propose, for the first time publicly, annual report cards for schools. The idea is simple but potentially game-changing. The basic gist is that every parent in the state would receive an annual report about how well their child’s specific school is doing — not the district as a whole but their individual school. The information would be presented in simple form, free of education jargon, and include the following:

• The percentage of students in the school who read and write on grade level
• The percentage of students in the school who do math on grade level
• The absenteeism rates for students and teachers

There is other important information — perhaps about special education or school safety — that could also potentially be included. Part of McKee’s proposal is that parents would have to sign off on having seen the report, whether at a presentation at the school or through targeted outreach.

There is a well-documented disconnect between parents’ perceptions of their children’s school and what the data says.

Learning Heroes co-founder Cindi Williams captures it perfectly when she says, “There is a Grand Canyon-size gap between what parents are told about their children’s learning and what the school knows to be true.” She further illustrates this point when she lays out the following contradictory statements:

• Only 37 percent of 4th-graders are proficient in reading, and 40 percent in math.
• Almost 90 percent of all parents, irrespective of race, income, geography or education level, are confident that their child is at or above grade level in reading and math.
• 84 percent of parents rate their child’s school as excellent or pretty good.

In Rhode Island, 34 percent of students read and write on grade level. That number drops to 27 percent in math.

Five states have already begun providing school report cards to parents —Rhode Island is not one of them. On the contrary, we have zero direct accountability to families built into our state education system. Parents do not have easy access to the full picture and that has led, at least in part, to the persistent misconception that high marks on a child’s report card are an indication that the child is meeting state benchmarks in math and reading, even though most are not.
McKee was right when he said, “We aren’t being honest with parents.” His proposal for school report cards is a smart and meaningful way to change that.

Erika Sanzi is a former educator and school committee member who writes about education and blogs at Good School Hunting.


Erika’s idea of report cards for schools is a good start to clearing up some misconceptions that parents have about schools. Especially in the past year, the RICAS results news have painted with wide brushes over some key data that parents should be aware of. This is especially true in the charter world where a handful of very strong charter schools obscured that many charters performed quite poorly in the state, even compared to their sending districts. There has been a narrative recently that charter automatically equals better and this is dishonest to the parents who are applying to charters and sending their children believing that it is a better education. All schools in RI need to do better but when deciding where to send a child, often the neighborhood school is a better academic choice.

Highlander Charter had 15% proficiency in English and 9% in Math. This is lower than ALL elementary schools in Pawtucket (the lowest ELA score was 19 and the lowest Math was 16) and significantly lower than many of those schools (Varieur: 45, 38. Potter-Burns: 41, 33. Curtis: 36, 38. Greene 29, 32) See WPRI story on all of the results.

International Charter sits directly next to Varieur and has a similar population, yet while Varieur had scores of 45 and 38, International had 32 and 22.

Looking at Providence shows the same results with schools like Highlander and Paul Cuffee (15, 19) drastically underperforming many Providence Public Schools (remember: these are the same schools that are struggling with management, crumbling school buildings, poor morale… we have read the stories and heard that the commissioner wouldn’t send her children to any of these schools.) Remember those charter numbers and then here are three Providence Public Schools: Vartan: 49, 35. Reservoir: 42, 32. Kennedy: 35, 27. It is easier to latch onto a narrative and run with it and "Providence Public Schools are all in crisis" is a strong narrative.

These charter school parents and applicants have a right to know that, although their school has been given the freedom and flexibility to put more teachers in the classroom, extend the school day, and set many other parameters including parent contracts, and uniforms, much of this is window dressing. Their neighborhood school may be a better academic choice. I applaud Erika’s suggestion that we look deeper and are more honest with parents. Parents who apply to a charter school should be presented with these numbers to make informed decisions that go beyond broad strokes in the media.

Rhode Island’s education system has been behind the eight ball for centuries. Yes, centuries. Expectations are low.