People today are lightning-quick to point out when government conducts business incorrectly or fails to react to changing conditions within our society – especially since it is so easy to do so from your armchair or couch on a social media platform without contributing anything of value yourself.
We find it is much less common for government to receive praise when they do things right. While some may argue that government organizations don’t deserve credit for simply not screwing up, we subscribe to the belief that good deeds merit credit just as bad deeds merit scrutiny. This is why we’re taking the time to applaud the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for their attempts to modernize public education in the state.
For a long time, a perception had existed – especially in places like New England – that “smart kids” went to private, four-year colleges after high school and “everyone else” wound up in community college or working a trade with only a high school diploma, if that, to their name. Trade schools and vocational schools were considered largely for the “troubled” kids who didn’t fit the framework of traditional public schools.
Today, many states are reversing this perception, and Rhode Island is certainly among them leading the charge. They are doing this through good, old-fashioned government programming, primarily the Prepare Rhode Island (PrepareRI) initiative, which was started by Governor Gina Raimondo in 2015 to stimulate job growth in in-demand fields, such as manufacturing, engineering and computer science, by preparing students to work in these industries.
According to RIDE Commissioner Ken Wagner, since 2015 the state has increased its number of career and technical education programs by 56 percent, with a total of 203 approved programs. Through their advocacy of student choice, students can attend any one of these programs, regardless of where they live, for no extra cost to them and their families.
The impact of the availability of programming may not be immediately seen, however it will allow students to explore different industries and passions early on in their high school career, which can have possibly life-changing implications on a child who is otherwise unsure of what they might want to do for a career. Tangibly, in just one field, the state has seen the number of students completing college-level computer science coursework increase from 100 to more than 1,500 since 2015.
In addition, the state is taking its commitment to public higher education more seriously, increasing funding to the Community College of Rhode Island and piloting the relatively inexpensive “Rhode Island Promise” program last fall in which full-time teenage students could attend CCRI for free. Combine this with increasing the number of AP opportunities to receive college credits and expanding opportunities for high schoolers to take college courses at public universities for free, and the chances for kids to get ahead and excel have never been better.
Once a student has been trained in a career program other state programs, such as Real Jobs RI or a newly-launched internship program through RIDE, step in to provide a pipeline for these newly trained workers to get working in their fields right away and make connections that can lead to established careers. This is beneficial not only to students in need of jobs, but to the state economy as well.
RIDE does not seem poised to call it “Mission Accomplished” just yet, either, as they are now looking ahead to figure out better ways to prepare aspiring educators through better, more in-demand offerings at the collegiate level and better professional development opportunities once they get into the field. They are actively seeking input from current educators and administrators on the best way to go about this – a kind of symbiosis that is so wonderful to see in state government.
While we do not to believe that RIDE is infallible, we think such examples as outlined above and in a recent Op-Ed penned by Wagner showcase a department that is striving to make a positive difference, and in doing so are doing right by taxpayers. Wagner, himself, has proven to be a pragmatic and passionate advocate for educational advancement in the state, and the preliminary results of his short tenure are already bearing fruit.
We will keep an eye on the future, however when it comes to the success of our students and, by extension, the success of our state, nobody should be on the sidelines frowning and hoping that RIDE does anything but continue to succeed in their mission.