ARLENE VIOLET - Newcomers, absenteeism killing education in Providence schools

ARLENE VIOLET - Newcomers, absenteeism killing education in Providence schools

There was a Feb. 15 article in the Providence Journal by Linda Borg that should cause all citizens to shake their collective heads. Providence Superintendent of Schools Christopher Maher announced a five-year plan. His goals were as follows: To raise English proficiency from 20 to 33 percent, math from 14 to 25 percent, and to cut teacher absenteeism from 58 to 54 percent. Say what?

What is heaven’s name is going on with a 58 percent teacher absentee rate (defined as 11 or more days absent)? Traditionally, Providence has had the shortest school days of all the districts. No wonder the academic scores are woeful. Superintendent Maher has to cease being a pussy cat and turn into a roaring lion demanding accountability of teachers on the payroll. It should start with showing up for work!

Whether you live in Providence or not you should be outraged. All taxpayers have the “touch” put on them. More importantly, however, is the social justice issue involved here. A lot of folks care about the education of the poor. There cannot be any progress with helping them as long as the teachers are changing as often as people change their socks.

Mr. Maher noted that between 2010-2015 Providence experienced a 54 percent increase in the number of non-English speaking students. How much longer can these numbers grow without totally overwhelming the system, particularly with the lack of continuity of teachers? The schools are a glorified dumping ground. The problem is intractable as long as the mayor and education leaders ignore the elephant in the room, i.e. missing teachers.

Fortunately, I must know the “good guys” i.e. the 42 percent of teachers who do their jobs every day. Some have told me that many of the non-English students have parents who are illiterate even in their own language. Some of these children never attended school where they came from. They don’t stand a chance of full integration unless at a minimum they have continuity.

How can it be that this state of absenteeism is tolerated and that the “goal” of the top educator in the city is to still have more than half of the teachers still “missing in action” in five years? Apparently, the leaders in Providence, including the School Committee, haven’t the guts to take on the teachers’ union. You see little appetite at the Statehouse to do so, either. It is sickening to hear the rhetoric out of Smith Hill about how they care about the downtrodden and the poor immigrant while they turn a blind eye to the travesty of their education.

The ultimate irony is that sometimes the “do-gooders” chastise people like Terry Gorman who advocates for a curtailment of illegal immigrants until the school department can wrap its arms around the educational reforms necessary. The reality is that he cares more for their education than his detractors who wink at the absenteeism and the tyranny of low expectations, as evidenced by the superintendent’s “goals.”

All Providence children are being gypped by the chronic absenteeism. Since Providence leaders lack the gumption to demand accountability, hopefully readers of this column who care about kids will contact their legislators demanding that reform takes place.

Violet is an attorney and former attorney general.