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State senators discuss education accountability, reform at 2024 education summit – The Brown Daily Herald

Panelists ranging from Brown researchers to former public school students spoke Monday evening about state and school accountability at the R.I. Senate Education Summit, an event hosted by the Community College of Rhode Island and moderated by State Senators Sandra Cano (D-Pawtucket) and Hanna Gallo (D-Cranston, West Warwick).

Kelvin Roldán, the deputy commissioner for System Transformation at the Rhode Island Department of Education, overviewed RIDE’s approaches to measuring and improving student success through “students first” strategic plans and a student advisory council that he said helps to identify difficult-to-measure student needs.

“Across the board, Rhode Island schools are not up to the standards of their Massachusetts peers,” said John Papay, an associate professor of education and economics and the director of Brown’s Annenberg Institute. This disparity persists even in wealthier districts, indicating issues in the state’s education system beyond funding disparities, he added. 

Papay emphasized the need for urgency in the wake of pandemic-era educational challenges, pointing to — which statewide standardized testing, created charter schools and made funding changes meant to reduce wealth disparities between districts — as an example Rhode Island should follow. He also noted the importance of post-secondary preparation and the necessity of pairing accountability with financial support to schools.


Accountability is “not just about pinning blame,” said Michael DiBiase, the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a non-profit research organization that focuses on public policy. Emphasizing accountability allows community leaders to recognize successes while improving the education system, he said.

The current accountability system is “fragmented” between school commissions and the state Board of Education, DiBiase said, pointing to the abundance of decision-making bodies that lack cohesive action. He advocated for centralized education policy instead, proposing a state cabinet position to replace the current commission system.

“As a state, we’re actually relatively generous with our funding,” DiBiase said. But, added, the higher state average conceals large gaps between districts, and the state lacks significant investment in school improvement.

Ramona Santos Torres, the executive director of Parents Leading for Educational Equity, emphasized personal commitment as a core tenant of accountability. The problem “is that we are not co-creating with families,” said Santos Torres. “The worst thing we can have … is a space where you feel your voice doesn’t matter.”

During a question-and-answer segment, Santos Torres emphasized that, when aiming for parental engagement, it is vital that the parents’ comments are not only heard, but heeded. 

Desiree Delgado-Pedraza, a 2022 graduate of Central Falls High School, spoke about her experience as a student during the pandemic. She discussed how she saw her friends disappear, exiting the school system entirely. Delgado-Pedraza also shared accounts of homelessness and teen pregnancy beyond a lack of state resources to support students. 

Delgado-Pedraza, who attends Rhode Island College, credited her ability to attend college in part to the help of a seventh grade teacher, who steered her toward a path to academic success. But she said she still felt unprepared for college, lacking academic resources due to insufficient funding at her high school.

Representatives from a variety of activist organizations also attended the summit. 

Jessica Vega, a member of the child advocacy organization , mentioned a proposed bill that would allow student members of the Rhode Island Council on Elementary and Secondary Education — a statewide organization that makes curricular decisions — to vote on council decisions. The State Senate will hear Bill on Wednesday.

The education summit will reconvene in the fall before the next legislative session.