Equitable Access

Ensuring all Rhode Island students are taught and supported by excellent educators

“As we work to improve teaching and learning in every school and classroom, we recognize from data we have collected that our highest-poverty school districts face special challenges in recruiting and retaining excellent educators. The Rhode Island Equity Plan aims to take on this issue directly by improving data collection on teacher quality, developing statewide strategies for sharing best practices, and providing targeted support for teachers working in our highest-poverty schools.” - Education Commissioner Ken Wagner
Posted by: Lauren Matlach on 12/19/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Nikos Giannopoulos
2017 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year

Many say that teaching is a thankless job. I think anyone who has ever taught knows that that’s simply not true. Students and families appreciate when teachers go above and beyond expectations and they are often generous with praise and appreciation. These school/family partnerships are what make teaching such a truly fulfilling and special career.

On the other hand, schools are lively institutions with many individuals working toward a common goal. Sometimes, hardworking teachers may feel that their work goes unnoticed by administration, fellow educators, or the communities in which they serve. In order to support our innovative educators, we must foster an environment that nurtures their best characteristics and recognizes exceptional work. We must all continue—as parents, community members, fellow educators, and leaders—to find opportunities to recognize our state’s exceptional educators.

In my role as Rhode Island Teacher of the Year, much of the most rewarding work I’ve done has been supporting educator recognition efforts. The NBC 10 Golden Apple Awards are a local institution - almost every student, teacher, and parent has seen these brilliant educators publically recognized on prime time television. This year, I have been privileged to read the nomination letters and visit the classrooms of these distinguished teachers. Though they come from schools all over the state and teach a variety of subjects, the one thing they all have in common is that they lead classrooms that are innovative, rigorous, supportive, and joyful. I am consistently struck by how much of an impact an individual educator can have on a school, their students, and their community. Highlighting those who have pushed themselves to be the best they can be for their students, the Golden Apple Awards are an affirmation that everyone benefits from high quality teaching.

On September 24, 2016 Waterfire Providence and the Rhode Island Department of Education co-hosted the annual Salute to Rhode Island Educators. This gathering serves as an annual awards ceremony for the State Teacher of the Year, the District Teachers of the Year, Milken Educators of the Year, Presidential Award winners and many, many others. Beyond the awards, the night is meant to celebrate all Rhode Island educators. On this night, I was honored to be able to address my peers, my colleagues, and all Rhode Island educators. My message was one of gratitude. As a special education inclusion teacher, my work is dependent upon collaborating with other talented educators. We are all important members of the same team, striving for the same goal. When we recognize greatness in education, we elevate and strengthen the entire profession.

In one of the more unique moments of the evening, Barnaby Evans, the creator of Waterfire, brought over a container full of glowing blue objects.  He called these creations “dream orbs”. We were told to think about our dreams for a brighter future and gently toss them into the basin of Waterplace Park. As I prepared to toss mine in, I kept in mind the incredible educators that I’ve met from around the state. I thought about the students, young and old, from diverse backgrounds and communities who came out to support their teachers. I thought about how in one year’s time, one of the teachers standing with me would be the next Rhode Island Teacher of the Year and how their school community would rally behind them and support them through the journey ahead. I smiled, knowing how fortunate I am to live in this beautiful state, full of talented educators, and a community that values their efforts. Feeling overwhelming positivity about the future of education in our special little state, I released the glowing orb into the water and looked forward to celebrating again next year!

For more information about the Rhode Island Teacher of the Year program and how you can help, please click here.


Posted by: Lauren Matlach on 9/29/2016 | [PRC_COMMENTCOUNT] Comments

Carrie Appel & Lauren Matlach
RIDE Education Specialists

Think about your workplace.  What time is available for you plan projects and collaborate with others?  What is the quality of the facilities in which you work and the resources available to you to ensure you can do your job well?  How effective are your leaders and managers at creating trusting and caring environments so people want to do their best work?  Finally, how does the quality of these conditions affect your performance and your interest in continuing to work there long-term?

When talking about educators we refer to their working conditions as teaching and learning conditions. And they matter! We know from research that teaching conditions can influence teachers’ effectiveness, satisfaction with their jobs, motivation, and productiveness.  These same teaching conditions that affect teachers also affect their students: student conduct, educator autonomy, professional development quality, and time available for planning and collaboration are all predictive of student learning gains and student perceptions of support and rigor.

When RIDE sought stakeholder input into the development of the state’s equity plan, stakeholders identified multiple potential root causes of an inequitable distribution of educators in our state that are related to teaching and learning conditions: insufficient or low quality professional learning, induction and coaching; limited career paths and leadership opportunities; insufficient resources, including facility quality and support for enrichment; and school leadership.  Since then, RIDE and local districts have begun multiple efforts to better understand and address teaching and learning conditions.

Earlier this year, RIDE staff member Carrie Appel and representatives from Providence and Woonsocket school districts attended a full-day session hosted by the Northeast Comprehensive Center and the Center for Great Teachers and Leaders that was focused on research-based strategies for improving teaching conditions.  After the session, each district worked with RIDE to develop a survey instrument to administer to schools about teaching and learning conditions within their districts.  In June, each district shared its progress and attended additional professional learning focused on leadership, professional development, progress monitoring, stakeholder engagement, and communications.  As a follow up, RIDE and the Northeast Comprehensive Center co-facilitated a professional learning session for principals in Providence on August 30.  During the session, participating school leaders learned about key research related to teaching conditions, reviewed district-specific data, and developed action plans for their schools. 

Teaching and learning conditions matter. They matter to educators and they matter to students. Consider a scenario where a first-year teacher works in school that is in physical disrepair and lacks sufficient materials and technology.  Although the teacher is committed to her students, she is overwhelmed.  There is little time for her to develop relationships and learn from her colleagues, and she has no mentor or coach to provide support.  And so it begs the question: will this teacher stay at this school or look elsewhere to teach?

Or will she give up on the profession altogether?



Lauren Matlach
RIDE Education Specialist

“80 percent of success is showing up.” ~Woody Allen

Showing up isn't everything, and it might not even be 80 percent of success, but it is important for both students and teachers. All students deserve access to excellent teachers and administrators, but access is dependent on the student and teacher both being present, engaged, and working together.

Chronic student absenteeism is a primary cause of lower academic achievement and is predictor of dropping out. Students with lower attendance rates may feel alienated from classmates and teachers, may have more negative interactions, and may be socially disengaged upon returning to school. Low student attendance is also correlated with other risky behaviors, such as tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. In addition, frequent absences may also impact the achievement of other students in the classroom. Given the importance of student attendance, RIDE and the U.S. Department of Education have been committed to collecting data on student absenteeism and providing initiatives and supports, such as Every Student, Every Day, to encourage attendance.

Equally important is teacher attendance. We know there is no single greater school-related influence on the achievement of a student than his or her teacher. If a student is absent, his or her absence might only affect one person; if a teacher is absent, between 25 and 100 students are affected.

Multiple studies document the potential negative impacts to students, including reduced possible days of instruction, reduced student learning, and reduced student achievement. Despite their best efforts, substitute teachers may try to provide instruction, but too often, those educators do not have the same knowledge of students, content knowledge, or teaching expertise to provide the same level of instruction as the full-time teacher.

So how prevalent is teacher absenteeism in Rhode Island?  It’s unclear.  Although multiple news articles and reports have claimed high rates of teacher absenteeism in our state, the data used in these reports contain inconsistencies across districts and are potentially inaccurate.  In reality, we currently do not have accurate enough data to understand teacher attendance patterns in our state.

Given the lack of a uniform way of reporting teacher attendance, RIDE assembled a Teacher Attendance Task Force in Spring 2015. The task force, comprised of RIDE staff members, superintendents, and human resources professionals, gathered information on how districts document teacher attendance and piloted a new collection with a select number of districts. Based on the information gathered, the task force developed a new Educator Attendance Data Submission.

Beginning in 2016-17, all districts will report teacher attendance to RIDE using common data elements. This data collection will help us better understand how many teachers are absent, how often, and for what reasons. Of course life happens and teachers will occasionally need to take time off. Teachers, like the rest of us, get sick, need to take care of family members, and have personal situations that arise. However, new data can help us better understand teacher absenteeism patterns. When we see the full picture, we can really begin to support teachers.

While the prospect of new data is not always exhilarating, there are multiple reasons to be excited about the new teacher attendance collection. The new data collection will provide RIDE and districts with higher quality, more actionable data about teacher time out of the classroom and will help us better understand how teacher absenteeism and student absenteeism intersect. The field and the public will be better able to identify places where teacher attendance is high and identify the school and working conditions and culture that contribute to strong student and teacher attendance. Conversely, the field and public will also be able to identify where teacher absenteeism may be pervasive and work collaboratively to address problematic policies, school conditions, or school cultures. In addition, RIDE and districts will better be able to quantify the impact of educator absenteeism on student learning and other outcomes in Rhode Island public schools.

Every day counts for students, and we owe it to our teachers and students to better understand patterns of attendance and the teaching and learning conditions in our schools that may affect attendance. We want our students and teachers to not just show up; we want them to feel eager and ready to work together in support of student learning.

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