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‘Genius’ heads to RISD

October 4, 2012

MacArthur genius grant recipient and author Junot Diaz is slated to speak at RISD on November 5th. The talk will be open to the public.

Diaz, who teaches writing at MIT, also won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

The book was assigned reading over the summer for all incoming RISD students. School officials say it will be part of this year’s curriculum in both fine arts and liberal arts courses.

High stakes testing, budgets and geography

October 3, 2012

The Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education meets this week to consider a budget request for the coming fiscal year.

The Department of Education is preparing two scenarios:  one for level-funding and one for a seven percent decrease.

This is one of just two meetings and two work sessions remaining before the board is dissolved in favor of a single Board of Education. The new board will oversee both elementary and secondary schools and Rhode Island’s three institutions of higher education.

While testing is not on the agenda for Thursday, the board is likely to get an earful from critics of a controversial change in graduation policy. This year’s junior class will have to reach a minimum score on state math and reading tests to graduate. Many people are not happy about the requirement, and they plan to make their feelings known, according to The Providence Journal.

State education officials defend the graduation policy, saying students who do not reach the minimum score will have a chance to re-take the test and may still be allowed to graduate if they can demonstrate mastery of the required content. Based on last year’s testing, some 44 percent of students would fall into this category.

Governor Lincoln Chafee’s office says he is concerned about the new graduation rules, but it is not clear whether he had a chance to broach the issue with Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. She is now recuperating from surgery on a benign brain tumor and is not expected to return for at least two months. The Governor’s office says he either has met or plans to meet with education officials about the graduation policy.

Also on the agenda for Thursday, an addition to state standards for civics and social studies. The change would add geography to existing standards.

RISD grad is one of the ‘Girls’

October 2, 2012

Actress Jemima Kirke, who plays free-spirited but aloof Jessa Johansson on HBO’s breakout show “Girls,” ought to know her way around Providence. She’s a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.

Kirke earned a BFA in painting from RISD in 2008. She’s also the daughter of drummer Simon Kirk, of Bad Company fame.

Girls creator Lena Dunham reportedly met Kirke while the two were students at St. Ann’s School in New York City. Dunham has painterly ties herself – she’s the daughter of the painter Carroll Dunham.

In other celebrity news, RISD alum Seth MacFarlane is slated to host the 2013 Oscar Awards. MacFarlane is the creator of the animated series “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” among other film, television and music projects.

Three cheers for parenthood!

October 1, 2012

Some of you may know that I’ve been on maternity leave for the last three months, after the birth of my first child.

In fact, anyone listening to Rhode Island Public Radio on July 4th might have even heard a news item announcing the birth of Luna Charlotte Smick earlier that morning.

So, now I’m back in the office, and I’ve been thinking a lot about this experience and how it’s already changed my life. Of course there’s the adjustment to the new role of being a mom, and the wondering about whether I will ever again get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. But there’s also the question of education.

Luna is ready for back-to-school season with this jaunty hat.

It will probably come as no surprise that I have already fielded questions about what preschool I plan to send my daughter to (that started just six months into my pregnancy), and whether I plan to move away from Providence because of the public schools (I have no idea, I thought I had a few years before I had to start worrying about that!).

Is this a common experience for Rhode Islanders? When did you choose a preschool? Was it hard to get into the school of your choice? What about Kindergarten? Did you move from one community to another to find better schools?

How students are learning in school without computers

July 12, 2012

While schools around the state look for ways to increase their use of technology, some parents are paying thousands of dollars to send their children to a private school with no computers in the classroom at all.

The Meadowbrook Waldorf School inWest Kingstonis part of a network of more than 1,000 Waldorf schools around the globe.  Listen to Rhode Island Public Radio’s education reporter Elisabeth Harrison’s conversation with teacher Amy Rippe on why these schools think technology should take a back seat.

Vote on student loans expected today

June 29, 2012

The House and Senate are poised to approve a compromise today that would keep student loan rates from rising. Members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation tell RIPR they expect the measure to pass both the House and Senate.

The deal stops interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans from doubling. The current rate of 3.4 percent will increase to 6.8 percent on Sunday if the measure does not go through.

Under the plan, the cost of extending the lower rate — some $6 billion — will be covered by an increase in federal pension insurance premiums. Senate leaders brokered the bi-partisan compromise at the last minute, after bickering over how to pay for the plan stopped an earlier effort.

The agreement will only halt the increase in student loan interest rates for another year, so the issue is likely to rear its head again in 2013.

Mass ties teacher performance to hiring

June 28, 2012

Massachusetts lawmakers have swiftly passed a bill calling for all school districts to use new teacher evaluations and reduce the role of seniority in personnel decisions.

The measure got a green light from House lawmakers yesterday without debate, according to the State House News Service. It had already passed the Senate and now heads to Governor Deval Patrick for a signature.

In one of her first acts as Rhode Island Education Commissioner, Deborah Gist ordered school districts to halt the practice of using seniority as the sole factor in teacher placement and layoffs. The state has also moved aggressively to implement annual teacher evaluations, which include student test scores as one measure of teacher performance.

Teachers’ unions have largely resisted efforts to do away with seniority-based teacher layoffs altogether, arguing that senior teachers have expertise from their years on the job, and they could face persecution when school districts look to trim spending.