Like most Rhode Islanders, I was so disappointed in the Rhode Island Department of Education’s latest student assessment scores. These scores reflect our need to make education a priority especially in places like Providence. However, we need to also address one of the root causes of this achievement gap and that is poverty.

Reforming our education system needs to happen now. We need a curriculum designed for the 21st century. Rhode Island schools should be focused on transformational leadership and a cooperative learning model. Our schools should adopt a continuous comprehensive assessment; a continuous evaluation of students so teachers can help build on their strengths, and focus on areas that need improvement. We also need to ensure teachers get the pay they rightfully deserve.

We must also reduce income inequality in our own communities and increase economic mobility. Education and poverty are intimately linked. Typically, poorer communities such as parts of Providence have a subpar performance because of the challenges faced by members of our community. We need a living wage, pay equality, and increased government assistance to ensure no family is trapped in an endless cycle of poverty and neglect.

Rhode Island needs to address the insufficient funding levels and continue to reform our schools. It should be no surprise that English Language Learners and special education students have some of the largest achievement gaps. These programs have not been sufficiently funded for years. Consequently, we have a supply of people looking to assimilate in our community but are held back because they lack the basic skills needed to be competitive in Rhode Island’s job market.

We have the funding if we look hard enough. Rhode Island’s probation rate is out of control, costing taxpayers millions of critical dollars each year which could be redirected to our schools. If redirected, these precious taxpayer dollars could help make up the education shortfalls. Unfortunately, this legislation has not been signed into law just yet, but it should be reexamined this legislative session.

It is very easy for critics to criticize our public education, but there is far more to the story. As I mentioned, the funding simply has been inadequate for years, and poverty remains pervasive in places like South Providence and Washington Park.

Schools should be a place where our children feel safe and are gently pushed to make and learn from mistakes. Children are our legacy; when they succeed, we ALL succeed.