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In between leveling charges Tuesday night that U.S. Rep. David Cicilline was a liar and had committed voter fraud -- charges that Cicilline strenuously denied -- challenger Anthony Gemma claimed that the first-term congressman’s "number one lie" pertained to the condition of Providence’s schools while Cicilline was mayor.
During their first television debate in the 2012 primary race, broadcast on WPRI-Channel 12, Gemma said Cicilline had described the capital city’s school system during his eight years as mayor in glowing terms when that was far from the truth.
"When Mr. Cicilline was mayor of Providence -- we’re going to stumble on the number one lie of Mr. Cicilline during his tenure as mayor --what he said is that the City of Providence during his eight years had a world-class -- and he used the word world-class -- school system. And not only did Providence not have a world-class school system but, as measured, was amongst the last school system [sic] in the entire country."
We knew that the city’s schools -- like those in many urban centers -- have problems and are among the most troubled in Rhode Island. But we wondered whether they are among the worst in the entire country.
We called the Gemma campaign to get the candidate’s supporting evidence and, while we waited for a response, started doing our own research.
At no time in American history are students and their schools more tested and ranked than today. With every changing season, it seems, comes another report evaluating their educational progress and slippage.
There are tests that can be used to compare schools within the same district and school districts within each state. There is even the rare instance of one state’s schools ranked against another state's. But we could not find one ranking that measured Providence’s school system against other city systems around the country, as Gemma claimed, let alone that ranked it so poorly.
We called the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, a statewide children’s policy organization. Neither knew of any national test rankings that ever compared the performance of Providence’s school system with, for example, Los Angeles or Cincinnati.
Terris Ross, a research scientist at The National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, said the center does compile an annual list of statistics on the nation’s 100 largest school districts. But it does not rank or compare school districts by achievement or performance.
Locally, Providence’s schools rank among the worst in Rhode Island. According to data by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, 65 percent of Providence’s public schools made "insufficient progress" in 2008 while Cicilline was serving the third of his four terms as mayor.
But what Gemma’s campaign spokesman supplied as evidence supporting the candidate’s remarks was way off the mark.
In an e-mail, Alex Morash said Gemma’s claims were based on low marks given in several studies to "Rhode Island and/or Providence schools. " But how Rhode Island schools fared is not at issue here at all.
Gemma specifically criticized Cicilline for the low marks Providence schools allegedly received while Cicilline was mayor. And none of the studies his campaign provided links to specifically ranked Providence against other cities in the nation.
Further, the only reference the Gemma campaign provided of Cicilline using the phrase "world class" was a speech Cicilline gave at a school in Cumberland talking about the importance of students -- in general -- receiving a "world- class" education.
Cicilline was using the phrase as a goal to shoot for -- not, as Gemma claimed, to describe Providence’s schools.
Anthony Gemma, who is challenging David Cicilline in the Democratic primary for Rhode Island’s 1st District congressional seat, said the former Providence mayor had described the capital city’s school system as world class when, in fact, "not only did Providence not have a world-class school system but as measured, was amongst the last school system in the entire country."
We’ve already cited why Gemma was wrong about the "world-class" remark. Concerning the schools, neither state nor federal education officials know of any national school-district ranking that would have placed the city’s school system among the worst in the country.
And Gemma didn’t provide any.
For those reasons, we rate his statement a world-class False.
Interview, Alex Morash, spokesman, Gemma for Congress, Aug. 29, 2012
Interview, Terris Ross, research scientist, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Aug. 29, 2012
Interview, Elliot Krieger, spokesman, Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Aug. 29, 2012
E-mail, Amy Lanctot, spokeswoman, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, Aug. 29, 2012
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, "Indicator: Schools Making Insufficient Progress," 2008, accessed Aug. 29, 2012
WPRI-Channel 12, "Cicilline, Gemma Bonus Debate," Aug. 28, 2012, accessed Aug. 29, 2012
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