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A June 25, 2014, campaign commercial for Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’ gubernatorial campaign focuses on the importance of education in improving Rhode Island’s economy.
In the first few seconds of the video, Taveras is shown talking to a teacher in a classroom.
"Getting Rhode Island’s economy to succeed begins here, in our schools," a narrator says. "Angel Taveras understands. He went from Head Start to Harvard. As mayor, he worked to lift up our schools. Graduation rates are up, and Providence won a national award for innovative ideas in early learning."
We know that schools in Providence and the state’s other urban communities have higher dropout rates than schools in wealthier communities. We wondered whether graduation rates in Providence had actually gone up -- and, if so, how much Taveras had to do with it.
The Taveras campaign directed us to the Providence Public School Department’s report on 2013 Graduation Rates. Based on data from the Rhode Island Department of Education, the report, issued on May 18, 2014, lists graduation rates for the past five graduating classes.
The rates for graduation in four years are:
2009: 66.5 percent
2010: 68.3 percent
2011: 66.1 percent
2012: 65.5 percent
2013: 71.4 percent
As the report notes, the 71.4 percent graduation rate for the class of 2013 "is the highest rate for the past five years." (The 2014 rate is not yet available.)
And, in 2012-2013, all of the city’s 10 high schools (eight district schools and two public charters) except for Classical and Mount Pleasant experienced a one-year increase.
Classical - the largest of the 10 - dipped by 1.1 percent to 96.1 percent. Mount Pleasant’s rate dipped by 1.6 percentage points to 57.4.
Taveras took office in January 2011, halfway through the school year. So during his years in office, through 2013, the four-year graduation rate jumped nearly 6 percentage points.
A slam dunk for Taveras, right?
Well, there are some caveats.
First, Providence’s 2013 graduation rate of 71.4 percent is still lower than the district’s own goal -- 73 percent. And it’s substantially lower than the statewide average of 79.7 percent.
And two city high schools -- Central and Mount Pleasant -- continue to lag even further behind.
Mount Pleasant’s rate, as we’ve noted, was only 57.4 percent in 2012-2013.
Central’s 2013 rate did jump by more than 7 percentage points from the previous year, but it was still only 63.6 percent.
And finally, how much credit can the mayor, who took office in January 2011, take for the graduation rate increases?
In Providence, the mayor does have more influence over the school system than mayors or town managers in other communities. The Providence mayor appoints school board members (subject to City Council approval). In most other communities, they are elected. The school committee retains administrators, including the superintendent.
Taveras spokeswoman Dawn Bergantino said improved graduation rates "don’t happen overnight and are due to the hard work of many - teachers, students, community organizations and others - who are committed to the success of Providence’s young people."
She also cited programs put in place under the mayor, for example, expanding participation in the school meals program and negotiating a slightly longer school day in the last teachers’ contract.
We also asked Providence Schools Supt. Susan Lusi, who was appointed by the school board during Taveras’ administration, for her insight.
Acknowledging the stagnant low rates at Mount Pleasant, and Central’s low (but improving) graduation rates, "we have work to do in the district," she said.
"But I think we are all happy to see the data moving in the right direction, and it definitely is. There are some things we have done that will take more time to show up in the graduation rates."
That includes the "Graduate Providence" campaign that she and Taveras have led, starting in 2012, that involved visits "to every high school," and meetings with parents regarding the state’s graduation requirements.
Guidance counselors, administrators and teachers "met with every student regarding where they were vis a vis meeting these graduation requirements," and schools and families signed off on plans. Numerous academic supports were put in place, as well as work with community partners, she said.
Lusi also noted that dropout rates have been steadily declining. (They dropped from 16.9 percent to 12.2 percent between 2012 and 2013).
TIm Duffy, executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said, "I think the numbers bear out that Providence has improved its graduation rate; clearly they are moving in the right direction."
Duffy noted that the five-year graduation rates and other alternative plans "have adapted to allow students to go [graduate] at a pace that suits the individual student a little bit more."
A campaign video for Angel Taveras says "Providence graduation rates are up."
Indeed, rates have risen nearly 6 percentage points since Taveras took office.
Did Taveras have a role in the increase, as the ad clearly implies? He has taken some steps to boost graduation rates, but he’s been in office only three and a half years -- a caveat not mentioned in the shorthand of a 30-second video.
Because the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, we rate it Mostly True.
"Begins Here," Taveras for Governor campaign video, accessed July 3, 2014
Interview and emails, Elliot Krieger, spokesman, Rhode Island Department of Education, July 7, 8, 2014
Interviews and Emails, Dawn Bergantino, Taveras for Governor campaign spokeswoman, July 3, 7, 8, 2014
Interview, Providence Schools Superintendent Susan Lusi, July 11, 2014
Email, interview, Tim Duffy, executive director, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, July 14, 2014
Emails, Christina O’Reilly, Director of Communications, Providence Public Schools, July 11, 14, 2014
"Providence 2014 Graduation Data Brief Mar2014," accessed July 3, 2014
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