Elorza eyes end to social promotion in Providence schools

Jorge Elorza, a Democrat, speaks about his campaign for mayor of Providence.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza said Friday he wants Providence schools to put an end to social promotion, the commonly used but rarely acknowledged practice of allowing struggling students to advance to the next grade to keep them on track with their peers.

Elorza’s plan to build a “competency-based educational system” is part of a larger vision for city schools that also includes offering dual enrollment to students who wish to take college courses in high school; increasing the number of Advance Placement courses; expanding outside-the-classroom learning opportunities; and giving teachers “more freedom and flexibility.”

“We can afford nothing less than the reality of having all students graduate only when they are able to demonstrate the mastery of a set of competencies aligned with state standards,” Elorza states in his proposal.

Elorza is running in the Sept. 9 primary against Brett Smiley, Michael Solomon, Reinaldo Catone and Chris Young. The winner will take on Republican Daniel Harrop and independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. in the general election. Incumbent Mayor Angel Taveras is running for governor after one term in office.

Elorza, a former Housing Court judge attended Providence public schools before graduating from the University of Rhode Island and Harvard Law School, has made education a central theme to his first campaign for public office.

He has advocated for city officials to shorten a distance requirement for high school students to qualify for a free bus pass while also pitching plans to keep schools open longer and on weekends and provide more social services to students.

In his latest plan, Elorza acknowledged that a mayor can’t unilaterally enact much of what he is proposing, but said he would engage various stakeholders to help accomplish his goals.

Ending social promotion is a tall task.

While teachers have long complained that too many students are passed from grade to grade without having adequate skills, the school district has no formal policy on social promotion. Elorza said his goal is to ensure students are promoted only when they’re “genuinely ready.”

“We will clearly define what students need to learn in order to pass to the next level, and we will stop promoting them simply because they are one year older,” the plan states.

Elorza said he wants to provide students “with crucial knowledge, experience, and skill development that goes beyond the traditional curriculum,” in part by partnering with local businesses to offer internships. He also pledged to establish better partnerships with Providence’s colleges and universities.

“I have promised throughout this campaign that we’re going to be bold and think big, and we’re also going to be collaborative and pragmatic,” he said. “This vision delivers on that promise. Achieving this won’t be easy, but it is our responsibility to make sure we’re preparing our students for the future.”

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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