School Choice as the Option for Improving Schools

If the education establishment in Rhode Island doesn’t have a solution for improving education beyond (paraphrasing) “give us more money and give more money to our peers who also make their living administrating government programs,” what’s the solution?  Well, a Laura Kilgus article in this week’s Rhode Island Catholic provides one answer:

Parents and school leaders of all faiths agreed that each child deserves a quality education and every parent should have the freedom and opportunity to choose which school is best for their child. Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman, M.Ed. and current Dean of Providence Hebrew Day School/New England Academy of Torah, shared that it is imperative that school choice opportunities be expanded in the state and added that the question is not whether Rhode Island will have expanded school choice the question is when.

“If we want our children to be well educated we must offer our parents opportunities to be able to make the choice of where their children attend school,” said Rabbi Scheinerman.

During a school choice hearing in front of the House Finance committee two or three years ago, a Native American single mother described her horrible, abusive childhood and said that, although she is not a Catholic Christian, herself, she understands the importance of a school setting that is free to inculcate moral principles in her daughter, founded in a religious basis.  The private Catholic school that her daughter attended did what it could to help the family afford tuition; if I recall correctly, it’s a school that closed last year because it couldn’t make the numbers work.  I wonder, from time to time, whether that mother managed to keep her daughter on the track that she, as a parent, understood to be best.

The challenge of education generally and, especially, of closing demographic gaps in educational outcomes, is to stop focusing on pouring more money into a failed government education system, with the focus on government-branded schools, but to force change that refocuses that system while giving families the opportunity to direct their own destiny, taking responsibility for their own lives and their own children.


Obama and the Psychology of a Country

Stephen Hayes, an investigative reporter for The Weekly Standard, reports that Obama Administration scandals around war-on-terror intelligence are nothing new:

Readers of this magazine are familiar with the story of the documents obtained in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The Sensitive Site Exploitation team on the raid collected more than a million documents​—​papers, computer hard drives, audio and video recordings. Top Obama administration officials at first touted the cache as the greatest collection of terrorist materials ever captured in a single raid and boasted that the contents would fill a “small college library.” An interagency intelligence team, led by the CIA, conducted the initial triage​—​including keyword searches of the collection for actionable intelligence. And then, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials with firsthand knowledge of the controversy, the documents sat largely untouched for as long as a year. The CIA retained “executive authority” over the documents, and when analysts from other agencies requested access to them, the CIA denied it​—​repeatedly.

After a bitter interagency dispute, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, allowed analysts from CENTCOM and the Defense Intelligence Agency to have time-limited, read-only access to the documents. What they found was fascinating and alarming. Much of what these analysts were seeing​—​directly from Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders​—​contradicted what the president and top administration officials were saying publicly.

The issue has bubbled up, again, because “more than 50 intelligence analysis” have come forward with complaints that their findings have been altered somewhere high up the chain of command.  Want to bet more Americans know that Donald Trump made fun of a disabled reporter than that some higher-ups in the president’s administration appear to have modified intelligence and stonewalled analysts for the sake of the president’s reelection campaign?

Political bias is clearly in play when it comes to what stories mainstream journalists pursue and how they frame them, but some of the blame falls on the market, as well.  A great number of people have voted for Barack Obama, and the more decisively he proves to be an ideological and functionally incompetent charlatan, the less they’d be inclined to pay attention to his performance.  Meanwhile, others have now more than once been through the exhausting process of learning about some major scandal, fighting back against the mainstream spin and public incredulity, and watching the whole thing fade into the surge of another scandal.

So, the country has pretty much settled into an understanding that the president is a terrible amplifier of an untrustworthy government, and that it’s ultimately voters’ fault.  People don’t want the blame, and they don’t want to change the unhealthy impulses that will inevitably lead to our current political condition.  The attitude is therefore to turn away while the bumbler-in-chief finishes out his term and just hope for something better next time around.

That would certainly fit Pew poll results showing only 19% trust in government and only 34% trust in the general public, but a majority still want the government to do things for them.


American Students Are Taught to Want Inclusion and Tolerate Exclusion

Jonathan Haidt made an interesting discovery while giving a talk at a private West Coast high school:

So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid.

Sounds sort of like Providence.

Such is the scam that progressives have pulled on the West.  They’re all for freedom of speech, they say, and even a healthy dose of intellectual diversity.  It’s just that the folks on the right want to say things that are so bad that they transcend mere language into the realm of physical harm.  Anybody can speak, so long as their words are within a certain range and that their errors aren’t of the sort that are frustratingly difficult to disprove, even though uncomfortable.

The quotation above comes from a smaller session that Haidt conducted after he’d given a talk to the whole school.  When he’d opened the larger session for Q&A, he says, “it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had.”  The second question, for example, was “So you think rape is OK?”… followed by creepy finger snapping that intimidated Haidt like no other experience during his 25-year career of teaching and public speaking.

Note, also, the bifurcated society that the school has fostered, as Haidt describes the event.  He could find only one male student raising his hand to ask a question, and when he did, it was in concert with the hostile girls.  Yet, at the conclusion, other boys stood while they clapped, and a male-only line formed to personally thank him.

In the smaller session, Haidt discovered that boys, whites, and conservatives at the school feel uncomfortable voicing opinions that differ from the tolerated view.  The only conservative who said he felt free to talk about his views during class acknowledged that “everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up.”

This asphyxiating cloud was already beginning to descend on education when I was in college almost twenty years ago (being that one who spoke up against conformity).  I can only imagine how bad it’s become since then.


Hurting Diversity by Promoting Minorities

Here’s a telling revelation from a Providence Journal article by Lynn Arditi highlighting the fact that most Rhode Island colleges and universities have police forces that don’t match the racial composition of the student bodies.  It comes almost at the end of the article, and I’ve italicized the key point:

At URI, where minorities make up nearly 20 percent of the student body but only about 7 percent of campus police, the university has found it challenging to recruit and retain minority police officers, who can have more opportunities for higher pay and advancement at municipal departments, URI Director of Public Safety Stephen Baker said in an email.

Note that the statement is not that campus departments are having trouble maintaining their forces, but that minority officers are disproportionately harder to keep because they’re in greater demand at higher-paying departments.  If you don’t think folks — in police departments and elsewhere — notice such things, you’re ignoring an important piece of evidence in escalating racial tensions.

Be the sociology what it may, however, and turning to the specific article in question, there’s something unseemly, unfair, and deliberately divisive in using the front page of the state’s major daily newspaper to attack police departments at the bottom of the industry ladder because they can’t compete with the bigger players when it comes to answering progressive racial obsessions.  Obviously, the article could have delved into the actual dynamic that Baker described, but then its insinuations might not have served the desired narrative.


Is Senator Ottiano Really More of a Transpublican?

For years, now, I’ve been wondering why retiring state Senator Christopher Ottiano (R, Portsmouth, Tiverton) called himself a Republican, and now he’s gone and endorsed a Democrat in the race to replace him:

“In the State House I think it was pretty clear that I didn’t really adhere to party politics,” Ottiano told WPRI.com. “I never liked making a decision just because of what party you belong to. … I’ve worked closely with Jim Seveney, I admire his ethics and his work ethic.”

On Twitter, the other day, WPRI reporter Ted Nesi characterized Ottiano as a “moderate Republican.”  I asked what, specifically, makes him “moderate,” but Nesi never responded.  In the first year of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Freedom Index, Ottiano managed to be only the second worst Republican in the 2012 session, besting only East Providence Representative (and union member) John Savage and coming in at 28 of 113 legislators.  In the 2013 session, he was the worst Republican, although he moved up to 17 because the General Assembly took a turn for the worse, overall.  By the 2014 session, he began to make an effort to compete with the Democrats for bad scores and fell to 26.

I should note that these are relative ranks.  Each year, Ottiano’s actual score has fallen, from its -17.0 in 2012 (on a range of -100 to 100) to -44.7 in 2014.  The Center hasn’t released its 2015 session rankings, yet, but let’s just say he’s not exactly going out on a high note.

And let’s not forget the time last May, when Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg noticed that the state Democrat Party was advertising “a reception in honor of Senator Christopher Ottiano.”  Rhode Island Public Radio reporter Ian Donnis replied that he thought it might be the second time that had happened for Ottiano.  Although I haven’t been able to find any record, my recollection is that Donnis is correct.

Look, Ottiano can obviously express his political opinions and call himself whatever he wants.  The problem in Rhode Island, however, is that voters don’t seem to notice whether people really are what they say they are, politically.  The nice way to spin it would be to say that they’re open minded, but the truth is probably more that they just don’t pay attention.


In a Real World, Unemployment Going Up

My employment post on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Web site, complementing the one I posted here on Monday, cuts the data a little differently, as usual.  The notable addition is the final chart, which shows what the unemployment rate would be if Rhode Island hadn’t been letting so many workers slip out of its labor force since the recession began in 2007.

As you can see, as of October, our unemployment rate would be going up, if folks weren’t still giving up their searches.

Specifically, far from being 5.3%, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate would never have been below 8% and would now be back up to 8.2%.


Learning from Rhode Island’s Long Trend of Health Insurance Burdens

To some extent, Rhode Island has been immune to the cost increases against which so many Affordable Care Act (ACA) skeptics have rightly warned since the act became law in 2010. The state had already freely opted to inflict on its people most of the harm that Obamacare has brought to other states. The increases are starting to catch up with Rhode Island health insurance consumers, nonetheless, and in ways that aren’t captured by just comparing premiums.

The Ocean State has long led the nation in the number of health insurance mandates, driving up costs. Limits on rate variation for people in different groups were already in place. The expansion of eligibility rules for Medicaid was of less import in Rhode Island because the only change left to make was to offer benefits to able-bodied adults without children.

Even the danger of scaring off insurers wasn’t much of an issue, because Rhode Island’s burdensome regulations had made the state a near monopoly for Blue Cross Blue Shield until UnitedHealth won a state government contract, making it effectively a two-company market.

As the Rhode Island Association of Health Underwriters put it, in 2004, “Over the past few years, a number of private health insurance carriers have left the state. This has severely limited the number of health insurance product choices residents and business owners in Rhode Island have, and it has also caused a dramatic rise in health plan costs, which even exceed the high health insurance rate jumps that people in other states have experienced.”

Although other states have done some catching up with the ACA, Obamacare and Rhode Island’s health benefits exchange, HealthSource RI, have not succeeded in lowering costs. As a silver lining, though, the experience may be teaching Rhode Islanders the financials of health insurance — mainly that premiums aren’t the only way for insurance to cost more.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.


SNAP-to-Jobs Gap Grew in August

Although politicians are looking to the unemployment rate to paint sunny pictures of RI’s economy, in August, the gap between the jobs that the RI economy had created since the recession and the number of Rhode Islanders added to food stamps grew and still led New England.


Cause for Concern in Tiverton Schools’ PARCC Test Results

With the release of Rhode Island public schools’ first results on the Common Core–aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests, the state’s new education commissioner, Ken Wagner, told the Providence Journal that the shock people felt came from the fact that the prior standardized test — the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) — had been “masking” districts’ true performance.

That statement ought to be particularly disconcerting in Tiverton.  Although the town’s elementary and middle schools outperformed the statewide average and managed to bring more than half of test takers to the point of meeting or exceeding expectations for their grade levels in English language arts (ELA), the results collapsed in Tiverton High School.  Only 27% of Tiverton’s high-school-level test takers met or exceeded expectations in ELA, and a meager 8% did so in math.  That compares with 54% and 32% in Portsmouth High School and 32% and 12% for the entire state at the high school level.

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.


More on RIDOT’s Saving Money with In-House Road Painting

Following up on my article, last week, concerning the expectations of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) that the agency can save 31% by using unionized state employees to paint marks on the state’s roadways, I turned my attention to the $6.25 million RIDOT cites as “the historical values for Statewide pavement marking only contracts.”  Upon request, RIDOT provided the following contract amounts currently in effect, all of them for two-year terms:

  • Beginning February 2015:
    • North region: Traffic Markings, Inc., $2,493,107.
    • East Bay region: Roadsafe Traffic Systems, Inc., $2,341,254
  • Beginning February 2014:
    • South region: Safety Markings, Inc., $2,069,287
    • Central region: Safety Markings, Inc., $2,415,116
    • Limited Access region: Roadsafe Traffic Systems, Inc., $2,845,634

That $12.2 million every two years, or around $6.1 million per year, is further augmented, according to RIDOT, with $250,000 per year for police details.  RIDOT spokesman Charles St. Martin states that, when it comes to state workers, “all maintenance staff are flagger certified, so police details would only be used sporadically, as needed.”  Those costs are presumably included in the original estimate for in-state work.

Here’s the wrinkle: Used together, the state’s transparency Web site and the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s RIOpenGov provide six full years of actual payments to these three companies, and the average annual payment is $4,436,625, with no gigantic increase over time.  Fiscal year 2010 had only $2.9 million while 2011 had $5.4 million, but that may have been the timing of payments, and the two years average to $4.2 million.

In other words, while there may have been a increase of less than $200,000 per year, a jump to $6.1 million starting this year would be very suspicious, indeed.  (I’ve requested information on the previous round of contracts to see how well the contract amounts correspond with payments.)

These actual payments of $4.44 million on average and $4.89 million for 2015 compare with the state’s estimated annual “in-sourced cost” of $4.84 million.  Under this comparison, if there are any actual savings to in-sourcing, they would mostly come from $550,000 less oversight (including the planning implicit in contract preparation) and the assumption that the new state workers would spend the winter performing other tasks that are currently outsourced, while taxpayers would bear all of the risk that comes with operating $3.65 million in trucks, using around $2 million in gas and materials every year, and employing two crews of unionized employees, with their health benefits and pension promises.


Civil Asset Forfeiture: Living in a Criminal Society

Although terrorism, collegiate fascism, and the presidential race have been dominating the headlines, center-right groups have been looking at civil asset forfeiture, recently.  That’s when law enforcement agencies take people’s money and goods away from them out of suspicion that they were gained from illegal activity.  Typically, even if the person is absolved of wrongdoing, he or she must then take the further step of proving that he or she gained the property through lawful means.

FreedomWorks gives Rhode Island an F for its civil forfeiture laws because the government only has to show probable cause in order to take property (that is, it only has to be reasonable for law enforcement personnel to believe the property was gained illegally).  The burden then falls on the property owner to prove that the assumption is not reasonable, and if he or she fails, the agency keeps 90% of the money, sending 10% to fund a state-level drug abuse treatment program.

The Institute for Justice (IJ) gives Rhode Island a D-.  (It’s not immediately clear why the minor difference, but it looks like IJ does a more-in-depth analysis of how the law applies to different crimes and different types of property and might give more weight to the fact that the confiscating agency doesn’t get to keep all of the money.)  However, IJ also looks at state collections from federal asset forfeiture, on which Rhode Island is dead last.  According to IJ, federal “equitable sharing” returns up to 80% of cash and property value taken under suspicion of federal violations to state agencies.

Looking at national numbers, Bonnie Kristian notes that the federal government confiscated $4.5 billion from Americans in 2014, which was more money than burglars managed to steal ($3.9 billion).  Not all of the numbers are available specifically for Rhode Island, but it looks like government might be especially good at taking peoples money and things away, around here:

  • According to IJ, state, local, and other (non-federal) agencies took $1,251,363 from people in Rhode Island in 2014, while averaging $1,384,497 from 2009 on.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) puts Rhode Island’s take under equitable sharing at $17,026,355 in 2014, which is close to the $17,721,060 average that IJ reports for the state from 2000 through 2013.
  • If we multiply the incidents of particular crimes (according to FBI data) with national average values for each crime, we find that the the $18.3 million confiscated by state and local agencies and given to state agencies by the DOJ was much bigger than the estimated dollar value of any one type of crime that year:
    • Burglary: $10.9 million
    • Larceny-theft: $15.3 million
    • Motor vehicle theft: $12.0 million
    • Robbery: $649,083

Of course, civil asset forfeiture is just one of the ways in which government takes money from people.  When taxes, fines, and fees are added into the mix, it’s a safe bet that government manages to take more wealth from Rhode Islanders than just about any category of crime or business.


Transgender Medicaid: Empty Show or Unknown Cost

Answers took some days to receive and to clarify, but I’ve been meaning to follow up on this Richard Salit article in the Providence Journal:

Rhode Island is now among a handful of states that has expanded its Medicaid benefits to include medical care for transgender people, including mental health treatment, hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery.  

The policy change, announced a week ago, is being hailed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups, who say the benefits should now be offered by private insurers as well.

I asked spokespeople for the state how much the change is projected to cost, and the answer, in a word, was nothing.  More specifically:

In its proposed rules for Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities, the US Department of Health and Human Services states that it expects [these expanded benefits to] impact a very small segment of the population, and will have minimal impact on the overall cost of care and on health insurance premiums.

This determination is based on a study in California that found that covering transgender individuals under California’s private and public health insurance plans would have an insignificant and immaterial economic impact on costs (based on evidence of low use and the relatively small transgender population).

We do not have cost estimates specific to Rhode Island’s Medicaid’s program.

Overall, it looks like the goal is more to pressure insurers to make the same change as part of a political effort to define transgender operations as a human right, meaning that a failure to pass along the cost for these rare treatments to everybody else through the cost of regular medical care would be discrimination.


The Doubtful Refugee Screening Process

At the outset, let me say that I’m not fully committed to the no-Syrian-refugees position, either on a temporary or permanent basis.  However, there’s something suspicious in the quick progressive push-back against concerns about the process.  For some, it’s simply a partisan position.  For others, it’s the progressive foible of the total domination of feelings and simplified morality:  Refusing people who are fleeing danger is bad, and I’m not bad, so therefore any resistance to this specific refugee process, performed by this specific presidential administration, is immoral.

When it comes down to it, very few of the people raising concerns about Syrian refugees are absolutists.  Letting in two-year-old Christians, for example, would not meet much, if any resistance.  In other words, while one side is arguing principle, the other is arguing process.

I bring the issue up again because a Facebook thread initiated by Matt Fecteau includes a link to a White House infographic about the refugee-acceptance process, and reading through it reinforces concerns about the process.  Fecteau repeatedly insists that the burden completely falls on the candidate for refugee status, but that’s really not what the steps illustrate.  Sure, they can’t withhold information that they have (and get caught), but it’s entirely a process of checking the information that’s available.  In a war-torn country (that wasn’t exactly First World to begin with), that’s a risky proposition.

The steps rely almost entirely on the records of the United States, or those to which it has access, which might weed out the upper tiers of those involved in global jihad, but certainly not all those who are just sympathizers or who have simply not done anything, yet.  Moreover, there’s no indication of risk for potentially risky refugees if they are caught.

The most important point, however, continues to be the lack of trust that the Obama Administration has earned.  The refugee process puts the burden on a bureaucracy under a petulant, ideological executive, and that executive has decreed that he wants 10,000 people pushed through this system in the next year.

The fact that so many people are responding to concerns about this matter with accusations of bigotry is a sign both that there’s even more reason to fear that the process won’t be well executed and that our society has a serious cultural illness.


Learning from the Real Question Among Reasonable Black Professors

In his Saturday column, Ted Nesi links to a straight-shooting Facebook essay by Brown University economist Glenn Loury, who in addition to being on sabbatical at Stanford is black:

The notion that Brown needs a revolutionary reshaping in order to become hospitable to “students of color”, that idea that “anti-black pedagogy” at Brown needs to be countered with some mandatory indoctrination of faculty, the proposal that external student committees should review purportedly “racist” departmental appointment processes, the initiative of creating “specialty positions” in academic departments to ensure their openness to hiring “faculty of color” — these are all mischievous intrusions on the academic prerogatives of a distinguished faculty which no self-respecting scholar of any color should welcome. They are a step onto a slippery slope that slides down into intellectual mediocrity, and I will have nothing to do with them.

I’d recommend also setting aside an hour of audio time to listen to a bloggingheads.tv conversation between Professor Loury and John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, who also is black.  Both men are relatively conservative (hedged mainly for lack of thorough familiarity with their work), and their central disagreement appears to be in how to address the actual students who are being swept up in the identity-politics fascism currently sweeping American campuses (my terminology, not theirs).

McWhorter repeatedly insists that these kids don’t know any better, citing his own experience as an undergraduate, when he believed all Republicans must be evil because that’s what everybody around him told him to be the case.  Loury agrees, but takes a more I-don’t-have-patience-for-your-prolonged-adolescence-inanities approach.

It struck me, listening to them, that the disagreement is not unlike differences in parenting styles.  McWhorter wants to have a reasoned conversation with his kids, and Loury’s more like one of those fathers who laughs at his teenager’s silly proclamations and says (lovingly), “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”  As a blanket rule, neither is probably any better than the other, and when it comes to individual relationships or specific instances, parents ought to have both in their repertoire.

Both responses, though, are especially telling in light of their thoughts on college administrators and sympathy for the professional need to appease the mania, to some extent, in order to keep administrative jobs and maintain fundraising.  (Indeed, Nesi notes that Brown had just kicked off a fundraising campaign before campus racial activism become the trending activity of autumn.)

To be fair, obviously, professors’ role on campus is different from administrators’, but when it comes to handling inappropriate impulses on campus, we’d do well to look to those who respond to students more as family than as clients.

It’s quite a puzzle that’s now in pieces on the table in front of America’s institutions of higher education.  The general public, I’d say, should take the approach of parents, whichever method one chooses.  Unfortunately, the fact that so many parents failed to prepare their children to behave appropriately at Ivy League colleges suggests a larger cultural problem.


An Unpopular Governor and Phony Employment Gains

A national poll gauging Americans’ approval of their governors finds Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo with 46% approval and 39% disapproval.  That puts her at 40th on the list.  (Massachusetts’s Republican Governor Charlie Baker is at the top, with 74% approval and 14% disapproval.)

The response that Raimondo’s spokeswoman, Marie Aberger, provided to Ian Donnis for his Friday column is worth a look, too.  To substantiate the claim that “the numbers make it clear that we’re moving in the right direction,” Aberger mainly cites government initiatives, like additional subsidies for college and an energy tax break for businesses.  Whether good or bad, whether those policies will have positive effects (or sufficient effects to make a difference) remains to be seen.  The only number that could be called evidence of improvement is that “Rhode Island has driven its unemployment rate down 25.3 percent from this time a year ago,” which is a questionable thing to highlight.

I’ll be putting up my monthly employment posts on Monday (here’s the last one), but one quick takeaway is that the amount of employment dropped again, in October, yet the unemployment rate continued to decrease because even more people stopped looking for work.  If I’m correct that we can expect much of the employment gains of the first half of the year to be revised down substantially in January, then employment is not even arguably a strong point for the state, especially considering that job creation in Rhode Island appears to have slowed to a crawl, this year.

That this one (arguably phony) statistic is all that Rhode Island politicians can raise in their defense shows how badly they’ve botched things, around here, and why Raimondo’s approval is where it is.


This Racism Brought to You by Liberals

Writing about one of the latest allegedly racist incidents on an American college campus, John Hinderaker may very well put his finger on the entire operating dilemma of the Left:

The Dean of the law school, Martha Minow, said that racism is a “serious problem” there. Really? Minow has been the Dean since 2009. Why has she allowed racism to flourish? Where has this “serious problem” been manifested, and what has she done about it? Who, exactly, are the “racists” who have created this serious problem? Frankly, I don’t believe a word she says.

Hinderaker, who attended Harvard Law, thinks such lies are just the sorts of things that administrators of higher education say to maintain a sort of peace with some groups, while expecting that nobody responsible will really believe them.  But isn’t that a summary of the Left?  They overtook the culture and most of its institutions by proclaiming a problem that only they would solve.  Obviously, for example, racists wouldn’t solve the problem of “institutional racism,” but neither would those who are skeptical about the problem or those who, believing in it, think the best resolution is gradual and cultural.

The Leftists, in other words, are The People Who Care — The People Who Will Bring Change.  Well, they’ve been running things for quite a while, now, in large areas of society, both institutionally (e.g., universities and the news and entertainment media) and geographically (e.g., urban areas), and what do we have?  Suddenly, at the tail end of the second term of America’s first black president, we suddenly have a resurgence of racism in the cities and on college campuses?  Come on, now.

If that’s true, why have the liberals/progressives allowed it to fester for so long?  It’s possible, of course, that there really is some degree of racism extant on the campus of Harvard, but more important to the Leftist narrative and sales pitch is that there be a belief in the existence full colonnade of boogeyman -isms.  Otherwise, our society might distribute power on the basis of (oh, I don’t know) experience, competence, and a willingness to leave people alone wherever possible.


Is “Average” a Question on the PARCC Tests?

The front-page Providence Journal headline, “R.I. PARCC results near average,” jumped out at me, yesterday, so I had to take a closer look at the results from the nine states that have released comparable results.  The upshot depends what “near average” means.

Of the twelve tests (six grades, two tests each) listed, Rhode Island is an overall four percentage points below the other states’ results.  That means an additional 4% of Rhode Island students would have met-or-exceeded expectations if the state were average.  The results vary, though, from average in third-grade English to a 14-percentage-point deficit in eighth-grade math.

This comparison is dubious, though.  Is Rhode Island really comparable to New Mexico and Arkansas?  Take them out, and RI’s overall deficit is eight percentage points, ranging from four to 19.

Looking at a ranking of the nine states gives a better sense of Rhode Island’s relative performance.  On only two of the 12 tests (third- and fifth-grade English) did Rhode Island land in the top half of states — just barely, in fourth place.  Overall, Rhode Island would be seventh out of nine, beating only New Mexico and Arkansas.

In a foot race, one could say that a runner came in only a little bit behind the middle group, or one could say that he or she came in last, not counting the two out-of-shape kids at the back of the pack.

Oh, and one more thing: The article explains Massachusetts’s success (if having around 45% of students failing to meet expectations can be considered a success) in the words of Massachusetts Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson: “By the time Massachusetts students took PARCC, they had the benefit of 22 years of improvements.”

An important asterisk on that assertion provides some warning for the future.  As I’ve pointed out before, when friend-of-the-teachers-union Governor Deval Patrick diluted accountability measures in Massachusetts, in 2006, the state’s NAEP scores stagnated and have been falling since 2011 and may be overtaken as the nation’s leader when the next NAEP results come out in 2017.


Mandate Has No Effect: Spinning Heads on HPV Vaccine

The latest news out of the Rhode Island government-media spin machine is that “HPV vaccination rate ‘extremely encouraging’,” as Richard Salit’s Providence Journal article puts it.  The lede or secondary headline was: “First year vaccine is required for seventh graders.”

It’s enough to make a well-informed Rhode Islander scream at the computer, tablet, or dead-tree newspaper.  Readers may recall that the HPV vaccine became controversial in Rhode Island because the state government presumed to make Rhode Island one of only two states to mandate inoculation against the sexually transmitted disease and the only one to do so by regulatory fiat.

Here’s the “extremely encouraging” news:

As of Sept. 1, with data compiled on 85 percent of the seventh graders in public and private schools, 72.5 percent had received at least the first in a series of three recommended doses of HPV vaccine.

That’s pretty good, right?  Vindication for the mandate?  Not really.  Read a bit farther and do some math:

Because it’s a new mandate, the only previous Rhode Island statistic to compare that to is one from 2014 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It estimated that, among those ages 13 to 17, 76 percent of girls and 69 percent of boys had the first dose of the HPV vaccine.

Average those two percentages, and you get… 72.5%.  Public school enrollment data for the 2014-2015 school year shows that there are more boys, so the overall percentage based on the two numbers given would be 72.3%, but the percentages themselves are rounded, and private schools may very well shift the balance back toward equal numbers.

In other words, the government diktat that all students must put this drug in their body changed the vaccination rate almost not at all.  It did, however, create a new precedent for the bureaucracy’s little dictators.  On the positive side, it may have sparked some enduring backlash and eroded confidence in the government, inasmuch as the number of religious exemptions for vaccines jumped from “about half a percent for the 2014-15 school year to 4.47 percent for 2015-16 year.”

Any push-back against the state government in Rhode Island is good news, as far as I’m concerned, especially when the local news media tends to simply pass along the government’s spin.


About That High American Poverty

Poverty rates are another of those areas in which progressives push for dramatic changes and massive spending on the basis of statistical claims that the public isn’t expected to consider in depth.  Michael Petrilli and Brandon Wright give a good quick dip into the subject in the process of defending their research from the attack of a Vox writer:

The same patterns still hold: The United Kingdom has the largest proportion of poor children, by far, followed by the United States, with a higher child poverty rate (but not much higher) than Germany’s and Finland’s.  …

It’s true that, whether you use the 100 percent or 125 percent level, the United States had more children in poverty than Finland did. But at 100 percent, our child poverty rate was almost three times as high as Finland’s (12.4 percent versus 4.6 percent). At the 125 percent level, it was only 12 percent higher (19.5 percent versus 17.4 percent).

Adjust the income line of poverty up just a bit, and suddenly the United States doesn’t look as bad.  The more important point, though, is that progressives like to look at poverty as a relative measure, like “half of the median income of their own country.”  That’s arguably not a measure of poverty so much as it’s an inverted measure of wealth.  If a significant number of Americans with income above Finland’s median were to move there, that country’s relative poverty level would skyrocket.  Again, that’s a measure of wealth, not poverty.

Dylan Matthews’s explanation on Vox is telling:

In rich countries it doesn’t make much sense to define poverty as “not having enough to meet basic material needs.” Almost no one is that poor in America — not even those earning less than $2 a day. What rich countries mean by poverty is something more like “having enough to have the bare minimum life necessary to be a part of your society.”

So, that “bare minimum” could mean a cell phone, cable, and two cars, if the country is wealthy enough that such things are common.  The importance of subsidizing luxuries in a luxurious society is a discussion we should have, but it seems like the direction of the discussion is backwards.  “Almost no one is that poor in America” should be the overarching point, not that it’s more difficult to provide luxuries to those at the lower end of a country’s population than it is for other countries to provide basics.


Syria Refugees and Imagining a Good President

Some recent posts in this space and arguments on Facebook prove that I’m happy to argue over the moral principles and civic practicalities around United States policy on Syrian refugees, but I have to admit a level of disbelief that this is what we’re arguing about and holding competing rallies over at this particular time in history.  With that disbelief comes an urge to imagine how this issue might have proceeded under a decent U.S. president.

Imagine if, rather than taunting members of the opposing party, which is expressing views that appear to be held by a significant majority of Americans, President Obama had said something like this:

Events in Syria are a matter of war and national security, but they are also creating a humanitarian disaster.  My administration will therefore continue to hold a higher target for admitting refugees into our country.  But I understand that the American people have reasonable apprehensions about the refugee process, in light of the atrocity in Paris, and that large lines of differing opinion currently run across our nation.

My administration will therefore be pausing the acceptance of such refugees for a very brief time — so brief, I’ll be honest, that I expect it to have a negligible effect on the program.  We’re already in the process of inviting people with widely varying views on the matter — people with credibility among those who hold each viewpoint — to gather together to review our process and our projections.  That review will be wide open to the public, and when it is done, we will adjust our policy or modify our process in a way that addresses valid concerns.  We’ll also put out a brief report explaining how refugee review works and giving the American people some sense of who is in the pipeline now and whether that will change.

Personally, I have great confidence that the concern about these refugees is more a misunderstanding than a disagreement, so I expect we’ll move forward with the policy with little or no change.  But we’ll have to see.

I’d probably want more than that, but such an approach would defuse a lot of the discord and address, not dismiss, Americans’ real and legitimate concerns.

Of course, seven years in, that ship has sailed for the Obama Administration.  He staged some performances along those lines early on, but they were obviously for show.  Just look at the party-line votes on ObamaCare, including one on Christmas Eve, followed by procedural tricks to pass it into law.


Armed with Data, Americans Might Question Education Funding and “Equity”

The Rhode Island Department of Education has released the state’s first-ever results from the Common Core–aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests and sent a shudder through everybody who is, or should be, accountable for them.

Two recent bits of local political rhetoric concerning education illustrate how important it is for Americans to understand the math of education, and in Rhode Island, those with financial incentive to divert accountability and push for increased funding will quickly redouble their efforts.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.


Letting Lerner Off Through Prosecutorial Discretion

If you want to know why so few Americans who aren’t partisan Democrats trust the Obama Administration — a dynamic that is currently have a real effect on the issue of accepting refugees from the Middle East — Joel Gehrke provides one of the most recent indications as to the reason:

Justice Department officials used “prosecutorial discretion” to shelter former IRS official Lois Lerner from a grand jury after she was held in contempt of Congress.

“I believe that in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, the matter was handled and was resolved,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday morning.

Translation: The Obama Administration simply decided not to prosecute somebody who very much appears to have broken the law in order to use a government agency to help his reelection chances.  As Congressman Trey Gowdy argues, there was more than ample evidence to justify a grand jury.

The damage that Obama’s presidency has done to the United States is incalculable in all areas, but the damage to our civic society is right up there at the top.

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