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Progressive Summer Reading List contains a book detailing pedophiliac relationship

A Progressive Summer (Reading List)

An uproar of progressive complaints led to book mentioning God to be removed from lesson plans, while the official Providence school’s summer reading list contains sexually explicit and politically charged novels including one that details a pedophiliac relationship.

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The Impression of a Surplus

This article from a few weeks ago shouldn’t pass into memory without comment:

Rhode Island finished the past fiscal year with a $29-million surplus, $25.5 million of which the state is already counting on in its budget for the current year, according to a preliminary accounting of the year that ended June 30.

State spending for the year that ended June 30 came in $12 million lower than the final, revised spending plan lawmakers approved earlier that month; state revenues were $2.1 million higher than expected.

Review the budget documents from the House Fiscal office for the real story.  With less than two weeks remaining in the fiscal year, the state increased its final budget for that year by $174 million.  This new “surplus” is just the extra wiggle room they gave themselves, and the fact that they are counting on almost all of it for the next year raises the question of how aware they were of the likelihood.

Of course, one could reasonably argue that the state ought to budget with the expectation of a small surplus.  In that case, however, the story isn’t really about a surplus, but about the absence of an unforeseen deficit.

To say that the government ended the year with a surplus is like saying your child has money left over when he or she gives you back a quarter from a hundred dollar bill that you gave him or her to buy something for $98.  That $1.75 went to buy some unapproved candy, but your kid wants credit for giving you any change at all.

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An Unaskable What If in Providence Education

The story of Providence schools’ purchase of an inspirational book took an interesting turn as a second act.  Act 1 was, “We Can’t Teach Anything That Sounds Religious”; Act 2 brings, “What Are We Not Being Told About How the City Spent $187,000 on this Book?”  Naturally, the reporting (and Rhode Islanders’ long, painful experience with their government) lends itself to suspicion, but an innocent explanation is still possible for details like this:

[Vernon Brundage, Jr.] published “Shoot Your Shot” last year, but it’s unclear how many copies were sold before Gallo ordered 16,510 books. Maryland business filings show Brundage didn’t establish “Shoot Your Shot Globe Enterprises,” the company Providence paid for the books, until Aug. 15.

It could be that, in the way of modern life, somebody in Providence came across this book and proposed it for distribution.  The proposal might have gone around the bureaucracy a bit, gathering approvals, and then inquiry made to the self-publishing author.  Upon the order of 16,510, perhaps he realized the need (or opportunity) to set up a company to handle the transaction.

This kind of serendipity happens in the entrepreneurial universe.  The catch in this instance, however, is that the district’s purchasing process should at least have produced some negotiation for a better price.  And (of course) there’s the reflexive anti-religious sentiment in the district (from the first link above):

Gallo said she read “Shoot Your Shot,” authored by Vernon Brundage Jr., prior to purchasing it, and the religious references didn’t alarm her. The breezy read uses stories from professional basketball stars to inspire readers to accomplish their goals.

She said the book is meant to teach “grit and perseverance,” but she now sees why some teachers were uncomfortable using it.

Despite all of the claims that we have to put the students first, here’s a question that I haven’t seen anybody even hint at asking:  What if a touch of religious faith is what Providence students really need?  The district would implicitly be making a religious statement if it were to declare that this could not be the case.

To be sure, a political philosophy could simultaneously hold that students need religion and that government schools cannot provide or even encourage it.  If that is our stance, however, then we have to question whether we should be expending so many resources on a system that can’t provide what is needed.

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Education Freedom: Our Children Need Opportunity Today

Everybody agrees that educating our youth is a moral obligation, and a vital basis for renewed economic growth.

Yet, very few in our political class have the courage to stand up to the special interests who want to maintain a government-run school monopoly. Look at the broken Providence School system. Parents need answers for their children today, not reforms that may help students five or even ten years down the road. Educational freedom is the answer.

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The Lamentable Process of Rhode Island Reform

During a hearing on the state’s takeover of Providence schools, WPRI’s Steph Machado tweeted the following comment from Domingo Morel, who wrote a book on state takeovers of schools and who joined the Johns Hopkins team to review Providence:

“It’s pretty unique” that the mayor, city council and school board haven’t objected to the state taking over the PVD schools

Perhaps these amount to the same thing, but one wonders whether the reason is that they know they aren’t capable of fixing the problem or want to pass the buck for the responsibility.

On most of Rhode Island’s intractable problems, especially those that manifest most significantly at the local level, one gets the sense that the strategy goes something like this:

  1. Try to mitigate the harmful effects of the problem while not making any difficult decisions.
  2. Allow the problem to get so bad that somebody has to step in, whether it’s the electorate with permission for a big bond or tax increase or the state or federal government with a takeover.
  3. Accept (maybe even take credit for) this manifest proof of incompetence.
  4. Work to limit the impact of any actual reforms to the status quo system and to siphon any increase in funds away from the problem.
  5. Proceed to revert to the way things were once the spotlight moves away.

Of course, this process isn’t purely a function of our elected officials.  We the people, after all, allow them to bring things to this point because we’re not willing to elect and support candidates and elected officials who could turn it around.

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Identity Politics Summed Up in a Game

Understanding that Hasbro has been trying to find the profit in contemporary politics by targeting markets with specialty versions of Monopoly, I still am a little surprised that this game made it through to production:

One of America’s most recognizable board games is getting an upgrade. Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Hasbro is debuting a new game celebrating women’s empowerment — Ms. Monopoly, marking the first time in Monopoly history when a new mascot will be featured on the cover of the game.

The twist? In Ms. Monopoly, female players will get more money.

Switching the “mascot” and the iconography of the game is fine, but creating sex-specific rules for players seems destined to ensure that playing it always has a hostile tinge.

The most likely scenario is that all of the players will be women, in which case their advantage is illusory.  In those cases in which men are at the board, the rules seem designed to emphasize anything unhealthy in the relationship.  Perhaps the man is obsequious.  Or maybe he’s playing the male feminist as a predatory strategy.  Or maybe he’ll approach the game in good fun, but his loss will have the taint of unfairness and his victory will come with a feeling of “Ha! The man won anyway!”

This is only a gimmicky game, of course, but culture is important.  Why not just stick with equality?  Even Jimmy Kimmel gets it.

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A Reporter Who Spins and a System that Drags Students Down

Erika Sanzi calls out Providence Journal education writer Linda Borg both for her bias and for blocking Sanzi on Twitter.  On behalf of my fellow Rhode Island subversives, I welcome Erika to the club.

It’s nice to have somebody else spotting and calling attention to the obvious errors in the pro-establishment spin.  Borg tweeted that Rhode Island had moved “up to 12th in a national ranking by Ed Week on academic achievement.”  Anybody who’s paid any attention to our state’s scores and trends should have done a quadruple-take on that claim, and that’s what Sanzi did:

People can certainly celebrate or quibble with EdWeek’s finding of Rhode Island landing in the 12th spot for its school systems overall. If 22nd for chance for success, 30th for academic achievement, and 5th in school finance puts us in 12th place, perhaps we should be asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Why is every state in New England, except for Maine, ranked higher than we are
  • Why, with such a strong score for school finance, do our achievement scores remain so low?

Dwell on that second bullet point.  In any fair assessment, excess spending ought to be calculated as a negative, not a positive. (This is a common point not considered in comparisons of government activity across states.)  Making a quick index of EdWeek’s “achievement” score against its “spending” score — sort of an efficiency index — puts Rhode Island at 46th in the country.

That illustrates a point that I’ve made many times in the past and that Sanzi suggests above:  Being middle-of-the-pack is not very impressive when you’re spending top-of-the-line dollars.  That’s especially true when you consider that Rhode Island is above average in “chance of success,” which largely depends on socio-economic conditions.  In other words, our students’ achievement should be higher than average based on this factor alone.

The conclusion to which this analysis leads may be a painful one for Rhode Islanders to hear, but if we actually want to help our children succeed and to improve our state, we have to address it:  Rhode Island’s education system isn’t just failing to add value for its students — holding them back; it’s actively harming them — dragging them down.

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The Magnitude of Charter Demand

In the past couple decades — especially the first decade of this century — Rhode Island’s public school districts have lost grades’ worth of students.  In Newport, it is as if an entire high school were standing empty; Providence has fared better, losing between one and two grades’ worth of students.  Yet, budgets have continued to climb.

Rhode Islanders should think of all of those empty classrooms when they hear somebody make the point that Democrat state Senator Ryan Pearson articulates here:

The reasons why costs are projected to soar are nuanced, but Pearson points to Cumberland where education expenses grow each time a student moves from a traditional school to a mayoral academy.

The per pupil price tag stays the same, he said, but because overhead costs at the traditional school – such as teachers and classroom expenses – don’t simultaneously disappear, the net cost to the town grows overall.

Yes, costs don’t necessarily disappear on a per pupil basis, but when 7-28% of students are no longer enrolled, surely there are savings to be found.

The more salient point from the Eli Sherman article linked above, however, is stated by a charter school advocate:

“If we’re talking about saving a district to enable them to operate in perpetuity – even if means generations of education are sacrificed in the process – we have our priorities wrong,” said Mary Sylvia Harrison, a longtime educator who most recently served as vice president for programs at the Nellie Mae Foundation.

Consider this chart from Sherman:

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Over the time span in the chart, demand for charter schools has grown 25%, but the number of available seats has gone down.  For the 2019-2020 school year, 8,494 students would like to attend a charter school but can’t.  If they were all in Providence, that would be more than four whole grades.  That’s a bigger number than all of Cumberland and Lincoln school districts combined.  It’s almost a full grade’s worth of students across the entire state.

Numbers of that magnitude don’t indicate a small leak of students that doesn’t allow districts to reduce their costs.  They indicate a mandate for a systemic change to the way we do education in Rhode Island.

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Twin River vs. Encore… All Bets Off

Public sentiment about casino gambling forced Twin River to build up little by little, but it may be time for the state and the company to decide whether to go the rest of the way to full resort casino.

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Casinos and Government Non-Competitiveness

As more casinos open their doors in Massachusetts, Rhode Islanders are at least presented with an important lesson in government.

Insider Senator Frank Ciccone (D, North Providence, Providence) has demanded to know “How can we compete?”  The answer, in short, is to stop requiring an act of the General Assembly for Twin River to do so.

Rhode Island takes a high percentage of gambling revenue, reducing the incentive for private investors to be involved.  The state dictates details about how many of what games from what company should be on the premises, and the governor is even now seeking to lock in a restrictive contract with IGT for 20 whole years.  Read through the state’s laws pertaining the the casinos, and it is clear that Twin River is little more than a management company for a state-run casino.

How can we compete?  Change that around.

Steve Frias notes that Rhode Island has already been down this path with horse racing, writing that it declined and disappeared for three reason:

First, competition from horse race tracks located in other New England states caused Rhode Island horse race tracks to lose customers. …

Second, the number of horse racing gamblers shrank as the sport failed to attract younger fans. …

Third, the quality of Rhode Island horse racing became poor due in part to a high tax burden. Rhode Island politicians steadily increased the state’s share of horse racing revenues from 3.5 percent in 1934 to 9 percent by 1971. This caused race track owners to invest less money into their facilities and it reduced the quality of the horses they could attract for races since the prize money was smaller. By 1976, Rhode Island race tracks were being called “the most miserable race tracks in America” with “the most miserable horses in America.” In 1978, horse racing in Rhode Island came to an end.

This is a microcosm of the way Rhode Island operates.  Simply put, you can’t compete when you have to cut a state’s worth of insiders in on the deal.  As life becomes less and less dependent on where you live, the captive audience will shrink, and business (any kind of business) will shift to the best competitor.

Thus, mobile sports betting (or wind turbine production or whatever) is no answer for the long term.  Even if Rhode Island is first to market, we’ll never be able to compete until we change the way the state runs.

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Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence

It is not difficult to understand that if our front-line public servants have incentive to not actually be on the front lines, then the overall quality of those public services will suffer.

A new report from our Center, released this week – Paid for Not Working, Collective Bargaining Taxpayer Ripoff #2 : Providence Teacher Leaves of Absence – highlights the many forms of collectively-bargained “leave time” allowed for teachers.

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In Advance of the Salem Grope Trials

For a little more than a year in 1692 and 1693, a small area in Massachusetts around the town of Salem provided the world with a classic example of mass hysteria, moral panic, or witch hunting… literally.  Two preteen girls in the family of the local minister began having fits, as if they were being assaulted via voodoo dolls, and the search for the perpetrators began.

Once that ball gets rolling, an accusation is a powerful weapon in an environment of unease and division.  Fingers are easy to point, and doing so comes with no consequence.  People with scores to settle have an opportunity, and even people who would never consciously set the mob upon somebody they don’t like may find themselves convinced that they’re doing it for the right reasons.

With our historical experience in this area, it’s shocking that this BBC article doesn’t even mention the possibility of abuse with a new device:

An anti-groping device aimed at tackling sexual harassment on public transport has been launched in Japan.

It allows victims to mark their assailants with an invisible ink stamp in the shape of a hand.

People can then use the device’s black light to identify those who have been marked.

Apparently, groping is a real problem along Japanese rail lines.  Still, the only concern expressed in the article is by Katie Russell, a spokeswoman for Rape Crisis England and Wales, who is concerned that the device unfairly puts the responsibility on victims to take action against their assailants.

Put aside the silly, childish notion that people should not take responsibility for their own self protection and that it is somehow wrong to provide them with tools for that purpose.  What’s striking is that it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anybody involved with the article that the practice of marking other people as perps could be abused.

It would be one thing for a man on the station platform to deny a false accusation.  It would be another for him to insist that somebody had unjustly pegged him with the groper stamp.

This may or may not be a sufficient problem to justify resistance to this new device, but the fact that it isn’t front and center in consideration of the thing indicates that abuse is likely.

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Hasbro Toying with Tariffs

Let’s stipulate that, as a general proposition, tariffs are bad.  Of course, such stipulations don’t provide quick and clean answers to every particular question.  As a general proposition, cutting people open is bad, too, as is punching them, but if you’re performing surgery or defending yourself, the general proposition doesn’t apply.  Losing your job isn’t great, either, but it doesn’t end your life, and you can adjust and even wind up better off than you were.

None of this is meant to offer support for any specific policy or trade war, but only as an encouragement toward a more comprehensive view.  Just so, the CEO of Hasbro is taking tariffs on China as an opportunity:

Hasbro shifting its business out of China has been positive for the company, according to its CEO. «It’s gone very well for us,» Brian Goldner told CNBC on Tuesday.

The toy company has been focused on diversifying its manufacturing operations since 2012 due to «enterprise risk reasons,» he said.

«We’re seeing great opportunities in Vietnam, India and other territories like Mexico. We’re doing even more in the U.S. We brought Play-Doh back to the U.S. last year,» Goldner said on «Squawk on the Street.»

Of course, that one industry giant is happy to adjust to this reality isn’t definitive proof that the tariffs are a net gain.  Market leaders often don’t mind restrictions, provided they create roadblocks for smaller competitors, too, because big players can better overcome artificial hurdles.

Moreover, the fact that the cost is artificial means that it is drawing resources away from something else altogether.  Writ large, the world is now paying more for toys, and those resources have to come from somewhere.

The question is: Are these costs worth the gains?  Such questions will always be subject to opinion, and it’s too early to tell, anyway.  Still, it’s worth remembering to ask them.

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Maybe We Should Say, “At Least It’s Only 18 Days”

When Rhode Islanders read an article reporting that about 25% of all Providence teachers were marked absent 18 times during a school year, we tend to think that’s a lot.  That’s especially true considering that the teachers’ 181-day work year is already one-fifth smaller than the 230 days private-sector workers typically work after they’ve taken all of their allowed paid time.

But there’s another way to look at this question.  As the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity points out, today, the Providence teachers’ contract allows them to take many more days off than they do.  In fact, in a standard year, every teacher could be out of the classroom 26 days, for various sick, personal, and other reasons.

On top of that, life events requiring time off — weddings and deaths — are counted neither as sick nor personal time, but are additional.  If the teacher gets married and experiences deaths in his or her the immediate, in-law, and extended families, the total would be 11 days.

That doesn’t happen all the time, of course, for which we can be grateful, but teachers could also rack up another 11 days out of the classroom for various activities related to their labor union.  And even this doesn’t count the equivalent of 36 and 72 days that a union coordinator and president do not have to do classroom work.

These totals also do not count longer-term absences, like sabbaticals or time off for being injured on the job, or the years Providence teachers can take off without pay.

A table on the Center’s report lays it all out, with references to the contract.  And again, this is all in addition to the fact that public school teachers who don’t take a single additional day off would still work about five fewer workweeks than somebody in the private sector who used up all of his or her time-off benefits.

So, maybe the takeaway shouldn’t be that Providence teachers are abusing their time off allowances, but that they aren’t even using them to their fullest.  It’s the entire system that is abusive.

(Of course, one caveat in our compliment to teachers’ diligence is that they get to carry over all sick days they don’t use, up to 150, and then receive a portion of that pay as a bonus when they leave the district.)

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The Elusive Lesson for the Angry Progressive

Sometimes a reader can’t help but feel like a professor watching a student come so close to an epiphany only to talk right past it.  One such moment can be found in this paragraph from an essay on UpRise RI by Missak Melkonian, about the JUMP bike gang that roved Providence for a day (emphasis added):

Maybe the youths terrorizing the yuppies have a point. I would be, and hell, I AM pissed that hotels and lofts can go up in the blink of an eye but repairing public schools is tantamount to rewriting the Constitution! If those in power wanted to fix the conditions that create these “issues” amongst the youth, they could do it, but they won’t and never will because their bottom line will always be money and power. I grew up in Providence schools. I didn’t need a report from Johns Hopkins to tell me the schools are awful. Anyone with common sense could tell you that – racist teachers, dilapidated facilities, extremely punitive disciplinary policies, do-gooder white savior NGO’s – not to mention the status of the recreation centers in Providence or the various boys and girls clubs. These all make for a ripe combination of anger, resentment, and antipathy in the youth. It’s hard to care about the well-being of something like a JUMP bike when it’s so evident the world doesn’t give a sh*t about you, or even consider you a human being.

Hmmm… what quality applies to hotels and lofts that does not apply to public school?  Ceding a little ideological ground, one could note that the for-profit incentives of the private sector align the drive for “money and power” with the good being sought.  Moreover, the need to draw resources through the consensual commerce of customers translates into incentive to treat them as human beings, without bias or unduly “punitive disciplinary policies.”

A failure to spot this lesson will lead to one place only:  a tacit desire to squash the productive private sector so that it does not outshine the under-performing public sector, thus increasing the amount of resentment in the world.

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A Thoroughly Predictable Chain of Events at the Wyatt Detention Center


In response to the events at the Wyatt Detention Center from two weeks ago, Our society could choose to accept anarchy, to accept that whoever has the bigger, tougher, better organized gang wins for themselves the use of public spaces; literally implementing might makes right as a governing principle. This does not seem to be a pathway that governing authorities in Rhode Island will consciously choose, as state government quickly remembered the importance of deterring violence from escalating, once the focus of events became people not involved in the intentional blocking of traffic.

A second possibility would be to cut the problem off at its root: enforcing laws and norms against blocking traffic and against denying people the right to travel in public spaces, and uniting around a shared norm that has served our society well. (I concede that that last phrase is a bit normative).

Of course, this depends on the right to travel being a norm that is widely shared. Is this still the case? The affinity repeatedly shown by protestors for blocking traffic, combined with the so-far one-sided response by Rhode Island authorities, suggests that it may not be; this, in turn, points in the direction of the third possible evolution of the system: convincing people that it is acceptable for government to protect fundamental rights within the context of a caste system, where some people have fewer rights than others. For various reasons, this is an unlikely candidate for smooth implementation.

That is your universe of choices. In the end, any way forward that abandons the impartial defense of the right to travel will lead to more and more cycles of violent conflict that will only be eliminated once the norm acting against those who try to block innocent people from traveling in public spaces is rediscovered.

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Fundamental Questions Vaped

Joanne Giannini’s essay in this space yesterday points in the direction of fundamental questions our society doesn’t seem interested in asking these days — much less answering.

A former state representative, Joanne was in office during a time when state government was cracking down on smoking.  She sees the rise of vaping as an as-bad-or-worse substitute cropping up and (one infers) probably deserving of the same response.

The first question is whether the rash of illnesses is actually an indication that vaping is truly dangerous.  Robert Verbruggen writes for NRO that reports of “the mystery vaping disease” merit investigation and concern, but indications are that they may be highlighting a tangential, not endemic, problem:

… while a lot remains to be learned about the illness, there are strong suggestions it’s caused by bad or counterfeit products, not by normal vaping. The cases cluster geographically, and in some states they have been found exclusively among those who vape cannabis products, not nicotine. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA director who launched a crackdown on vaping when studies showed teen use on the uptick, told KHN he suspects the problem is counterfeit pods, both because of the clustering and because the FDA inspects the facilities of legitimate manufacturers to ensure the products aren’t contaminated.

This, in other words, may be less like cigarettes, which cause disease by their nature, than like food poisoning.  If that’s the case, then regulation should be less about limiting access as a way of discouraging use than about helping consumers differentiate between safer and riskier products.

Either way, the question remains what our society ought to do when the short- and long-term effects of a consumable are unknown or are known to be bad.  Limiting their use by minors, who are presumed to be unprepared to make informed decisions, is an obvious possibility.  But shouldn’t adults be permitted to balance the risks and rewards of these things for themselves?

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School Choice = Expanding Educational Freedom

Educational Freedom changes lives. How many Rhode Island families have been forced to move away? How many other American families have chosen not to make our state their home? Rhode Island students and families suffer, because of a lack educational opportunity and economic prosperity. The die has now been cast: School choice is all about expanding educational freedom for families.

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