Content Types

Analysis

Public Policy Inefficiencies Can Be a Feature, Not a Bug

Whether it’s removing market signals with a value-added tax or creating incentive to block new children through zoning, public policy shouldn’t remove its red flags and should seek to address original problems, not symptoms.


GenX’s Asset Number One

As Baby Boomers set their eyes on Millennials and their efficiency toys, we’ll miss something important if we let GenX indulge in its loner inclinations.


Vulnerability in the Social Services Shell Game

Reporting about the budget’s change in payments to hospitals for uncompensated care raises more questions than it answers, pointing to the complexity of government spending and the vulnerability of taxpayers.


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Research

Underlying Causes of Education Graduation Gaps

A look at differences in graduation rates suggests that we’re not addressing the actual problems that our students face.


NAEP Scores: Another Unacknowledged Crisis in RI

The word “pleased” should not have appeared anywhere in the statement of Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner upon release of 2017 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test:

“Nationwide, results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress remained relatively flat, and we saw a similar trend in Rhode Island,” said state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “I’m pleased to see us perform better than the national average on fourth grade reading… I hope that our work around early literacy as part of the Third Grade Reading Challenge will speed up that progress going forward.”

That’s like being happy that your child is vomiting a little bit less than half the kids in the sick ward.  Never mind that his or her fever is slightly higher, his or her bleeding out of the eyes is slightly worse, and he or she is slightly more delirious than half the children.

According to the data, Rhode Island students don’t break the 40%-proficient mark in either 4th grade or 8th grade in either math or reading (or science or writing, for that matter).

For some quick perspective take a look at the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s States on the Nation’s Report Card tool, which has been updated to include the latest data.  Rhode Island’s 4th grade reading scores may be above the average state, but we used to have a lead of three points, and that’s now only two.  Worse, the Ocean State’s 8th grade math scores have fallen off a cliff.  Since the 2013 test, RI students’ average score has dropped from 284 to 277.  That’s 2.5%.  In 2013, our children were scoring the same as the average state… no longer.

RI-NAEP-Gr8-subjects-2000-2017

More broadly, the fashionable distraction to which state bureaucrats lead, which journalists follow, is to lament that “achievement gaps between white students and students of color continue to remain stubbornly high.”  This emphasis manages to imply that the real challenge isn’t a broken educational system, but institutional racism, and to lead white parents to think the state’s problems belong to other people, but it disguises the more disturbing conclusion.

Combining 4th and 8th grade scores on reading and math, black students in Rhode Island are actually slightly outperforming their peers in the average state.  Hispanic students in Rhode Island do worse than in the average state, but they track closely with black students, which is more typical in our region.

The big drop in Rhode Island is actually among white students, who are the majority.  Managing to keep Rhode Island’s minority students relatively flat has actually helped keep up our scores.  To the extent that Rhode Island has addressed its “achievement gap,” it has been by failing white students even more.

As I wrote in 2015, the data is strongly suggestive of a change during the governorship of Democrat Lincoln Chafee that looks like a ceiling on Rhode Island’s progress in reforming education.  If anything, we can now see that the trends have worsened, rather than improving, under his successor, and the spin should no longer be tolerated.


February 2018 Employment: Preparing to Miss the Wave?

Rhode Island’s employment numbers for February look okay, until they’re put in a broader context, raising concerns that the Ocean State may miss the better part of the current economic wave.


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Opinion

An Emblematic Decision Between Security and Salaries

A Bizarro World Justin Katz illustrates some realities that The Current’s Justin Katz thinks ought to be relevant to Rhode Island’s debates about unionization.


At Least Capitalism Can Be Only an Economic System

Comparisons of capitalism and collectivism are tedious when they assume that they are equal in purporting to provide meaning for people’s lives.


Political Monday with John DePetro: A State for Sale

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, the topics were the state’s Amazon HQ pitch, insinuations about Channel 10, and the PawSox opening day.

Open post for full audio,


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Investigative Report

Catholic Bishop to Smalanskas: Providence College at a Crossroads

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence has written a letter to the Providence College student under attack for his pro-marriage bulletin board saying that the college must decide a path between Catholicism or being “just one more progressive, secular bastion of political correctness.”


Pro-Lesbian Bulletin Board in All-Girls Dorm Prompted Traditional Marriage Response

Motivation for the pro-traditional-marriage bulletin board at Providence College was an earlier board promoting lesbianism in an all-girls dorm, which appeared to receive more administrative support at the Catholic school than one supporting Church doctrine.


Providence College Student Threatened in Rape Cartoon After Promoting Catholic Marriage Belief

A Providence College student has become the target of protest and threats after promoting the traditional understanding of marriage at the Catholic college.


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Liveblog

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Longer Twitter

Some Unanswered Questions on Housing

Perhaps it’s healthy every now and then to post something without implying that one knows how to fit it into a mural of opinions.  If so, I’ve found an opportunity in this news:

Rhode Island’s median house price jumped 13 percent in March, rising to $265,000, as the inventory of houses for sale plunged by 16 percent, compared to March 2017, the Rhode Island Association of Realtors reported Thursday.

Naturally, the realtors’ association suggests the problem is that they need more properties to sell.  In general, the trend would seem to count as contrary evidence to assertions that the state is losing people.

Both economic curves that bear on price come into play, here: supply and demand.  It could be that people want to buy property in Rhode Island, and that’s driving up prices.  Or it could be that regulations are too restrictive to allow sufficient expansion of supply.  And referring to “regulations,” we have to expand the term not only to mean direct zoning restrictions and the like, but also other regulations, like licensing restrictions that drive up the cost of building.

Too many threads must be unwoven, here, for a rainy Thursday, and I don’t have a quick answer.  I continue to hold that people should have a right at the local level to determine what sort of community they live in.  (Although, I’ll generally argue against using that right to hamstring your neighbors.)  I’d also suggest that we do too much to subsidize some construction while restricting different kinds of construction (say commercial versus residential), and much too much to prevent the economy from growing quickly enough for people to be able to afford housing.

My suspicion, in other words, is that all of Rhode Island’s economic meddling is doing something to focus economic value unnaturally on housing.  I also suspect the people who benefit from that state of affairs would be much better able to explain it.


Some Obvious Observations About Population Growth

Sadly, the modern age sometimes requires us to restate blindingly obvious things, as Glenn Stanton does for The Federalist:

It’s a terribly stubborn demographic truism: Somewhere close to 100 percent of babies never born will never become customers of your business. This is true of the more than 55 million American babies who never made it past the womb since abortion was legalized in 1973. It’s true of the untold millions who were never conceived because a potential mom and dad thought they had better things to do.

Of course, there is an inestimable, inherent worth and dignity to every human life, but we cannot ignore the social significance at play here as well. These invaluable lives-never-realized are a whole lot of missing customers. Not good for business. Not good. Nor will they be paying into social security or pensions to provide your part when that time comes either. …

Many countries have been noting this with tremendous concern for more than a decade. Rather than the apocalyptic “population bomb” which was supposed to wipe out countries and lead to the starvation of millions, the exact opposite has happened. Governments across the world are working hard, and often with desperate creativity, to boost the number of new home-grown citizens in their nations.

Understanding the economic value of people, a society shouldn’t do things like make the public bill for raising children so high the public turns away from it, or use the law to deny unique status to the types of relationships that create children, or perpetuate public policy that drives productive people away.

Unfortunately — in part, but not only, because of that old “population bomb” rhetoric — a strain of belief runs through our civilization that there are simply too many people already.  That belief implicitly implicitly relates to a great many of the issues that vex our public dialogue.  People are bad and racist, so we need to impose restrictions on their free association and speech.  People are a blight on the planet, so they’re causing catastrophic climate change.  People are selfish and ignorant, so we require central planning to take decisions out of their hands.

With such beliefs, the obvious thing probably seems to not have children.


Yes, Divorce Is Catchy, but So Should Be Good Marriages

A headline proclaiming that “Divorce is contagious” probably ought to spark the immediate reaction, “of course it is.”  As the essay suggests, all of these big life events are contagious.  I observed among my wife’s friends as well as other circles of friend clusters that marriages, child births, divorces, and other relationship events that seem mainly between a husband and wife seem conspicuously to spread around a group of female friends.

Writes Bek Day:

There is a big social component to the times at which we each decide to make major life decisions like marriage – including, research suggests, when and if those marriages end.

According to a study conducted across three US universities, you’re 75% more likely to get divorced if at least one member of your close friendship circle ends their marriage.

Yep, 75%.

Researchers arrived at this extraordinary figure using a longitudinal study which examined participants over a 32-year period. Their findings, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that divorce was something that could be passed on through ‘social contagion’.

That’s why we have to make marriage contagious.  As I wrote again and again during the same-sex marriage debate, the designation matters because it allows those of us who maintain long-term relationships with the other who is significant because we two have created children to invest the institution with meaning.  (That applies even among couples that have no children, provided their relationship does not contradict the ability to create children as a central premise… that is, provided one is a man and one is a woman.)

So, to counter the contagion of divorce, we have to have marriages that neither person wants to leave and that other people would take as a model.  That means we must take seriously our responsibility to seriously work out our differences, and in the end, that is most likely when we enter the relationship with the understanding that divorce is simply not an option. It also means those considering divorce should consider how their decisions will affect those around them.

Yes, marriage is a two-person relationship, but its effects are much broader than that.


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Interviews & Profiles

Liberty Bytes: Michael Smalanskas Under PC Fire at PC


Arthur Christopher Schaper: Cicilline’s “Grand Theft Auto” Sanctuary City

Arthur Christopher Schaper asks illegal immigration expert Jessica Vaughn about the consequences of sanctuary city policies under former Providence Mayor David Cicilline.


10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 46 (Congressional Debates)

Rob Paquin and Bob Plain discuss the candidates for U.S. Congress from Rhode Island (mostly by way of the issues).


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