Not Seeing the Argument for Public School Protectionism


Readers of political and policy news should make it a practice to try to understand an issue from the other side.  If the other side’s advocates are making a complaint, try to understand their legitimate grievances.

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I have to admit, however, that I’m having a difficult time seeing the grievances expressed by opponents of Rhode Island’s school “pathways” program as legitimate:

Warwick Supt. Philip Thornton said pathways schools such as Ponaganset are draining students away from his schools, to the tune of $1.4 million a year in lost tuition.

Tuition dollars follow the student when he or she moves from one district to another. Thornton said Warwick has “lost” 86 students to Ponaganset and North Kingstown. In a district facing significant financial challenges, that’s a lot of money.

Shanley, a Warwick Democrat, said the bill would require students to stay in their own school district if the home district has a similar program. …

Parents, he said, see this as a way to get their children into higher-performing school districts.

How can one respond to this except to suggest that Warwick schools should get their act together and make their programs good enough that families don’t pull their children, and maybe even so good that families from other districts move their children into Warwick schools?  And how can one possibly read Representative Evan Shanley’s bill as anything other than protectionism for school districts at the expense of students?

Yes, parents will look for ways to provide a better education for their children.  We should be looking for those ways, too — that is, if our goal really is to provide opportunities and ensure an educated population.

  • Mike678

    The challenge is demographics. Ask any non-PC educator–you can predict school performance by looking at the socio-economic makeup of the school district. We can throw (and have) huge amounts of money at schools in depressed areas, and the results unimpressive. Thorton understands this and is working to preserve his schools funding. As a result, he will trap children and parents who want better in poor performing schools.

  • Joe Smith

    Was Thornton the Superintendent in North Kingstown prior to jumping for the big bucks to Warwick? Maybe Warwick should reconsider its Superintendent choice since clearly these other districts have looked at the landscape and created these programs (and apparently in North Kingstown’s case after Thornton left).

    Ironically, Wagner (and the Gov) should be all over this – using the bullypulpit to advocate against this legislation since competition through program – vice school – is a much better choice model. Of course Wagner doesn’t even have a rating system for CTE programs so what’s the definition of “similar”?

    And if it passes, then what is the difference between a sending district blocking a student going to a charter – after all, don’t the traditional districts offer a “similar” program to most charters?

  • Marc Comtois

    “Of course Wagner doesn’t even have a rating system for CTE programs so what’s the definition of ‘similar’?”

    THAT is the core problem. FYI, Warwick also offers pathway programs Aviation is one, for instance and there are a few others. Everyone is doing it. The issue is that RIDE has refused to offer any sort of system to determine if kids are really “better off” picking a pathway in another district than taking the same coursework in their own. It looks like some Districts are using the Pathway more to up enrollment numbers than offer better programs. For instance, North Kingstown cobbled together existing business programs as a “Business” pathway. It is not anything “innovative”. So is it about “pathways” or “zip codes”?

    • Joe Smith

      Well, I wouldn’t hold out hope with RIDE even with a rating system. After all, it took years for them to do that for charters – and it even has a component for innovation. Yet, do any charters get dinged for “no innovation?” No – RIDE can’t even list (unlike Mass) items after 20 years of charter developed innovative items that can be exported back to traditional schools.

      Do sending districts still have to pay tuition even they are paying to send a student who would have attended the local 5 star high school to a 2 star one? Yep. The rating system is simply a check the block for ESSA and the charter review system was designed by Gist to show how great charters are (which is why the financial and governance portions were left either “TBD” or broad for 5 years and now remain so slim even 38 studios would have passed)

      Shanley if he was being intellectually honest should also introduce the same bill for charters – unless the charters can show something differential, why should sending districts pay?

      Justin noted a ‘better” education. That’s the tension. Is better simply what a parent says? Pretty easy when it’s a school with 10% proficiency, low graduation rates, high absenteeism – but what about when a parent wants to send their child from a high proficiency, high graduation rate, low absenteeism et al school to one of those “low performing schools.” If public dollars are involved the public still should have no say in questioning that choice?