Rhode Island’s Agent of Indecision


Anybody else wonder why Linda Borg’s front-page article, in yesterday’s Providence Journal, comparing Rhode Island’s abandoned education reform with Massachusetts’s forward march, didn’t mention former Independent-to-Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee once?  He was the single-most-responsible party for Rhode Island’s policy reversal and the resulting halt of improvements.  Another way to put it would be that he was the teachers unions’ tool for achieving that reversal and halt.

Given Curt Schilling’s op-ed broadside against Chafee on the 38 Studios debacle, also in yesterday’s paper, it would have made a strong statement, indeed, for readers to have been given reason to consider the former governor’s effect on education, as well.  It also would have provided some food for thought with respect to Massachusetts’s now-“stagnant” test scores, as Borg puts it, because Democrat Deval Patrick played much the same role during his time as governor.

Of course, giving Chafee his shameful due on education would also have raised questions about how he achieved his office.  And that might have undermined the pro-Raimondo section with which Borg closed out her article.  After all, the new Democrat governor — whom Borg credits with bringing “a fresh approach” — achieved office in much the same way as her predecessor: with multiple candidates splitting the vote and preventing the election of anybody with a clear majority.


This post wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t raise the front-page graphic’s insistence that another $432 per student somehow makes the difference between Massachusetts’s first-place test results and Rhode Island’s merely average performance.  When last I looked at these numbers, Massachusetts’s per-pupil spending was seventh in the nation, while Rhode Island’s was eighth.  Anybody who’s looking for an explanation of the differences in our results can safely put the funding differences to the side.

  • Joe Smith

    There are lots of research on the weak correlation between spending and outcomes.

    We should also be more diligent in just saying “Wow, MA did MCAS and charters schools.” Minnesota ranks pretty high as well and dropped standardized tests as a requirement for graduation a few years ago.

    What is also missing from Ms. Borg’s article is the fact MA has the third highest “achievement gap” – in other words, their test scores are stagnant because the “MA model” has shown ineffective – like just about everywhere in general – in raising achievement among certain demographic groups and now those groups are gaining as a percent of the total population.

    This requires us removing our PC gloves and looking harder at the data. For example, let’s take Barrington or EG – nobody is going to say those districts lack in terms of (higher) relative educational outcomes, reputation, etc. Yet even those schools show great disparity among not only low income (SES), but certain minorities and yes, males in terms of standardized test results. You find the same in MA.

    Any discussions on “reform” (which seem to center on testing or “accountability”) that doesn’t pair the benchmark starting point in terms of demographics/household educational attainment with the trend demographic changes risk simplifying the solutions.

    Sure accountability is important, but there are states ranked near the bottom that have graduation exam requirements..or more universal pre-K..or more credit hours required..or spend more.. WV is a lot whiter than MA, but it’s also 50% poorer, 50% higher percent people with disability (under age 65), etc. etc.

    Take the 3 lowest charters and 3 lowest LEAs out of the outcomes (classification index scores or PARCC) and see the difference..