The Important Perspective on Providence Schools


If you missed Mark Patinkin’s interview with four students from Providence schools last week, rewind a bit and give it a read.  This may be the biggest gut-punch of the thing:

I asked Saquan if any teachers took an interest in him.


Not even one?


Then he said the dean of students did care, but not any teachers.

His mom, Sandra, agreed with that — that the administrators at Gilbert were the only ones who tried to get students on track.

Sandra had hoped teachers would provide the kind of role models she said are often lacking for kids like Saquan, but she’s been disappointed.

It’s heartbreaking for a student to feel this way, but we need to broaden the picture if we’re going to figure out a way through our current crisis.  We can certainly expect teachers to do more than the minimum and to take an interest in their students, and we can hope that they’ll be role models for students in particular need of such examples.  But we can’t count on their being so.

Time is just too short and human beings are too complicated.  Connections between people form in unexpected, often-inscrutable ways.  Therefore, children should be in as many situations where they might find healthy role models as possible.  When it comes to disadvantaged students, families need to be able to be more efficient in that search.

If we accept these principles, than it’s ridiculous of us to expect public schools to fill the same purpose for every student.  Different students within a community will require different settings, and the default public school in each community should be tailored to the students in that community.

This is one reason I’m skeptical of statewide curricula and that sort of thing.  It’s also why I’m a proponent of school choice.  To be sure, standardized testing would seem to be in contrast with this view, but that is only a necessity because a lack of choice leaves a school bereft of real accountability.

Or perhaps I should start modifying that assertion.  Providence shows that if things get bad enough, accountability might … might … find its way in, but we should set our social alarms to be much more sensitive than that.

  • Joe Smith

    I’m not sure why RIDE spends all the time and money to do their Surveyworks initiative – all this kind of feedback from students and parents are in the results from the last couple of years. Did we really need folks from JHU to tell us PPSD test results or building conditions are terrible? We pay for RICAS testing and pay for lots of smart people in RIDE/OPC or our public higher education schools who do that kind of research.

    We paid hundreds of thousands for that Jacob Report that listed deficiencies in every school a couple of years ago – how hard would it have been to have some folks already on staff (plus the mandated facilities committee each school district and town is supposed to have) to do an audit on fixes done to the items in that report?

    The alarms been ringing for years – we have built some many processes in place to sound alarms. The issue we have is leadership who just hit snooze and an electorate that yawns most of the time and goes back to their slumbering state.

  • Joe Smith

    So here’s the one dilemma I have with general school choice – beside the way Pat Ford and the libertarians view it as if there is some well functioning market for K-12 education.

    Take Tiverton. According to Census, only 25% of the households have children under 18. Tiverton roughly spends 60% of so (seems less than other towns) on education, around $17K or so PPE. Now in theory basic education (one can argue the amount for sure but some level of elementary/secondary education) benefits everyone (positive externality) so we all benefit.

    Hence, like most externalities, the private market will under (positive) or over (negative) produce if left only the market participants. In this case, not everyone would pay for their kid’s education, either out of inability or valuing it less than the socially optimal level. So, the public funds to adjust the market. Now, with school choice, the individual – who is only getting some (but not all) of the benefit gets to make a claim on *all* of the funds without those who benefit *and* pay most of the cost now get now say?

    Why don’t we allow that with say EMS or the water services? Why do we assume parents are “choosing” with society’s best interest, when that may not be the case. Right, Nash won a Nobel prize for showing private individual’s pursuit of their own optimal outcomes doesn’t lead to efficient societal outcomes (outside perfect market conditions), especially when they don’t take the interests of others into consideration (or there are no enforcing mechanisms to ensure cooperation).

    Where’s the equity when essentially 25% are solely determining the largest local expenditure (for most towns) outside the democratic process especially when their interests are not necessarily totally aligned with the majority paying the bill?

    Anecdotal for sure, but representative – one friend of mine is sending their kid into my district’s school (through a choice program) because my district is D1, their district is D3, the kid is a great athlete and “the ProJo all state team is only from D1 schools”.. or another who applied to a charter because the start times work better with his wife’s (and implicitly his) schedule. Huh – where’s the “best education” for the rest of us helping to pick up that tab in that? (and the charter school has lower RICAS scores than the neighborhood school)