A scathing editorial in the Providence Journal takes Education Commissioner Ken Wagner to task, suggesting that he never should have been hired:
Buried in the story, on the jump page, was an astonishing revelation. “In my three and a half years, I’ve seen only four classrooms that challenge kids at the levels the standards require. We are dramatically under-challenging our kids.”
That is a shocking admission. In the entire state, with its 300-some schools, Commissioner Wagner has found only four four classrooms where students were being adequately challenged.
The referenced story is an interview with the $225,000-per-year commissioner, and the editorial rightly snarls about his insistence that “it’s no one’s fault.” But in one respect, the editorialists might have been a little unfair, inasmuch as they missed Wagner’s lightly hidden warnings:
Wagner said Rhode Island might be ready for a test-based graduation requirement in two or three years, when educators and elected officials have a chance to dig into the latest test scores. Next year, he said, the education department will release data on students who have reached proficiency on the Rhode Island Common Assessment Program or RICAS, called a commissioner’s seal, side-by-side with high school graduation rates.
“I’m not opposed to it. Just not right now,” Wagner said. “Let everyone digest the dramatic gaps between high school graduation rates and student proficiency and then revisit it.
“If you change the graduation requirements, everyone is going to bank on (the belief) that we’re going to blink,” he said. “The legislature will step in again.”
“If absenteeism rates are high,” he said, “there is something wrong with the school … with its climate and culture. Our first role is shining a light on this. Every school is talking about this. We have named it.”
There you go. Basically, the education commissioner is confirming that the problem is a system in which powerful labor unions create an unproductive, low-quality environment with no hope of improvement because they can make the politicians blink. The trick those legislators and the governor are trying to pull off is to find a way to squeeze some improvement out of the system without actually naming (or fixing) the underlying problem.
It won’t work, and no one should blame Wagner if he sees escape as the silver lining of his scapegoating. By contrast, we all should wonder what sort of person would want to take the job on the politicians’ terms, even with that six-figure pay rate.
Featured image: Ken Wagner being dramatic on the Dan Yorke State of Mind show.