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MA Test Results: About the Test or Sign of Trouble

We’re so used to hearing good education news out of Massachusetts that this AP report from Steve LeBlanc might jar against our expectations:

Just half of Massachusetts students in grades three through eight met or exceeded expectations on the new “next generation MCAS test” in math and English — the first time the test has been administered.

Massachusetts education officials publicly released the spring 2017 test results on Wednesday.

Educators were quick to caution against making direct comparisons between a student’s performance on the new test and the original, nearly 20-year-old, MCAS.

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Of course, new tests can’t be compared with old tests.  In Massachusetts, however, the MCAS results were backed up by nation-leading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  Those scores have been stagnant, however, since around 2006, when then-governor Deval Patrick diluted accountability measures on behalf of the teachers unions.

When the next round of NAEP scores come out we’ll have some indication of whether the new state-based test is just overly challenging or the results really do indicate a state that’s losing ground and needs to renew its education-reform vows.

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Ethics Commission Moves Forward on Edwards Complaint

Because the complaint that I filed with the state Ethics Commission against Town Council Vice President John Edwards, V, has become a subject of statewide interest, I’ll post updates as they occur.  Today, I received a letter from the Ethics Commission (click for PDF) informing me that the commission is moving the matter forward:

Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(c)(2), and Commission Regulation 1003(c), the Rhode Island Ethics Commission determined on October 17, 2017, that the above-captioned Complaint alleges facts sufficient to constitute a violation of the provisions of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.

The Commission will conduct an investigation of the allegations contained in the Complaint, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-12(c) and Commission Regulation 1004.  You will be informed of further action pursuant to the requirements of the Code of Ethics.

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“Privilege” for the Underprivileged

If you’ve got a few minutes, watch this short video illustrating the progressive understanding of the advantages of “privilege”; if you’d rather not, I’ll describe it below:

The narrator lines up a bunch of young adults for a foot race to claim a $100 reward.  Before telling them to start, though, he allows the runners to take two steps forward for each of a variety of markers of social privilege, which are implied to be “white privilege” when at the end he offers the moral:

Every statement I’ve made has nothing to do with anything any of you have done, has nothing to do with decisions you’ve made.  Everything I’ve said has nothing to do with what you’ve done.  We all know these people up here have a better opportunity to win this $100.  Does that mean these people back here can’t race?  No.  But we would be foolish to not realize we’ve been given more opportunity.  We don’t want to recognize that we’ve been given a head start, but the reality is we have.  Now, there’s no excuse; they’ve still got to run their race; you still gotta run your race; but whoever wins this $100, I think it’d be extremely foolish of you not to utilize that to learn more about somebody else’s story, because the reality is if this was a fair race and everybody was back on that line, I guarantee you some of these black dudes would smoke all of you, and it’s only because you had this big of a head start that you’re possibly going to win this race called life.

Obviously, the video is intended to support a progressive narrative, but considering the markers that the narrator calls out as privilege-inducing, one can’t help but notice the degree to which conservative concerns and policies would foster a more “fair” race:

  • Are “both of your parents still married”?  A traditional understanding of the family and policies that encourage, rather than discount or even penalize, marriage are conservative.
  • Did “you grow up with a father figure in the home”?  Conservatives are the ones pushing back against the feminist war on men.
  • Did you have “access to a private education”?  School choice that broadens such access is a priority of conservatives (who often brave accusations of racism in the effort).

Others of the purported markers of privilege are less obvious, but only because they are subject to debates about whether personal opportunity or government handouts will better ensure that, for example, one never has to worry about having cell phone service shut off.  (As evidence that the free-market approach is more effective, I’d point out that the question wasn’t whether the kids have a cell phone.  Of course they do, because the market has been free to differentiate and bring prices down with competition.)

Thinking about the family raises a critical point that often goes unmentioned in these conversations.  Maybe the various advantages had nothing to do with the actions and decisions of the young adults in the race, but they certainly had to do with decisions that their parents made.  Would it be fair if parents stayed together, forewent luxuries for the sake of computers and college savings, and made other sacrifices for their children only to find that it did nothing to improve the lot of their families or reduce their disadvantages?

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The other side of that coin is that the morally valuable victim status promoted in the video can be acquired not only through disadvantage, but also through bad decisions.  Having children out of wedlock and prioritizing short-term enjoyment over long-term planning for your children ensures that your children, while they may be frustrated back at the starting line, will not be the obviously uncomfortable ones shuffling from foot to foot with their head start, marked out as undeserving.

Pressing that discomfort, the narrator directs the advantaged kids to get to know the disadvantaged kids.  Broadening one’s awareness through relationships is always worthy advice, but shouldn’t another lesson be that the disadvantaged kids should emulate the parents of the advantaged ones?

The success of the video “explaining privilege” is most notable in the degree to which it raises that question.  If we place the family at the center of our society, there is no reason this race of life can’t be a story of fairness, as each family benefits by the decisions of its members.  In reality, the extent two which white people are locking in their own privileges, it is the doing of white progressives who seek to consolidate social control in the hands of people who want to stand at the finish line waving their $100 bill in the air.

After all, the most privileged person on the field in the video is the narrator deciding who gets to move forward and who doesn’t, as well as how much of his own wealth he’ll give up in order to get the kids to run for his enjoyment, his moral vanity, and the improved social standing that his viral video will win.

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As RI Implements Government-First Economic Strategy, JOI Drops

The Providence Journal has published an op-ed that I wrote about Rhode Island’s slip on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI):

When numbers that indicate economic health for families is up, a state’s score goes up. When the balance shifts toward reliance on and payments for government, a state’s score goes down. Nothing in the score should disadvantage Rhode Island in particular. The center’s goal with the index is to objectively measure states according to the principle that economic health means independence both from want and from government.

From this perspective, the strategies that elected officials advertise as steps forward are shown to be deeply flawed. Gov. Gina Raimondo has focused on bribing companies to move to the state in order to generate photo ops and claim that her administration is creating jobs. Meanwhile, the General Assembly has passed so-called tax reforms that were designed to game national indexes of business friendliness — lowering tax rates, for example, while increasing the amount of tax collected.

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We need economic policies that unleash Rhode Islanders’ own potential and attract others who want to build opportunity for themselves and their employees.  Pitching a new Amazon headquarters, subsidizing a minor league baseball stadium, and building hotels aren’t going to do it.

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When Tanzi Harassed Dickinson

With people in the know in Rhode Island generally agreeing to accept the insinuation of progressive Democrat Representative Teresa Tanzi (Narragansett, South Kingstown) that she was propositioned for sexual favors in order to move her legislation along, to the extent that the state’s top law-enforcement officer, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, labeling her as a “victim” prior to any investigation, my mind went back to this moment, from an April 5, 2012, hearing of the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources:

Of course, Tanzi’s reaction to then-Representative Spencer Dickinson is understandable.  This moment happened at 8:19 p.m., after a relatively long floor session plus a couple of hours in that small room.  It’s a fair moment to raise, however, given Tanzi’s new prominence as a participant in the #MeToo hashtag movement creating the impression that just about every woman has experienced sexual harassment of some kind.  Thus do activists capitalize on a helpful narrative as the egregious case of progressive Democrat donor and film producer Harvey Weinstein echoes in our culture’s canyons.

Lists of examples of sexism and harassment in the workplace often include the “subtle sexism” of “manterrupting,” as a recent CNN Money essay dubs it.  One needn’t be an incorrigible mansplainer or doubter, however, to think that maybe, just maybe, the victimhood culture and social dynamic exemplified by contrived hashtag trends creates social incentive to superimpose sexism on ordinary interactions.  Flip the genders in the video above, and one could see how the brash young man’s sexism leads him without patience for the calm deliberation of the older woman whom he interrupts.

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If the connection seems a stretch, keep in mind Tanzi’s specific language about her own #MeToo experience: “I have been told sexual favors would allow my bills to go further.”  Now, given the cast of characters that Rhode Islanders have elected (and continue to elect) to the General Assembly, one can absolutely believe that something happened exactly as Tanzi’s statement has been interpreted.  Still, from her description, the possibilities range all the way from a serious proposition from a powerful man to a sarcastic joke about sexism from another female legislator.

We should get back to seeing each other as people interacting in a complex society rather than reeds blown around by wicked winds that can never be stilled but can be translated into political advantaged when we howl in unison.  Creating incentive for every woman on social media to search her past for some incident that might give pretense to join in with the hum of hashtags… going to journalists with vague stories… printing the stories with not a single bit of substantiation… and then fuming at the constructed crisis will only create distrust and sow division.

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Exactly the Point on the Boy Scouts

The closing paragraph of a front-page article by Matt Sheley in Monday’s Newport Daily News (not online) captures exactly the point on the question of girls’ joining the Boy Scouts:

“I was listening to the radio the other day and a young woman was speaking about the changes with the Boy Scouts and she said something like, ‘I go to school with boys, I go to dances with boys, I go to functions with boys, so how is this going to be any different?’,” [Middletown troop leader Jim] Fowler.

That’s exactly the point I made the other day, only with a different inference.  Maybe it’s important for boys to have a space for boys, where they can interact with each other and develop their character without the complications that co-ed activities bring to the interactions of teenagers and young adults.  If the Boy Scouts don’t provide that, then how is scouting fundamentally different from any other activity?

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As our society has moved increasingly toward structured, formalized activities for children, deliberately building such places becomes critical.  If, instead, we allow the radicals to continue deconstructing our society, we’re sure to reap the consequences of refusing to respect human nature, allowing our civilization to work with it, rather than bury it.  Bury enough corpses, and you’ll find you’re building over a future sinkhole.

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Memorial Hospital and Signs of Decline

Rhode Islanders may be getting used to the evidence of decline, but when a hospital closes, it carries with it an especial sense of foreboding.  Ted Nesi reports on WPRI.com:

Care New England’s board voted Monday night to close Memorial Hospital after a proposed takeover deal for the cash-strapped facility fell through, the company revealed Tuesday. …

Fanale said Memorial currently employs roughly 700 people, some of them part-time, and jobs are likely to be found for some of them at Care New England’s other facilities. “We’re not going to be able to save every one, but to the extent we’re able to [we will],” he said. He also emphasized that patient safety will be a priority as the hospital winds down. …

Memorial is licensed for 290 hospitals beds, but in recent months it has had just 15 to 20 inpatients a day. “It leaves you in a devastating situation,” Fanale said.

This is sad to see, but we live in a state in decline.  Add this story to other obvious warning signs, like the closure of Rhode Island retail staple Benny’s.   On a broader scale, recall that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) showed the Ocean State dropping to 49th in the country, from its five-year perch at 48th.  Even seemingly unconnected stories like the Warwick teacher sick outs are part of the story; after all, the underlying cause in that city (and most of the state) is plummeting enrollment.

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These are the sorts of things you see when government attempts to structure society around government-heavy services provided to people who otherwise have no reason to live here.  The government plantation model doesn’t work; government can’t be a state’s core industry.

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Political Monday with John DePetro, No. 30: Gina v. Media and Teachers v. Families

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, last week, the topics were Gina Raimondo’s battle of words with the news media, Warwick teachers’ sick out, and state worker buy-outs.

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I’ll be on again Monday, October 23, at 2:00 p.m.

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Is Transitioning Kids Really a Policy That Should Be Rushed?

As Rhode Island’s Department of Education moves to satisfy radical activists by making its guidance on transgender students into a mandatory regulation for all districts (hopefully not going after private schools) — guidance that encourages teachers to help students plan their transitions and hide it from their parents — one supposes the bureaucrats won’t pay much genuine attention to the arguments of doctors like those whom Adelaide Mena introduces in an article from the Catholic News Agency:

Emphasizing the importance of rooting medical practices in science rather than ideology, [Washington University of Medicine professor of Pediatrics, Endocrinology, Cell Biology and Physiology Paul] Hruz noted that no randomized controlled trial or consistent findings have shown that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are the best treatments for children with gender dysphoria.

“The reality is there is no science to back this drastic change.” He also noted that as many as 90 percent of youth outgrow gender dysphoria by the end of adolescence and realign their identity with their biological sex.

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Think of how astonishingly quickly the progressives in and out of government have been rushing to impose their worldview on our children with this issue.  When it comes to reforming our education system, with some sort of flexibility for families and accountability for the unionized employees, we get decades of baby steps that special interests can easily undermine.  When it comes to reinforcing children’s rejection of their natural bodies and putting them on a path to irrevocably change them?  Well, on that we can rush right in, and with zero direct legislative authority needed.

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Parents of Special Needs Students and School Budget Battles

Entirely by way of connecting observations from multiple districts, this detail of Katie Mulvaney’s  article on Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl’s ordering Warwick teachers to stop their sick-outs is worth lingering over:

Ellen F. Polo, head of the Robertson parent teacher organization, said she is fully behind the teachers, as are 80 percent of the parents she knows.

“I fully support the teachers,” Polo said Monday, citing the union’s push for smaller class sizes and concerns about compromising special-education services. “If there’s a strike, I’d support it.”

The district has been eliminating teaching assistant positions that are crucial to meeting students’ needs, said Polo, whose oldest daughter is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

I’ve noticed that the parents of special needs students are often prominent supporters of (even warriors for) local school districts, backing the regular push for more funds all around.  They are understandably grateful to the district, generally, and the teachers in particular, and they have incentive to push back against budget pressures.  One such parent estimated on social media that her child receives $100,000 worth of services annually from the local school system.

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Most Rhode Islanders will agree that these are services we should support, although the specifics of what and how should, of course, always be under review with an eye toward improvement and efficiency.  Similarly to school building maintenance, however, the fast ratchet of personnel costs that politically active labor organizations have succeeded in building into the budgets of government, including schools, ensure that budget pressure never ends and everything always feels insecure.  (Indeed, a general sense of insecurity is necessary for unions and other special interests and political organizations to maintain their influence.)

Personal gratitude notwithstanding, reforming our education system so that its focus is more convincingly on the students and their families shouldn’t be seen as a threat to those with special needs students.  Indeed, NAEP trends show that “disabled” students are losing ground in Rhode Island, having fallen from above average, among states overall, to below average.  Holding on to the status quo, that is, carries more risk than working together to find a new path.

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The Board of Elections’s Voice for Clerical Aristocracy

A recent tweet from retired judge, current Rhode Island Board of Elections member, and Ken Block agitator Steve Erickson inadvertently raised a critical point of difference between government insiders and (some of) the rest of us.  He insisted that a driver’s license or Social Security Number is still mandatory for voter registration in Rhode Island.  And then:

This statement so well captures progressive thinking — as if the law should be this mysterious thing that only a clerical class of lawyers can interpret, as proclaimed by an oracular order of prophetic judges.  Let’s review basic civics.

We elect representatives to pass laws with the expectation that we can hold them accountable when they do not behave in our interests.  We elect an executive under similar principles who then goes about applying the legislation in the operation of the government.  In this case, that’s the Board of Elections, as appointed by the governor.

When there is disagreement about how the law should apply to a specific circumstance, the judiciary is authorized to be the final voice on which interpretation is correct.  At that point, if the electorate doesn’t agree, they push the legislature to change the language of the law to conform with the intent of the people.

In this case, as I described in the article at the top of Erickson’s thread, the U.S. Congress required license or Social Security ID from any and all voter applicants who had been “issued” one.  After some ebb and flow, the Board of Elections decided that anybody registering for the first time in person didn’t actually need ID.

It’s that plain.

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If judges have somehow interpreted the language of federal law to mean something other than what it plainly says, then they are in the wrong.  Insisting that it is somehow inappropriate for the general public to point out that the practice of the law doesn’t match the language of the law is to demand a level of trust to which no free people should consent.  Frankly, it’s disconcerting that somebody who served as a judge and now has direct authority over our democracy would be so dogmatic in his support of clerical aristocracy.

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