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Helping Low-Income Students with Choice

Rhode Island Families for School Choice is asking people to use their legislative contact tool to ask Rhode Island’s representatives and senators to support H7055 and S2655.  These bills would increase the cap on the state’s tax credit scholarship program from $1.5 million to $5 million.

In summary, this program allows corporations to donate money to organizations that provide private-school scholarships to low-income students and to receive a tax credit in return.  Every year, only a fraction of the corporations that would like to participate are able to do so; raising the cap would simply allow for existing demand to be met.

And the demand should be really high.  As is readily visible using the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive tool to explore states’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, low-income students are not doing very well in the Ocean State.  The following chart shows not only that Rhode Island’s low-income students (those eligible for the free or reduced lunch program) are below the scores of the average state, but also that they are going down:

RI-NAEP-48-mr-schoollunch-2000-2017

 

The upswing you can see in that chart from 2003 to 2011 was the period during which a reformist state education board was increasing choice and accountability in Rhode Island’s education system.  The year 2011 brought a sort of Empire Strikes Back episode (meaning that entrenched interests like the teachers unions) and a ceiling on our improvement.  Now we’re slipping backwards.

A relatively modest increase in the money available to low-income families won’t cure this problem, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

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NAEP Scores: Another Unacknowledged Crisis in RI

The word “pleased” should not have appeared anywhere in the statement of Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner upon release of 2017 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test:

“Nationwide, results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress remained relatively flat, and we saw a similar trend in Rhode Island,” said state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “I’m pleased to see us perform better than the national average on fourth grade reading… I hope that our work around early literacy as part of the Third Grade Reading Challenge will speed up that progress going forward.”

That’s like being happy that your child is vomiting a little bit less than half the kids in the sick ward.  Never mind that his or her fever is slightly higher, his or her bleeding out of the eyes is slightly worse, and he or she is slightly more delirious than half the children.

According to the data, Rhode Island students don’t break the 40%-proficient mark in either 4th grade or 8th grade in either math or reading (or science or writing, for that matter).

For some quick perspective take a look at the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s States on the Nation’s Report Card tool, which has been updated to include the latest data.  Rhode Island’s 4th grade reading scores may be above the average state, but we used to have a lead of three points, and that’s now only two.  Worse, the Ocean State’s 8th grade math scores have fallen off a cliff.  Since the 2013 test, RI students’ average score has dropped from 284 to 277.  That’s 2.5%.  In 2013, our children were scoring the same as the average state… no longer.

RI-NAEP-Gr8-subjects-2000-2017

More broadly, the fashionable distraction to which state bureaucrats lead, which journalists follow, is to lament that “achievement gaps between white students and students of color continue to remain stubbornly high.”  This emphasis manages to imply that the real challenge isn’t a broken educational system, but institutional racism, and to lead white parents to think the state’s problems belong to other people, but it disguises the more disturbing conclusion.

Combining 4th and 8th grade scores on reading and math, black students in Rhode Island are actually slightly outperforming their peers in the average state.  Hispanic students in Rhode Island do worse than in the average state, but they track closely with black students, which is more typical in our region.

The big drop in Rhode Island is actually among white students, who are the majority.  Managing to keep Rhode Island’s minority students relatively flat has actually helped keep up our scores.  To the extent that Rhode Island has addressed its “achievement gap,” it has been by failing white students even more.

As I wrote in 2015, the data is strongly suggestive of a change during the governorship of Democrat Lincoln Chafee that looks like a ceiling on Rhode Island’s progress in reforming education.  If anything, we can now see that the trends have worsened, rather than improving, under his successor, and the spin should no longer be tolerated.

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Toward Colleges That Are More than Indoctrination Hubs

Recent events at Providence College came to mind when I read this paragraph from a Rod Dreher post:

By the way, it’s not simply a matter of ideologically capturing areas of scholarship. The SJWs are now marching through student affairs offices. Patricia Daugherty writes at The Federalist about the annual convention of ACPA, the American College Personnel Association: College Student Educators International. This is the professional organization for campus administrators who oversee student life. She recently retired from a long career in the field, and says she always looked forward to going to this convention. Times. Have. Changed.

During recent controversy at (Roman Catholic) Providence College, involving an RA who came under attack for putting up a bulletin board promoting the Catholic teachings on marriage, hostility to the Church’s teachings found succor with Vice President for Student Affairs Kristine Cyr Goodwin.  The student affairs administrator clearly leaned toward the side of criticizing the RA and supporting those who’d reacted aggressively toward him.  At an event endorsing alternative lifestyles, she initiated a “we’re queer, we’re here” chant, as audible on a recording reviewed by The Current.

Thus, the overall impression of the controversy was of some professors and representatives of the Church (including the bishop) taking the RA’s side, administrators taking the other side, and the college president attempting to find the middle ground.  Objectively, in this situation, the administrators are radicalizing the school, which most students probably do not attend in order to be radicalized.

As that dynamic becomes increasingly pervasive, it changes the nature of higher education.  Colleges should be more than simply white collar trade schools, but they should also be more than hubs for the indoctrination of young adults.

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The Herd of Rhode Islanders Can Afford to Allow Some Freedom

Some families don’t believe that the fact that their children go to school with other children gives the government the right to force them to take drugs related to sexually transmitted diseases.  Many become more suspicious when they hear of terrible side effects that some appear to experience and observe the overlapping financial interests of state government and company behind the drug.

Mind you:  If the government simply recommended the drug, there would be no problem.  But as it is, dedicated families feel the need to become activists and testify in pursuit of legislation to return their freedom.  On the other end are bureaucrats whose social concern is difficult to entangle from the pursuit of metrics:

Among her arguments against the “personal belief” exemption that some lawmakers are seeking: “The proposed legislation, if enacted, will potentially decrease our state’s vaccination coverage rates, putting people at risk … [especially] those who cannot be vaccinated″ for medical reasons. …

In one letter to the lawmakers, [Director of Health Nicole] Alexander-Scott wrote: “Most vaccine-preventable diseases are transmitted from person to person. When a sufficiently large proportion of individuals in a community are immunized, those persons serve as a protective barrier against transmission of the disease in the community thus indirectly protecting those who are not immunized … This phenomenon is referred to as ‘herd immunity.’”

Good of the government to have such concern about the “herd.”  One doubts that Alexander-Scott highlighted the fact that Rhode Island’s HPV vaccination rate was already high, and that the mandate increased it almost not at all.

That is, acting of their own free will — not as herded cattle — Rhode Islanders were already doing what the government wanted.  Knowing that, one can reasonably infer that making us do things is the point, establishing the principle that we have to go where they think we should.

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Ensuring More Such Union Behavior in the Future

Well, according to a Newport Daily News article appearing last week, the Newport school committee caved to the inappropriate behavior of its teachers’ union:

When teachers retire early, they can continue to receive health insurance under the School Department’s plan until they reach the age of 65. Then they go onto Medicare’s Plan 65. That is provided for under the labor contract.

These early retirees had been receiving dental insurance and life insurance until age 65 as well. However, the School Committee determined those benefits were a “past practice” not included in the labor contract, and ended them as of Nov. 16 last year. Now, however, the five teachers who announced their upcoming retirement well before November will receive the dental insurance and life insurance until they reach age 65 as well.

One could argue that the “compromise” was that the school committee is not barred from changing this absurdly generous benefit going forward, but then, the unions aren’t barred from renewing their inappropriate tactics.  They haven’t even been chastised for using them already.
The union has simply said that it won’t do something it never should have threatened to do in the first place.

This episode again emphasizes the imbalance in our government, especially in our schools.  The labor unions are essentially in place for eternity, once certified, so when they aren’t able to win the political contest over the school committee, securing friendly “opposition” in negotiations, they are free to simply make the job difficult until new people are in place.  The incentives are for the union constantly to push the envelope and for the school committee to be maximally accommodating.

So, over time, school committees across the state have allowed a system to develop that fails students and robs taxpayers.

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The 1984 Version of #LoveWins

It’s difficult to believe that this isn’t fake, but Rod Dreher tends to be reliable, so there you go:

stompingouthateflier

 

Yeah, yeah, there are something like 30,000 public high schools in the United States, each open for something like 36 weeks of the year, so a single flier in Atlanta, Georgia, can’t be taken as representative, even if this isn’t a joke or a prank.  But my how this jibes with the sense of progressives’ definition for “tolerance,” reminding me of my parody song, “Shout Down the Hate.”

If it is a joke, by the way, it’s awfully elaborate, involving (apparently) the school’s parent, teacher, and student association, which writes on its Facebook page:

Instead of demonizing and demoralizing students for their desire to protect themselves and bring some sanity to the wild west of America’s gun laws, how about harnessing that incredible energy? Grady High School in Atlanta is doing it.

Yup.  “Harnessing that incredible energy,” because (as the flier says) “individually we are different; together we are Grady!”  (Is that anything like being Negan?)

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Newport Sees Latest Teachers Union Outrage

In the Newport Daily News, Sean Flynn highlights another example of the outrageous behavior among teachers union organizers, which ought to embarrass well-intentioned, professional teachers:

Superintendent of Schools Colleen Burns Jermain sent a notification to all parents on March 1 informing them that the conferences would take place between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. on three days this week, one day at each school, the same as has been done in past years. …

The conflict reached a new flashpoint over the weekend with an advertisement in this newspaper paid for by attorney Jennifer Azevedo, who is an assistant executive director of the National Education Association RI, on behalf of the Teachers Association of Newport. The ad claimed the parent-teacher conferences would be held during the regular school times at each school on the designated days. Regular school hours are staggered between 7:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. among the three schools.

On first review, this has the feel of parents who are tearing their children apart as they head toward divorce, but that analogy isn’t applicable.  The union advertised publicly in a way that presumed to set school policy.  Here’s the ad; it’s extremely misleading, with no indication that it’s actually part of a disputed policy.  This is the union saying, “Whatever your elected and appointed school administration might think, we run the schools.”

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will give teachers the ability to get out from under this thuggish organization when it decides its Janus case this year.  Be that as it may, parents and voters should respond to this abuse of contracts to figuratively rip the contracts up.

And any legislator who votes for the legislation to make teacher contracts last forever unless renegotiated ought to find him or her self unelectable.

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The Thing Over Which I Have Responsibility Is Always OK

Poll results from Ted Nesi on WPRI evince a typical dichotomy when it comes to schools that can feel almost contradictory:

More than half of Rhode Islanders graded the state of K-12 education in Rhode Island as middling or worse, with 35% giving the state’s schools a “C,” 16% giving them a “D” and 4% giving them an “F,” compared with 4% who graded them an “A” and 29% who gave them a “B.”

And while slightly more than half of voters think their community’s schools are preparing students for colleges, only 37% think they’re preparing them for good-paying jobs.

However, among the 122 voters with school-age kids, 48% gave their children’s schools an “A” and 36% gave them a “B,” versus only 10% who gave them a “C,” and 3% each giving them a “D” or an “F.” More than two-thirds of those voters also approved of the job being done by teachers in their local schools.

It may be that people think a “C” is “preparing students for colleges,” but one sees repeatedly in opinion polls that people tend to think more favorably of their own schools and teachers than education generally in the state.  One could argue that such findings mean the schools aren’t as bad as people think, which they find to be true the more experience they have, but objective data supports the negative view.  More likely, people know there is a problem, but if they admit that the problem is with the schools in their communities and, even more, to which they send their own children, then they have responsibility to fix them or move their kids.

This same dynamic may help to explain things like the “my guy is alright” syndrome in the Rhode Island legislature.  We can all discern, objectively, that our state government is a mess, but if you admit that your representative and senator are bad, then you have some responsibility not to be so apathetic — perhaps even to run.

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To Progressives, Conservatives Are Like Lepers at Brown

The first thing one might wonder upon reading Rhode Island College professor Alex Nunes’s recent article in the Providence Journal is how many readers are actually interested in this sort of stuff:

In the last decade, the conservative icon and CEO of Koch Industries has poured $3.2 million into Brown University and the Political Theory Project, a think tank on campus. “The Koch network is essentially buying the legitimacy of Brown University for their own private gain and recruiting the next generation of free-market activists,” says Ralph Wilson, co-founder of the advocacy group UnKoch My Campus.

The second thing one might wonder is what lesson those readers will take from it.  Despite a whopping 1,500 words spent on the topic, Nunes provides no evidence that anything untoward has actually happened.  Did Brown pressure professors to change their courses to appease big-money donors?  Not as far as we know.  Did the Koch Brothers buy enhanced access to students in some way?  Not really.

The only complaint of the activists who give Nunes an excuse for his article is that Brown donors whom they don’t like are contributing some small portion of the school’s revenue, and a single professor is presenting material with which they disagree, as a small portion of the information and opinion available at Brown.

As I mentioned in my podcast last week, it is as if these censorious tyrants think any exposure to different viewpoints is like a virus that will infect the university’s dainty little left-wing communities.  So the third thing one might wonder is why progressives fear that their ideas will stand up so poorly against opposing views.

However few people are actually sufficiently interested to read about this (quote/unquote) controversy, we probably can’t afford to ignore it.  After all, environments such as that at Brown will produce the people who go on to work at Google and do things like seek to invade every space that people might create to discuss differing ideas.  In that regard, everybody should read articles like Nunes’s in order to realize just how irrational and totalitarian progressives have become.

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