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Politically Correct Anti-Tobacco Regs: How Many People Might Die Because They Were Denied a Less Harmful Choice?

Better something that is less harmful than more harmful. But to some, innovative new products that reduce health risks – should be banned. In the tobacco and nicotine industry, the politically-correct anti-tobacco movement is advocating for the suppression of individual rights and elimination of less harmful choices, via restrictions and outright bans on products that could improve public health.

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The Wrong Mindset on School Repairs

Somehow, I don’t expect Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s “bold plan” increased school construction funding to emphasize a change in priorities that leads to spending reductions elsewhere.  The quote in Shiina LoSciuto and Sarah Doiron’s WPRI article is better seen as a cause for alarm:

Raimondo said she plans to unveil a proposal next week for funding the rebuilding of schools across the state.“I plan to present a bold plan to the legislature, to make a once in a generation investment in rebuilding our schools,” Raimondo said.

This is entirely the wrong mentality.  We don’t want to repair schools once a generation.  We don’t need “an investment” as much as we need reform.

Maintenance and repair should be ongoing.  The problem is that the incentive in state and local government is to spend as much money as taxpayers will tolerate on ongoing operations and then hit us with a crisis in order to ratchet up the revenue.  One photograph of a flooded classroom suddenly makes disappear the consequences for three decades of letting maintenance slide while spending on other priorities.

And then moving forward, this “once in a generation investment” will be built into our state and local tax bills, which won’t go down when all the work is done and all debt is paid off.  Instead, as the cost of the emergency subsides, the government will find ways to spend the money elsewhere and let the schools deteriorate again.  Meanwhile, whatever mental space Rhode Islanders allocate toward thinking about education will be distracted by the excuse that children can’t learn in crumbling schools and then palliated by the fancy new buildings, even as the level of education continues to be substandard.

We have to stop falling for this ploy.

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Teacher Unionization Hurts Boys, Especially Minorities

Iain Murray highlights part the abstract from a new paper by Cornell researchers:

The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $149.6 billion in the US annually. Among men, we also find evidence of lower employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation. Exposure to collective bargaining laws leads to reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which male workers sort as well. Effects are largest among black and Hispanic men, although white and Asian men also experience sizable negative impacts of collective bargaining exposure. Using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we demonstrate that collective bargaining law exposure leads to reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults, and these effects are larger for men.

In other words, exposure to unionized teachers in one way or another tends to reduce boys’ exposure to the skills that men tend more often to need on the job and generally lower abilities, especially in minority populations.

That seems like a data point that ought to be part of the public discussion on education.

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The Complexities of Answering Students’ Actual Needs

An important part of my general philosophy on our education system is the principle that resources should go toward the actual needs that students have.  If, as teacher union advocates claim when results prove poor, the missing ingredients are parental involvement and relief from poverty, then society should redirect resources from teachers who have no chance to penetrate those barriers to services that will.  We can debate how those needs can best be met — what programs, private sector versus public sector, and so on — but the basic idea is a managerial truism.

Those who agree with the foregoing can’t be entirely opposed to this approach by the Providence School department, as Linda Borg reports it for the Providence Journal:

The Providence School Board has hired six school culture coordinators at the district’s middle schools.

They are part of a new initiative by Mayor Jorge Elorza and Supt. Christopher Maher to promote a positive school climate and increase student engagement. The hiring of a seventh coordinator is expected to be approved at the board’s January meeting.

School culture coordinators serve as liaisons between the school and the community, including parents, during the middle school years, when students often begin to lose interest in learning. School culture coordinators aim to support youngsters as they transition from cozy elementary schools to larger secondary schools, with the goal of boosting engagement and reducing chronic absenteeism.

A little skepticism is in order, of course, when school departments start spending on administrators and other non-teachers.  How much are these “coordinators” going to be making?  Will they be unionized?  What, specifically, are they going to be doing?

Some of these questions might be alleviated if the coordinators weren’t directly employed by the school department, because there’s no reason to assume that an agency (ostensibly) competent to teach children is also competent to address the needs of their parents or communities.  On the other hand, if the new positions represent a shifting of resources, rather than another excuse to collect more, leaving them within the school department may be the only realistic option.

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School Choice a Moral Imperative

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Backing off Moral Panic over Abuse

Moral panics can destroy lives, and the Providence Teachers Union is right to object to policies that give children the power to bump their teachers out of class, at least temporarily.  Ted Nesi and Tim White report for WPRI:

The Providence Teachers Union is asking the city’s school department to change the way it handles allegations of abuse against students in order to prevent its members from being placed on administrative leave without reasonable cause.

In a letter to Superintendent Chris Maher, the union claimed students have been “emboldened to make allegations at a whim knowing that the teacher will be removed from the building with no questions asked,” with some “taunting teachers with threats” of contacting the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families with abuse claims.

Students have to be protected, of course, but giving them that sort of power is reckless.  Trying to control the issue through punishments is also the wrong approach.  Schools shouldn’t want to put themselves in the position that they’ve created an incentive for false accusations and then have to do harm to students’ future prospects because they were drawn in by that incentive.

We need to back off the notion that we can protect everybody from harm with top-down policies and instead allow human judgment to play a role.  Another aspect of that approach is to dilute our sense that human beings are psychologically fragile to the point that every inappropriate word or touch should be assumed to have scarring damage.

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Nursing Education Center and Rhode-Island-Style Innovation

Take a moment to consider the import of this paragraph, from Ted Nesi’s report of the opening of a new combination URI/RIC nursing center and Brown University administrative center in Providence:

“This was a power plant across the street from the vibrant Jewelry District,” [Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo] said. “The economy is changing, and we’re not standing still. We’re changing with it. The New York Times just called this area, quote, ‘a busy hive of invention and collaboration.’ And so we’re changing the narrative of our whole state.”

In the past… the private market made Rhode Island a hub for a particular industry.  Now… the government collects $85 million from productive areas of the state’s economy to renovate a building vacated as the economic tide went out from the Ocean State and use it for bells and whistles at government-run universities and a wealthy tax-exempt non-profit.

Honestly, I don’t want to sound that cynical, but come on.  Now throw this into the mix:

The developer of South Street Landing was CV Properties LLC, a Boston-based firm led by Dick Galvin. Earlier this year, real-estate company Ventas Inc. paid nearly $130 million to buy the facility and a new 750-space parking garage being constructed next door from Blackstone Group LP. Ventas is the parent company of Wexford Science + Technology LLC, the developer building a high-profile innovation campus on the vacant 195 land in the same part of the city.

As I mentioned when I detailed the suspicious interconnections of the bigger Wexford deal, Ventas CEO Debra Cafaro and her husband are substantial Raimondo donors, located in the governor’s notable fundraising hot spot of Chicago.

Yeah, for the general public, renovated buildings make for nicer scenery than abandoned ones, but that doesn’t mean we should accept the surface story every time politicians proclaim the advance of public-sector-focused crony deals.  Somebody’s got to lose out, and we can be reasonably certain that it’s us.

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Government Good Intentions Edge in on the Family

Breakfast in school for lower-income children is not a public policy that many people are inclined to spend time arguing against, this author included.  That said, something in Bob Plain’s RI Future article promoting the program is worth highlighting:

Too many schools in Rhode Island are leaving federal money on the table when it comes to providing free breakfast to their students,” said Governor Gina Raimondo, who recently visited Veazie Street Elementary to draw attention to its breakfast program. “We know students can’t do their best work if they’re hungry.”

We should be careful not to lose the distinction between two things in the governor’s statement:

  1. Students who are well fed do better in school.
  2. Schools are missing out on money.

While I’ve forgotten the details, I recall from local discussions some years ago that districts can make their food programs into a bit of a profit center.  On the money front, the range goes from a well-intentioned effort to secure funding in order to feed children who otherwise wouldn’t be fed to a more-cynical plan to maximize money for the district for whatever purposes districts use money (mainly personnel).

Wherever a particular advocate or school district falls in that range, however, we ought to spare some sensibility to be shocked at something that is never mentioned in this context.  Nobody appears even to think of the possibility that some of the students for whom districts could collect money are adequately fed at home and that, by pushing the program, the government is pulling children away from a potentially family-boosting interaction.  At the very least, they’re transferring some of the child’s sense of who provides for him or her from the parents or guardians to the government.

We see this with government-subsidized child care.  On average, studies suggest that students receiving such care perform worse, particularly in behavior, and one explanation is that they draw children into a classroom setting instead of leaving them with parents, grandparents, or other individuals with direct relationships with the children.

We’re far too cavalier about the potential side effects of using government as a cure.

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Pay No Attention to the Consequence Behind the Curtain

Felix Fernandes recently posted a video from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which the host is debating a DNC advisor about federal transgender guidance for schools across the country.  The short clip is definitely worth watching in full:

The most glaring point of interest is the extremity of the left-wing position:  a simple statement of belief about your sex can change your sex.  The only objective consideration that the DNC advisor will entertain is the fact that a person in front of you is, at this moment, telling you that he/she is a woman/man.  Plainly put, this is an elevation of subjective feeling over any tangible reality.

Perhaps more important in the long term, though, is the guy’s response when Carlson takes the obvious step of pointing out the consequences when verifiable biology is made immaterial in the face of personal assertions.  Can I proclaim the same about my race?  Answer: No.  What happens if I apply for loans, scholarships, sports teams, et cetera, dedicated to those whose biology is different?  Answer: That’s an irrelevant question.

Carlson’s interlocutor just won’t acknowledge the validity of contrary claims — claims so irrefutable that they would have to be the basis of any logical consideration.  Instead, he breaks out the totalitarian catch phrases of the Left that bully people into submission, even having the audacity to charge Carlson with pseudoscience for asking how it all relates to biology.

To the extent that progressives are able to pull our society along in this emperor-has-no-genitals delusion, we’re signaling a willingness to gamble our entire civilization on the premise that the entire universe is a flexible social construct.  A much healthier path is simply to note that people who express such views are plainly insane.  They’ve already ruled out debate and common ground, so the wise choice is to side with reality.

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Overestimating the Concern of Education Officials

I think Sandra Stotsky overestimates the degree to which Rhode Islanders actually pay attention to things like the standardized tests that government schools give our children, but her NewBostonPost essay does serve notice to those who do that Massachusetts’s test mightn’t be the font of rigor that they think:

We don’t know if the Rhode Island Department of Education knows it has been bamboozled because state education officials there haven’t told Rhode Island parents that the “MCAS” tests it is giving Rhode Island students are PARCC in disguise. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education convinced Rhode Island education officials and the Rhode Island legislature to use the Bay State’s tests in place of Rhode Island’s previously used PARCC tests.  Did it tell Rhode Island education commissioner Ken Wagner and state Representative Gregg Amore that Massachusetts’s current tests, called MCAS, use mainly PARCC test items and bear no resemblance to the Bay State’s pre-Common Core tests?  That would be the ethical thing to do.

Why are PARCC tests being called MCAS in Massachusetts? Because state law (the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993) requires assessment of state standards in grade 10 through state tests called MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the law couldn’t be changed without the legislature knowing about the game being played. So, if the Massachusetts education department and state board of education keep the name, but change its substance, the governor, the secretary of education, and the state legislature won’t be, officially, wiser.

Wagner doesn’t seem like much of a boat rocker and is childless, while Amore is a now-retired union teacher.  In other words, they are more likely to be happy, rather than concerned, that the new test they’ve brought to the state won’t be as effective in illustrating how much our public education system isn’t teaching children.

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Teachers’ Chronic Absenteeism: Another Area of Bad Performance for RI

Summarizing research for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute by David Griffith, Jacob Grandstaff writes:

Griffith defines “chronic absence” as when a teacher misses more than ten school days for “sick” or “personal” leave. When he compares public school teachers with charter school teachers in this area, the difference is quite glaring. Public school teachers are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as charter school teachers, 28 percent to 10 percent. This is true in 34 of the 35 states that have a large percentage of charter schools. In eight states and the District of Columbia, public school teachers are at least four times as likely as charter school teachers to be absent.

The study finds the gap is the widest in areas that require public school teachers, but not charter school teachers, to bargain collectively. It also shows that it is not an issue of public schools, but of unionization. Unionized charter school teachers are twice as likely to be chronically absent from work as non-unionized charter school teachers.

According to the study, of the 35 states plus Washington, D.C., Rhode Island is the 4th worst for chronic public school absenteeism.  Add this to the mountain of evidence that the Ocean State’s public school system is not designed primarily for the benefit of our children.

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“Fake But True” Tars the Innocent

For The Washington Examiner, Byron York reviews the case of a hoax racial incident at the Air Force Academy that inspired the superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, to make a destined-to-go-viral statement in opposition to racism.  York goes on:

… The cadet candidate who reported the racial slurs has admitted that he was behind the whole thing. It was all a hoax. The young man, who is black, has left the academy.

Anyone who follows such incidents, certainly anyone in the news business, should have known that there was a substantial chance the Air Force Academy vandalism was a fake. Too many such incidents have turned out to be hoaxes not to raise suspicions about new ones, pending the results of an investigation.

There was the young black man in Kansas who admitted writing racist graffiti on his car. There was the black man in Michigan charged in three racist graffiti incidents at Eastern Michigan University. There was the young Muslim woman in New York who admitted making up a story about being attacked by white Trump supporters. The black Bowling Green State University student who said white Trump supporters threw rocks at her. The University of Louisiana student who said a white man wearing a Trump hat tried to pull off her hijab.

Then there was the wave of stories about threats to Jewish community centers — stories that received widespread news coverage in the context of the new Trump presidency. Most of the threats were made by a teenager in Israel, with the others made by a former journalist who was somehow trying to get back at a former girlfriend.

Upon the revelation of the Air Force Academy incident was a hoax, those who had lauded Lt. Gen. Silveria applied the “fake but true” salve, as did the man himself.  Surely, we can all agree that racism is worth denouncing, even in the abstract.  One gets the sense, though, that a practice of denouncing individuals who don’t actually exist too easily translates into denouncements of those within a group who might resemble the fictional perps in some superficial particular.

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