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Confirming a Conservative Response to Poverty

Writing about public policy day in and day out, one can forget that not everybody follows every argument with close attention.  Broad philosophical points of view and underlying intentions can therefore be lost.

Just so, I almost didn’t bother reading a brief essay in which Michael Tanner promotes and summarizes his forthcoming book offering a broad explanation of a conservative policy response to poverty.  It’s worth reading, though, because he summarizes some conservative policies specifically in terms of their human objectives:

  • Keeping people out of jail can promote work and stable families.
  • Breaking up “the government education monopoly and limit[ing] the power of teachers’ unions” is rightly seen as an “anti-poverty program.”
  • Preventing government from driving up the cost of living, especially housing, will give poorer families a chance to get their feet on the ground.
  • Policies that discourage savings also discourage healthy financial habits.
  • A heavy hand in regulating the economy tends to target economic growth toward the rich and powerful.

As he concludes:

An anti-poverty agenda built on empowering poor people and allowing them to take greater control of their own lives offers the chance for a new bipartisan consensus that rejects the current paternalism of both Left and Right. More important, it is an agenda that will do far more than our current failed welfare state to actually lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

My only objection is that I’m not sure that the “paternalism of the Right” is a view that conservatives actually hold rather than a caricature that the Left spreads about us.  Of course, the fault is arguably ours, if we don’t often enough express our real intentions.

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More Indications of No Change for RI Education

While it is definitely not the most significant incident of the week Rhode Island, Education Commissioner Ken Wagner made a hugely symbolic gesture on Dan Yorke’s State of Mind show:

“There are coaches that believe you go into the locker room and you hold carrots until you get performance,” Yorke said to Wagner. “Then you have Bobby Knight who comes in and throws chairs and tells them the truth.

“I just want you to throw a chair once. I want people to understand that this isn’t funny, this isn’t acceptable and this isn’t true that our students don’t perform…” Yorke was then interrupted by Wagner responding to his statement.

Wagner then followed Yorke’s lead, stood up and threw his chair to the side.

“This isn’t funny, this isn’t acceptable, and it’s not true that our kids can’t do it, they can do it!” Wagner said.

The symbolism isn’t that Wagner’s going to shake things up, but that he does, in fact, think it’s funny.  Imagine, for comparison, that Rhode Island’s murder rate were among the worst in the country and Yorke offered a similar statement to the attorney general.  How would we react if he took the Wagner make-a-joke-out-of-it approach?

Along the same vein, the Rhode Island Foundation has made news this week by announcing its new initiative to bring together another discussion about education, so that unelected insiders have another forum through which to tell Rhode Islanders how a long-term plan could maybe improve results for students a generation from now:

Aside from [RI Foundation President Neil] Steinberg, other members of the committee include: Kathy Bendheim (Impact for Education); Elizabeth Burke Bryant (Rhode Island Kids Count); Victor Capellan (superintendent of Central Falls schools); Jeremy Chiappetta (Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy); Barbara Cottam (R.I. Board of Education); Tom DiPaolo (Rhode Island School Superintendents’ Association); David Driscoll (former Massachusetts commissioner of education); Tim Duffy (Rhode Island Association of School Committees); Frank Flynn (Rhode Island Federation of Teacher and Healthcare Professionals); Tom Giordano (Partnership for Rhode Island); Christopher Graham (Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce); Julie Horowitz (Feinstein School of Education and Human Development); Dolph Johnson (Hasbro); Susanna Loeb (Annenberg Institute for School Reform); Elizabeth Lynn (van Beuren Charitable Foundation); Keith Oliveira (R.I. League of Charter Schools); Pegah Rahmanian (Youth in Action); Don Rebello (Rhode Island Association of School Principals); Anthony Rolle (URI); Ken Wagner (R.I. education commissioner); and Robert Walsh (National Education Association Rhode Island).

Honestly, is there anybody on that list that doesn’t already have a seat at the table — whose views are not already represented in public debate about public policy in education?  No.  In typical Rhode Island fashion, this is a group of the same old special-interest representatives who (we should assume) are coming together to ensure that whatever reforms the state may try will not disrupt their sinecures too harshly.

In other words, it’s more wasted time and money. Rhode Islanders should brush this off as a distraction and mimic Wagner’s joke in all seriousness.  Aren’t we tired of accepting failure, deceit, and mockery?

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In Whose Interest Is No Confidence at CCRI?

The professors’ union at CCRI has voted “no confidence” in the school’s leadership.  Here’s the claim:

The motion said that Hughes, the vice president of academic affairs, Rosemary Costigan, and Dean Thomas Sabbagh have each “repeatedly failed in their leadership roles at the College to the detriment of our students.”

So what’s the underlying problem?

At issue is a plan for a three-week winter term that would start in January. In November, the chairs of the business, social studies, math and English departments said their faculty would not participate in the winter session without including the courses in the collective-bargaining agreement.

Ah… so the “detriment of our students” thing makes a leap from the professors’ interests to the students’.  That link is debatable, but it shouldn’t be assumed.

The statement asserts that the administration is “putting our accreditation and academic reputation at great risk,” which would certainly be a concern to all of Rhode Island.  Were this more of a looming possibility than some speculative rhetoric, though, one would think there would be more evidence.  For now, this seems to be the same old story in Rhode Island — all about labor.

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Meeting the Challenge of Education Reform

The Providence Journal editorial board is (let’s just say) very forceful on the subject of Rhode Island students’ test results:

The weak and timid reforms he and Gov. Gina Raimondo have advanced, while soothing to special interests, have been plainly insufficient. It is time for a shakeup at the Rhode Island Department of Education and the state Board of Education. Will anyone have the decency to resign for having failed our young people?

Robert Walsh of the National Education Association and Francis Flynn of the American Federation of Teachers have, similarly, served Rhode Island students abysmally. Union leaders in civic-minded Massachusetts understand that an education system is about more than providing salaries and benefits for adults. We know there are many teachers who yearn for a sound, long-term plan to improve standards.

It is a shame Rhode Island cannot simply shutter its Department of Education and hire Massachusetts to run the Ocean State’s public schools as a subset of its own. It at least knows how to do the job.

I saw editorial page editor Ed Achorn pushing back on Facebook against those who respond to these sentiments by pointing out that the Providence Journal endorsed Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo. Part of the editor’s response was that the paper has also implored her to improve her record on education, which I’m not sure quite meets the challenge.

Some of the entities that should be a check on government, like the state’s major newspaper, have this problem: They formulate their solutions as if we had a properly functioning state. Under such circumstances, a governor who had received the endorsement might change out of concern that she would lose it. In Rhode Island, she knows that she has nothing to fear.

Nobody who has secured a role of significance wants to throw down a gauntlet to make any bold changes to the way decisions are made in the state.

It isn’t sufficient to suggest, in passing, that somebody should resign over abysmal test scores. That outcome has to be important enough that advocates will ensure that insiders cannot achieve their other goals unless they address education.

That, incidentally, is win-win, because the insiders’ other goals are, on the whole, corrupt and oughtn’t be achieved, anyway. They need to be made to understand, however, that their only hope of keeping any of their ill-gotten gains is by making improvements in this area.

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Where Can Non-Union South Kingstown Teachers and Students Turn?

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity makes an interesting point in a statement about the controversial election of teacher union representative Sarah Markey to the South Kingstown school committee:

As the United States Supreme Court opined in its historic Janus decision last summer, virtually every action that a government employee union conducts is inherently political, as it necessarily involves public policy or public money. On a local school committee that deals 100% on issues involving public education, and its funding by taxpayers, Ms. Markey faces a hopeless conflict of interest.

As an intellectual exercise to better understand the complications involved, here, consider this: Where can a non-union teacher in South Kingstown turn? Since Janus, government labor unions have been sending out threatening notices about the support they lose if they leave their unions, and now South Kingstown’s board of directors appears to be in the hands of the unions, as well.

More significant, however, is the question of where the students can turn when their interests are contrary to those of the union.

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Bruce Waidler: S.K. School Committee – Serious Questions of Transparency & Conflict of Interest

On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, I attended the South Kingstown School Committee meeting. The recently elected Vice Chair, Sarah Markey, is also the Assistant Executive Director for the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI). The vast majority of the employees working in the South Kingstown School Department are represented by this labor union.

Last year, Markey attempted to get appointed to a vacant school committee position.

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School Choice: An Opportunity for Minorities, Republicans, and Conservatives

Some folks questioned whether minority school choice families put Republican Ron DeSantis over the top in the race for Florida governor.  Here’s the numerical evidence:

Of the roughly 650,000 black women who voted in Florida, 18% chose Mr. DeSantis, according to CNN’s exit poll of 3,108 voters. This exceeded their support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (9%), Mr. DeSantis’s performance among black men (8%) and the GOP’s national average among black women (7%). …

What explains Mr. DeSantis’ surprising support from African-American women? Two words: school choice.

More than 100,000 low-income students in Florida participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships to attend private schools. Even more students are currently enrolled in the state’s 650 charter schools.

Most Step Up students are minorities whose mothers are registered Democrats. Yet many of these “school-choice moms” vote for gubernatorial candidates committed to protecting their ability to choose where their child goes to school.

The school choice wave more than a decade ago created a challenge for Democrats, who are dependent upon support from government labor unions, specifically teacher unions.  It’s an area in which free-market reforms actually create something like a government benefit through the loosening of government funds already (for the most part) being spent.  This opens a window of opportunity.

This creates an opportunity for Republicans to open up new cuts of the electorate and, if they play their cards right, to teach some lessons about their policy principles.

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An Important Question About School Committee Impartiality

A minor controversy in South Kingstown raises a question that Rhode Islanders across the state should consider.

Town Council member Bryant Da Cruz (a Democrat) has expressed concerns that a newly elected member of the School Committee, Sarah Markey (another Democrat), can be expected to fully engage with her new role, considering that Markey holds a $126,000-per-year job as a member advocate for the National Education Association of Rhode Island.  Markey’s response, while entirely correct, points to how inadequate our thinking is on these issues in the Ocean State:

“From reviewing the recent ethics commision advisories, I would have to recuse myself from discipline, termination, and negotiations with the NEARI bargaining members,” said Markey when reached by email on Tuesday. “No, school closures don’t apply.”

Look, if this is what South Kingstown wants, it’s what South Kingstown should probably get, but that means the people of South Kingstown should understand what they’re doing.  To my experience, people don’t realize what school committees are, often seeing them as sort of official PTOs, not councils charged with the governance of multimillion-dollar, socially indispensable organizations.  Furthermore, folks don’t fully think through the political philosophy, according to which it is essential that the school committee is on the side of the students.

On that point, recall a 2015 post in this space pointing to the simple reminder from former teacher union head Marcia Reback that, when students’ and teachers’ interests diverge or even conflict, “I represent the teachers.”  Well, Sarah Markey represents the teachers as a highly paid occupation.  This isn’t something that can truly be compartmentalized.  As Da Cruz emphasizes, closing schools reduces the number of teachers. More than that: every expense of the school district that doesn’t go toward teachers puts more pressure on their compensation.

At the very least, Markey’s presence on the committee reduces the number of people on the committee who can reliably be expected to err on the side of students (and taxpayers) when one must benefit at the expense of the other.

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School Choice and Elections

A pair of items on today’s Wall Street Journal opinion pages connect the issue of school choice with the election last week.  First a column by Jason Riley:

… most policies that effect our daily lives are generated at the state and local level, not in Washington. Nowhere is this more evident than education, where Republicans governors and state legislatures have advanced all manner of school-choice options over the past decade, to the benefit of low-income families. More than three million children now attend charter schools, and private-school choice, including voucher programs, has spread to 20 states and the District of Columbia. Education reformers are concerned that Democratic state-level gains in the midterms could now jeopardize decades of real progress.

I’m not so sure about Riley’s predictions.  As a general matter, the biggest push for school choice (mainly charter schools and voucher-like programs) came when Republicans held the White House, but before the shift toward the GOP at the state level, nationwide.  When a Democrat took the White House but the Democrats lost ground among the state, that momentum seems to have slowed.  So… we’ll see.

What’s interesting, though, is to combine Riley’s mention of school choice as a political issue across the country with an unsigned editorial on the facing page:

It’s impossible to know for certain what motivates voters, but [Republicans Doug Ducey of Arizona and Ron DeSantis of Florida] appear to have won more minority votes because of their support for school choice. A survey last month by Harvard’s Education Next journal showed 56% of blacks and 62% of Hispanics favored private-school vouchers for low-income families.

And what do you know? According to exit polls, Mr. Ducey received 44% of the Latino vote, which is significantly more than the 30% that Martha McSally tallied in her Senate bid. In Florida, 44% of Latinos and 14% of blacks backed Mr. DeSantis compared to 38% and 12% for Gov. Rick Scott four years earlier.

Liberating kids trapped in failing public schools is a matter of moral principle, but it’s nice to discover that doing the right thing can also pay off politically.

Somehow the infamous statement of former Democrat Vice President Joe Biden that Republicans would put black Americans “back in chains” comes to mind.  The opposite is the truth, and the school choice issue illustrates the point.

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Two Economic Directions for a Generation

We hear a lot of stereotypes about young adults in America today — that they’re soft snowflakes who can’t take criticism and think the world owes them ease and security.  Posts like this one by Helen Smith reinforce that view, noting that there is a 500,000-man gap of 25-to-34-year-olds who should be in the workforce but aren’t:

The colleges are hostile environments and bad fits for many of these men who know that they will not flourish there. Add in the risks of marriage for these men and the fact that many women don’t want them and leisure time playing video games seems like a better alternative, particularly if you can live at home to support a good time. It’s kind of like they are on strike or something.

Instead of punching a clock, they’ve checked out.  They live at home or collect some sort of disability or welfare subsidy.  Maybe they extend their educations (perhaps as a condition of the government’s or mom and dad’s indulgence), following up their useless four-year degrees by spending more of their youth chasing a career-specific education, or maybe they put themselves in a holding pattern, with no degrees or pursuits, just waiting for something to happen.  They’re looking for an easy path and draining their parents’ or taxpayers’ resources.

On the other hand, there’s this encouraging bit of news:

Generation Z—those who were born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s—are more often turning to trade schools to avoid the skyrocketing student debt crisis and hone skills that translate directly into jobs, from electrical engineering to cosmetology. While the power of trade unions has dwindled, and societal value still favors more elite professions, young students are finding themselves drawn to stable paychecks in fields where there’s an obvious need.

The appended podcast has the headline: “The Hot New Gen-Z Trend Is Skipping College.”  Per this narrative, young adults want to work, and their rational assessment of current conditions is finally overcoming a cultural bias for a particular direction.  More kids should go into the trades.  They provide a path with tremendous opportunity, life lessons, and fulfillment.

With a broader perspective, we can see the operation of our economy.  The young adults in the first group are spending down what their parents have earned, and the young adults in the second group are preparing to collect it, thus shifting our society’s wealth toward those who advance our economy.  This will be healthy if the government doesn’t interfere… but it will.

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Teacher Absenteeism and RI’s Gap in Accountability

Taylor Swaak on The 74 reports that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) is beginning to use its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan to address teacher absenteeism:

… This means the state will consider teacher absenteeism rates when gauging schools’ success and identifying low-performing schools. All ESSA plans have been approved as of last month.

The need for reform is clear in the Ocean State. It reported the third-highest rate of chronic teacher absenteeism nationwide — 41 percent — in 2015-16, according to federal data. Only Hawaii and Nevada recorded higher rates, at 48 and 50 percent, respectively.

Given the season, one thing that readers might observe is that Rhode Island is releasing its first ESSA report about our schools after the election.  Put that on the list of politically curious delays.

On a more-procedural note, though, consider what weak sauce this measure of accountability is.  First, the state includes the information in its report.  Next, the community has to begin making noise about it, pressure administrators, and elect new school committee members (or city/town council members where they handle contracts).  Then, those newly motivated decision-makers have to fight unions for changes in contracts.

As Swaak notes, teachers are absent so often because they are permitted to be.  Even with their 180-day school year, they still get a disproportionate number of extra days off — typically 20 sick days, plus a couple personal days, plus sabbaticals, plus leaves for various reasons, including union business.

With that as the origin of the problem, Swaak is correct to point out that the state doesn’t negotiate the contracts.  However, the state does set the conditions under which the local committees must negotiate.  If education really is a priority for Rhode Islanders, we have to begin tilting that balance back toward the officials who are supposed to be the people’s route to accountability.

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Learning That Providence Labor Unions Aren’t Divine

The headline of a Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal a couple of weeks ago might be “Parents air worries over student safety in Providence schools,” but it’s mostly about the problems that labor unions cause for students.  Asked, for example, how the city intends to avoid bus strikes in the future…

[City council member Sam] Zurier promised that there will no longer be language in the contract that includes bus strikes as “an act of God,” which allowed the bus company, First Student, to avoid responsibility for getting students to school.

Therein we see the basic lesson that one should always call things what they are.  The proclamation of a strike by a union is not an “act of God” and, even if one can’t foresee the consequences, should not be treated as such.

If the city is finally acknowledging its unions’ lack of divinity, members of those unions appear to be learning that they can’t wield their power omnisciently:

[Providence Teachers Union President Maribeth] Calabro also described a heated conversation with a parent who was furious that teachers would no longer be writing letters of recommendation for high school seniors. Calabro thought about how she would feel as a mother. Then she told her members to write those letters because, “This is a kid’s dream — to go to college.”

“If we don’t write the letters,” she said, “who are we hurting? Not the mayor. The kids.”

How is it that a teacher required soul searching to realize that harming children in order to hurt a politician would inevitably… harm the children?  And how is it that the practice ended only because the union president issued a decree, rather than bending in the face of pressure from the rank-and-file union members?

These aren’t lessons that should have to be learned.  They should be understood already.

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What to Expect from the PARCC Scores

The other day, I put a spotlight on the suspicious delay in the state’s release of results from public schools’ standardized PARCC tests.  In the days since, the two challengers facing incumbent Democrat Gina Raimondo have picked up that theme and drawn a response from the state Department of Education (RIDE).  If anything, Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s explanation only reinforces the suspicion:

“This is the first year of the new test,” Wagner said. “We’ve never released them before. People don’t know what it is.”

“Colloquially, it’s a harder test,” he said of the RICAS. “Massachusetts has a more rigorous standard. We have to figure out how to explain [to Rhode Island parents] the comparison with Massachusetts. We have to figure out how we help parents to understand the change in their child’s test scores.”

Wagner said that with the new tests, Rhode Island students, in order to reach proficiency, have to get more questions right than they did on the previous tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Wagner also said that student scores typically drop with any new test, which was the case when Rhode Island adopted PARCC several years ago.

In short, the state expects there to be score-shock from parents and the public because the harder test is producing results even worse than the earlier version, which was already producing shockingly poor results by some lights.  The only question, now, is the motivation for the delay:  Is it to figure out how to explain the setback in a way that will tamp down outrage, or is it to keep that outrage from affecting the election?

To formulate an answer, readers should ask themselves a somewhat different question:  If the results came in surprisingly fantastic, would RIDE have held back the good news until after the election?  Of course not.

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A Curious Delay in Test Scores

Wouldn’t it be good for Rhode Islanders to know how our education system is faring prior to next week’s election?  Apparently, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo would prefer that you wait until after for information:

Last year, the Department of Education released its PARCC scores in August. This year, the scores on the new test won’t be released until late November, after the Nov. 6 midterm elections.

Of course, they’ve got the excuse that “the department needs more time to pull together the data” because it’s a new variation of the test, but the intervening election makes the claim suspicious.  One wonders how many discouraging facts are in the queue for release after the political contests have been decided.

We can’t have accountability in public education if government times information to affect political outcomes.

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Schools Rewrite Humanity Quietly and Children Face the Consequences

Have you seen this story, out of Georgia (via Rod Dreher)?

City Schools of Decatur parent Pascha Thomas claims her daughter, known by the initials N.T. in public documents, was sexually assaulted last year by a male classmate in an Oakhurst Elementary School girls’ restroom. Thomas said her 5-year-old daughter complained of vaginal pain the evening of Nov. 16, 2017. When Thomas asked more, the girl said she was leaving a restroom stall when a little boy in her class came in, pinned her against the stall, and groped her genitals with his hands. She said she tried to get away and called for help, but no one came.

When Thomas reported the assault to school officials the next morning, they responded with “deliberate indifference” toward the assault and the victim, according to the complaint. Despite Thomas’ efforts to ensure justice for her daughter over the following weeks, she said, the school failed to conduct a meaningful investigation, discipline the alleged assailant, remove the child from N.T.’s class or ensure he would not use the girl’s restroom again, or offer any assurance of protection or psychological counseling for N.T.

At a meeting in December, the school informed Thomas the boy identified as “gender fluid” and was allowed to use the girls’ restroom per a districtwide policy opening restrooms and locker rooms to students based on their gender identity.

As the corresponding video notes, Thomas says the school district didn’t stop at “deliberate indifference,” but actually called the state agency charged with investigating child abuse.  That agency paid the family a visit as and investigated the Thomas, herself.

Another point of emphasis is how little involvement parents had it the development and implementation of this policy.  How many Rhode Island parents, do you think, know that our state’s approach to the transgender issue is to assume that government employees are on (at least) an equal footing with parents when raising children and, by the high school level, should be tasked with identifying transgender feelings and helping students hide them from their parents?

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When Science Comes with an Underlying Hope

An essay on NRO by Oren Cass is worth a read for the broad-ranging illustration it provides of the state of politicized science these days.  His opening vignette is perfect:

The president of the United States had just cited his work with approval during a Rose Garden speech announcing a major change in American policy, and MIT economist John Reilly was speaking with National Public Radio. “I’m so sorry,” said host Barbara Howard. “Yeah,” Reilly replied.

This was not a triumph but a tragedy, because the president in question was Donald Trump. And the action taken was withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement.

Trump had cited Reilly’s work correctly, saying: “Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full” using Reilly’s economic projections, “. . . it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree . . . Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100.” But as Reilly explained on NPR, “All of us here believe the Paris agreement was an important step forward, so, to have our work used as an excuse to withdraw it is exactly the reverse of what we imagined hoping it would do.”

In other words, this isn’t about science, but about belief, and in this view, science is supposed to find evidence confirming progressive assumptions.  That’s what it means to “believe in science.”

As Cass elaborates, this is especially a problem for people who profess to believe in data-driven public policy.  If their data starts to raise doubts about their policies, and rather than adjust the policies, they look for new data, the whole thing begins to seem a bit like a scam.  More from Cass:

Some check is needed on the impulse to slice and dice whatever results the research might yield into whatever conclusion the research community “imagined hoping” it would reach. In theory, peer review should do just that. But in this respect, the leftward lean of the ivory tower is as problematic for its distortion of the knowledge that feeds public-policy debates as it is for its suffocating effect on students and the broader culture. Peer review changes from feature to bug when the peers form an echo chamber of like-minded individuals pursuing the same ends. Academic journals become talking-points memos when they time the publication of unreviewed commentaries for maximum im­pact on political debates.

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The Practice of Commuting Children Around Providence Every Day

Dave Talan has an interesting (by which I mean “ought to be obvious”) take on Providence’s school busing woes:

The Providence school bus drivers strike, the extreme hardships it is causing for families, and the city’s total inability to react to it, raises this question: Why on earth are 9,000 students riding the bus when every one of them lives within walking distance to a neighborhood elementary or middle school?

We need a policy to allow most students to go to the closest school, one that is within walking distance from their home. The parents of most of these 9,000 students would choose this option if it were available to them.

I’m all for a school choice policy that allows families to choose other schools, but that presupposes a default option.  If the assumption is that children go to the school that’s within walking distance, with extra capacity available to students elsewhere, the families that choose different schools can be expected to account for the distance.

Sending students around the city as a general practice seems like it unnecessarily uproots them from their neighborhoods, while (naturally) adding expense for union jobs.

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An Uncomfortable Truth Buried in the Narragansett Teacher Contract

Those who keep an eye on unionized public education often observe the peculiarity that their contracts apply the same pay rates to every teacher at every level, no matter what they teach or the ages of the children.  This makes it difficult to pay teachers with more-rare skills dealing with more-difficult children what would be required to attract enough candidates while sending signals to the market that draw too many candidates into easier roles.

Recently, I came across language in the Narragansett teacher contract that implicitly recognizes this difference:

There are occasions when registrations exceed the above recommended limits [for number of students per class] and adding a classroom is not reasonable. The Committee will compensate teachers for each student over the above listed maximums. At the elementary level this compensation will be at $3 per student, per class, per day; at the middle school level the compensation will be $8 per student, per class, per day; and at the high school level the compensation will be at $13 per student, per class, per day.

If each student at the high school level adds more than four times the work or challenge that each student at the elementary level adds, how do districts justify paying teachers across the board the same base rate? Of course, there is a level of preparation and plain work that is the same across the board (getting up every day, meetings, preparing the classroom, etc.), so it would go too far to say that elementary school teachers should be paid one-fourth the amount that high school teachers are paid.

Still, failing to allow the market to differentiate between teachers, who even the union recognizes have very different jobs, serves nobody except those who manage to secure jobs that pay much better than they otherwise would — not the teachers who implicitly must accept less pay for this reason, not the taxpayers who have to make up some of the difference, and certainly not the students whose schools can’t apply their budgets according to fairness and need.

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Fire the Providence School Bus Drivers

Sometimes officials and business owners have to respond based not only on a specific event, but also on the long-term precedents and incentives that the event creates.  That is why First Student should fire its bus drivers or Providence should cancel the company’s contract.  This is not tolerable:

Union school bus drivers in Providence are expected to continue their strike Monday, the third school day of a labor dispute that has caused an upheaval for thousands of city students, according to school officials. …

School attendance on Thursday was 84 percent, the district said. On Friday, it was 79 percent. School officials said Friday that there were “minimal problems” with arrivals that day.

If you won’t do your job — and especially if you do lasting harm to children by not doing your job — you ought to lose it.  This isn’t complicated.

The excuse for the strike only makes matters worse:

Teamsters Local 251, which represents the bus drivers, threatened to strike if First Student doesn’t allow the drivers to begin earning a pension rather than a 401(k). The union overwhelmingly voted down an offer from the company last week before approving a separate contract of their own.

First Student says it has offered pay raises and increases to its 401(k) contributions, but the company is unwilling to begin making payments the Teamsters’ existing regional pension system.

Defined benefit pension plans don’t work.  They exist mainly in government, at this point, because only government can hide the costs and kick the can continually down the road to make it somebody else’s snowballing problem.

First Student offers a 401(k).  Many private-sector workers don’t even get that.  If that isn’t good enough for some employees, they should work somewhere else.  And if the company can’t offer benefits that will attract competent employees, then it shouldn’t be given the contract for a service on which a city’s families rely.

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Madness in a California Dress Code

Want some more evidence that our society has gone mad?

The relaxed new dress code at public schools in the small city of Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco, is intentionally specific: Midriff-baring shirts are acceptable attire, so are tank tops with spaghetti straps and other once-banned items like micro-mini skirts and short shorts. …

The new policy amounts to a sweeping reversal of the modern school dress code and makes Alameda the latest school district in the country to adopt a more permissive policy it says is less sexist.

Students who initiated the change say many of the old rules that barred too much skin disproportionately targeted girls, while language calling such attire “distracting” sent the wrong message.

Got that?  A policy that limits the degree to which schoolboys think “sex” when they look at their female classmates is supposedly sexist.  Not allowing girls to dress in a way that draws attention to their bodies (as opposed to their minds or personalities) is somehow demeaning of them.  This is crazy.

The strongest response to my assertion would be that we should teach boys not to look at girls any differently no matter what they wear to school rather than limit what they can wear, but that’s simple fantasy.  Young men are hardwired with a sex drive that is natural and part of their healthy development.  We can and should guide them toward better control of those feelings and help them channel their drives in a healthy direction, but one of the ways we accomplish that goal is through gradually changing standards for the environments in which we place them.

Note this paragraph, later in the article:

Students in Alameda, Portland and Evanston have freedom to wear mostly anything as long as it includes a bottom, top, shoes, covers private parts and does not contain violent images, hate speech, profanity or pornography.

Objectively, how can one claim that it is sexist to place limits on girls’ clothing in order to avoid discomfort among boys and also ban various images and words that others might find discomfiting?  Why can’t we all abide by limits for the good of other people, especially if we’re going to expect young men to be exquisitely sensitive about the way young women might interpret their looks and remarks?

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The Missing Point of Teacher Complaints

Former Republican state representative Bobby Nardolillo promoted on Facebook a hand-made poster that reads as follows:

OK, Fine. You don’t want to pay teachers like a college educated professional? Then give them the glorified babysitter rate.

$10/kid x 8hrs./day = $80

$80 x 25 kids/class = $2k

$2k x 180 school days =

$360,000

Let’s put aside the haggling over the math (actual hours per day, value of benefits, days off, and so on).  What’s striking is the economic illiteracy of this poster, undermines the premises of the people promoting it.  You pay a babysitter a premium because you are seeking a limited, unpredictable engagement during non-business hours watching just a few children (with no economies of scale).  Make the babysitter a full-time nanny or a day-care center, and the price goes down.

Also remarkable is the lack of gratitude.  With reference to the likelihood of our moving into another house, one of my children and I got into a discussion about retirement age.  I said that it’s generally thought to be about 65, although that should probably adjust up as we live longer, and that I don’t expect ever to retire, really, for both economic reasons and my hope to be doing work I don’t feel the need to stop at that point.  I did not mention that it is not uncommon for public-school teachers to retire in their 50s.

Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a whiff of gratitude to the public for this remarkable career path.  Instead, we hear about how it ought to be even better, how expressing reservations about the cost and the quality of the resulting services is disrespectful.

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We Must Stand Up to the Ideological Gestalt Targeting Children

Wesley Smith catches more evidence of our society’s descent into madness:

When I read Jane Robbins’ piece in The Federalist reporting that doctors were actually performing mastectomies on girls as young as 13 who identify as boys, I couldn’t believe my eyes. But sure enough. Not only is it happening, but a medical study published in JAMA Pediatrics recommends that children not be precluded from such radical body-altering surgery based simply on their youth …

A doctor need not be a religionist or disagree with the concept of gender dysphoria generally to be morally opposed to cutting off the healthy breasts of adolescents (or inhibiting the onset of a child’s normal puberty) as a form of “doing harm” in violation of Hippocratic ideals. But if Emanuel and his ilk have their way, in the not too distant future, a surgeon approached to perform a mastectomy on a girl who identifies as a boy could be forced into a terrible conundrum: either remove the child’s healthy body parts–or risk being charged with transphobic discrimination, investigated by medical authorities, and possibly forced out of the profession.

Now factor in the fact that “guidance” in public education generally takes the tone that teachers and school administrators should help students move in this direction — even to the point of conspiring to deceive their parents if they might have a different view.  What’s coming into shape is a culture that encourages children to experiment with their sense of identity, which experimentation is then hustled along from youthful exploration to physical expression through the school system and then solidified into irreversible medical steps through drugs or surgery.

Smith makes an important point when he brings into the discussion the silencing of Brown University researcher Lisa Littman, who found evidence that transgenderism spreads faddishly among peer groups.  Based on public outcry, the university disappeared the study and apologized for it.  As Smith suggests, this episode illustrates that the medical consensus on which we’re being told to base radical child-abusing policies cannot be taken as trustworthy on its face, but is very probably contaminated with ideology.

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Raimondo Effort to Buy Votes Could Hurt Children

Imagine a journalistic universe in which the Providence Journal, rather than simply passing along Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s day-before-the-primary pledge to hand out more free pre-K, had done a little bit of research into the subject matter:

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Monday that if reelected she will guarantee that every 4-year-old in the state has a spot in a pre-kindergarten classroom.

“I don’t think that you should have to be wealthy in order to have a chance to have a good, high-quality pre-K,” Raimondo said, sitting in front of a classroom of preschoolers at the Heritage Park YMCA.

As regularly followed in this space, the value of universal pre-K is, at best, questionable.  The policy may even be a net harm to children and (although not yet researched) to their families.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people who report on the government’s activities stopped doing so from the premise that more government involvement in our lives is most likely to be a good thing?

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