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Fluke or Tip of the Iceberg of Teachers’ Political Bias?

Here’s one of those stories, this time by Ilya Feokitstov on The Federalist, that makes one wonder whether it just so happened that an email coming to public light expressed outrageous ideas or that scratching the surface of the institution would reveal the same thing all over the place:

Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, a group of public school history teachers in the posh Boston suburb of Newton pledged to reject the “call for objectivity” in the classroom, bully conservative students for their beliefs, and serve as “liberal propagandist[s]” for the cause of social justice.

This informal pact was made in an exchange of emails among history teachers at Newton North High School, part of a very rich but academically mediocre public school district with an annual budget of $200 million, a median home price of almost half a million, and a median household income of more than $120,000. Read the entire email exchange here.

I obtained the emails under a Massachusetts public records law after one of those teachers arranged, earlier this year, for an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel organization to show Palestinian propaganda films at Newton North.

Actually, one doesn’t wonder much whether these emails are relegated to the fringe or representative.  The proof is in the product, and the teachers’ perspectives are entirely in line with the philosophy that governs American pedagogy these days.  Further evidence can be found in those attributes of the most recent generations of graduates about which we hear so many complaints.

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A Loss with the Deterioration of the Humanities

I’m not just puffing up my own degree when I say that I found my study of literature to be much more broadly relevant training than mere communication and empathy.

Done correctly, literary analysis can be practice for understanding the universe: Given a limited amount of information, one must determine the appropriate criteria for understanding the creation and separate evidence from noise, making the case for each step along the way.  Of course, a literary critic must go on to master any technical knowledge required to apply this skill set to some other subject, be it theology, physics, or politics, but a specialist in other subjects must do the same in reverse (and often won’t recognize that need).

I’m therefore sorry, but not surprised, to read Alex Berezow’s report on dramatic declines in study of the humanities:

The humanities are in big trouble. That’s the conclusion drawn by Benjamin Schmidt, an Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University. He has the data to back it up.

In his analysis, Dr. Schmidt depicts several graphs, all of which show a fairly striking trend: Students are rejecting the humanities. The most striking graph, which includes data for English, Languages, History, and Philosophy, shows that the number of college degrees in these fields awarded as a percentage of all college degrees fell from roughly 7.5% in the 2000s to under 5% today.

Reviewing the included charts, it appears that the only two exceptions are communications and cultural, ethnic, and gender studies.  The first is broad, but with the feel of practicality (especially in a world of information technology driven to manipulate people).  The second is really more the development of an ideology and reinforcement of emotion.

Berezow offers three interrelated explanations, which I’d rephrase as follows:

  1. Our society has a general sense that the humanities are not serious disciplines.
  2. The research coming from the humanities reads like a species of parody.
  3. The humanities have been absorbed almost entirely by a particular proselytizing ideology associated with a single political party.

And so, students who are interested in learning and being tested on knowledge and analysis, rather than affirmed in their beliefs and emotions, are leaving the humanities.  That’s a problem because, even with declining numbers, we’re training vast numbers of young adults to feel emotionally entitled and to manipulate others, even as everybody else has less experience framing their responses in the way I described at the outset of this post.

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Unions: Doing to Our Hospitals What They Did to Our Schools

One of the advantages of living on the East Bay is our easier access to Massachusetts for things like hospitals.  In a pinch, a while back, my family went to Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro, and it turned out to be one of the most terrible decisions we’ve ever made, with lifelong consequences.  In the years since, we’ve heard from others with similar stories.

I don’t want to be unfair, though.  It’s all too easy for a bad employee or unfortunate circumstances to create a uniquely bad experience.  Especially in our time of social media, these isolated instances can come together to create a misleading impression.  Some people will swear by Apple versus PC or Verizon versus AT&T and vice versa and so on.  I don’t think this caveat applies to my take on Providence hospitals, but it might.

Let’s just say that the recent public theatrics of the nurses’ labor union in Providence don’t contradict my feelings:

Unionized nurses and other health care professionals at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital on Thursday voted no confidence in Lifespan’s CEO, Tim Babineau, and Rhode Island Island Hospital’s president, Margaret Van Bree, and called on Lifespan’s board “to take immediate, corrective action to restore the public’s trust in Rhode Island’s only Level One Trauma Hospital.”

Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098, which represents 2,400 nurses, technologists, therapists and health professionals at the two hospitals, said members also authorized union leaders to issue a 10-day strike notice if negotiations break down.

Obviously, I can’t speak for “the public,” but my lack of trust in this system has to do with people who work (or worked) there, not the management… except to the extent that management is to blame for the employees.  The union organizers from United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098 definitely are to blame for enabling employees who’ve made devastating mistakes.

The unions are doing for our hospitals what they’ve done for the public school system.  That Bishop Hendricken alum Ray Sullivan is the union lead for the nurses as well as an organizer with the National Education Association of Rhode Island only drives home the point.  Among the incidents that made labor unions so distasteful to me was a plan by Tiverton teachers to picket a hospital where a school committee member worked.  Picketing a hospital — where people are suffering, grieving, and panicking — is no more acceptable when the union represents its workers than when it doesn’t.

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No Space Between Governing and Campaigning

Brian Gallogly is right to lament on Twitter the politicization of the Community College of Rhode Island under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo:

CCRI President Hughes setting a new precedent by standing in front of a campaign banner & essentially endorsing Gov. Raimondo for reelection. Prior Rhode Island college presidents stayed neutral so they could work well with whoever won.

However, the fault is not all hers.  Gallogly’s response is to a tweet from Raimondo announcing her “second term universal job training and education plan.”  The governor includes a video of her announcement and speech (bookended with words from CCRI President Meghan Hughes) at CCRI.

The problem is the ambiguity between an official policy announcement and a campaign event.  Under this governor, there is no space between the two.  Governing is campaigning, and campaigning is governance. At some point, that practice transitions from simply poor taste to corruption, and a governor becomes something more like a potentate.

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Two Questions on Negative Results in Pre-K Study

As Gail Heriot points out two distinct questions arise from a study finding negative effects from prekindergarten programs for low-income children.

The first, obviously, is why the results would be negative.  In this case, the writers speculate that it could be statistical noise, with pre-K falsely identifying students as requiring special education, which would then affect expectations that they won’t perform as well in elementary school.  Another explanation, that we’ve addressed in this space, before, is that the free pre-K option, while attractive in the moment for families, is not necessarily better for the children than the alternative of time at home with family or a more personalized day-care option.  And yet another explanation we’ve touched on in the past is that being more advanced in an academic sense at the start of kindergarten creates boredom as the other kids catch up.

Perhaps all of these things are in play; the question then becomes whether it’s worth the expense and risk of unintended consequences to attempt to tweak the project.  The hypothesis that pre-K will only work out if it’s universal can’t be proven without making it universal, at which point we may very well exacerbate the problem for children whose parents would have been happy to stay home with them.

The second question is the one on which Heriot focuses.  Apparently, the study authors had difficulty publishing and received push-back in a way that seemed to have more to do with a policy preference than a scientific assessment.  Heriot writes:

Here’s a question worth knowing the answer to: How much of the vitriol was coming from individuals with a financial stake in the continuation of government-subsidized pre-kindergarten programs for low-income children? As always, the more that gets spent on any government program, the harder it is to turn the spigot off.

Vitriol may also come from people invested in the notion that government needs to get children away from their backwards parents as soon as possible.  Either way, anybody not on the take or ideologically invested should want policy decisions to be made on a firm basis, which means an openness to the possibility that meddling in people’s lives will have unintended consequences.

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Differences in Union Negotiations

Two separate instances of difference are notable in stories about labor negotiations ongoing with Lifespan and the United Nurses and Allied Professionals.  The first is a sort of hypocrisy of rhetoric.  Lifespan has spent $10 million preparing to keep its operation going in the face of a threatened strike starting July 23, and the organization has said its final offer to the union is now reduced by that amount.  In response, union organizer and former RI representative Raymond Sullivan states:

“UNAP’s dedicated nurses and caregivers have no intention of negotiating with a gun to their heads,” Sullivan said. “As of now, there are no plans to resume talks until Lifespan ceases its attacks on the union’s protected rights to collectively bargain and strike.

So when the union threatens to deprive the hospitals of the workers they need to operate, that’s just fair labor negotiations, but when management says it’ll have to hire temporary employees and make the cost up in the contract, that’s “a gun to their heads.”

The second notable difference is that between Lifespan’s actions and those of public-sector management.  Sullivan, for example, used to work for the National Education Association of Rhode Island, an industry in which a hard line from management looks quite different.  Far from facing a reduction in management’s final offer, in public schools, the union can usually expect to get multiple years of retroactive pay if it takes that long to come to an agreement.

This turn of events can leave taxpayers with the impression that school committees aren’t so much negotiating with the unions for that long as they are waiting for some turn of events to make it possible to take from taxpayers what both “sides” want.  One can hardly imagine a school committee’s taking retroactive pay off the table, let alone reducing an offer.  The union rhetoric (and media coverage) would be apocalyptic, and drag the school committee members through an agonizing time.

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Teacher Unions and Students’ Earnings

Robert Verbruggen highlights what appears to be the same study I mentioned in January, although the researchers have increased the magnitude of the effect of teacher unionization on students’ future earnings:

We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: in the first 10 years after passage of a duty-to-bargain law, male earnings decline by $2,134 (or 3.93%) per year and hours worked decrease by 0.42 hours per week. The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $213.8 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower male 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.

Verbruggen expresses skepticism, as he should for a study that has a bit of that too-good-to-be-true feel for conservatives, but I’m not sure he’s considering the mechanisms.  For instance, he emphasizes that the study focused on men because (his words) “the labor market for women changed so dramatically in this time period.”  Having this ready excuse could lead one to be too quick to dismiss an underlying mechanism or indirect cause.

For instance, from the 1987-1988 school year to the 2011-2012 school year, the percentage of public school teachers who were men dropped from 29.5% to 23.7% (or one out of every three to one out of every four).  If the same rate of decrease extends back in time, the percentage of male teachers at the beginning of the study window would have been much higher.  That could suggest that the apparent effects of teachers’ collective bargaining are actually effects of a changing workforce, or it could suggest that the demographic trend is a result of collective bargaining.

In any event, it will be interesting to see whether the ability of government school employees to avoid union membership will have an effect on the percentage of men in the classroom, the career results of students, or both.

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Maybe RI Regulators Will Listen to the Military

It amazes me that relaxing occupational licensing regulations even for military families is too much for special interests to accept, but Rhode Island should really take this news into consideration during next year’s legislative session:

U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the presence of state laws on reciprocity of professional licenses for military families would now be a consideration when evaluating future basing and mission decisions in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

And that’s not all:

The statement — in a keynote address to the Western Governors Association meeting in Rapid City last month —came four months after Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and Secretary of the Army Mark Esper sent a letter to the National Governors Association in February encouraging states to consider licensure reciprocity legislation while noting that the quality of local schools near a base would also be a new factor considered in future basing and mission decisions.

Imagine that… the U.S. military is concerned that its employees families have access to good schools and economic opportunity.  Rhode Island is fortunate, indeed, that private companies and individuals don’t have the same standards.

ADDENDUM (3:10 p.m., 7/10/18):
For those who can’t tell, that last sentence is sarcastic.

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Massachusetts’s Education Warning Signs

I’ve been pointing out that Massachusetts took a turn away from the success of its education reform in the mid-2000s.  As in Rhode Island, reforms that sought to fix the education system in cooperation with the interests that had helped to undermine it produced political pressure to end the reforms, even though they were working.  This creates an educational ceiling.  Massachusetts started earlier and hit its ceiling in 2007, while Rhode Island’s slower and less-enthusiastic move hit its ceiling in 2011, as aggregated scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test show:

RIMA-allaverage-2000-2017

People in Massachusetts are starting to notice, too, as evidenced by Thomas Birmingham and William Weld’s op-ed in the Boston Globe:

In 2010, the Commonwealth replaced its best-in-the-nation English and math standards with national versions that cut the amount of classic literature and poetry that students learn by more than half and extends the time it takes to reach Algebra I, which is the key to higher math study.

Today Massachusetts has essentially the same English and math standards as Arkansas and Louisiana. Students in those states can’t possibly match Massachusetts’ performance, so the political reality is that the bar gets lowered so more can clear it.

The results of this change in education policy have been swift. After years of improvement, our progress has come to a halt. Massachusetts is among a minority of states whose NAEP scores have fallen since 2011 and others are catching up.

Backsliding isn’t the result of any one policy change, but a change in attitude that leads to multiple, related changes:  Accountability measures, charter schools, broader school choice, and higher standards all interact.  More importantly, all of them have opposing incentives for families/students and the entrenched interests like teachers unions.

As in this morning’s post on patriotism, the solutions all build on each other.  Reforming union policy to reduce the power of special interests will make accountability measures more plausible, while giving families high standards and alternatives will increase the resilience of the reform in the face of political pressure.

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Assumptions in the Elimination of Parental Rights

An advocacy-as-news article from Megan Mitchell, a reporter/anchor for WLWT in Ohio, inadvertently brings into stark relief a flawed assumption and deadly blind spot in the promotion of transgenderism among children.  Teresa Schrader supports the decision of her daughter, Riggins, to present as a boy:

“I know my transition was easier because of my family and friends, but I also know that other kids like me don’t have it as easy because they don’t have the support,” said Riggins.

The new bill, proposed by Ohio Rep. Thomas Brinkman (R), from Mt. Lookout, would require school and hospital staff to inform a parent if a child indicates they aren’t sure about their gender.

Transgender advocates say the bill can create an unsafe environment for transgender children who aren’t supported by their family.

“The suicide rate for transgender kids is around 40%. So who wants their kid to possibly commit suicide because they’re not feeling comfortable with who they are or their not feeling supported?” said Schrader.

In an argument over legislation that would require teachers and therapists to inform parents of their children’s gender dysphoria, the party asking what parent wants his or her child to commit suicide should be the one insisting that parents have a right to know what’s going on with their children.  Schrader is assuming not only that satisfying the transgender impulse can be the right answer, but that it should be assumed always to be the right answer if the child with the dysphoria thinks it is, and that some parents might actually be willing to risk his or her suicide to disagree.

The more dreadful point, though, is the one less remarked upon.  The implicit argument is that schools and therapists should help to push children — children in a group that is more prone to suicide — into a situation in which they’re deceiving their parents about something supposedly central to their identities, possibly changing their own biology behind their parents’ backs.

A reasonable argument might exist that the legislation should be amended to account for those extreme and rare circumstances in which a parent can be excluded from the notice, but even getting that far is apparently beyond consideration.  Parents are villains until proven woke.

Rhode Islanders should pay attention, because policies being promulgated at the state and local levels infringe on parents’ rights in exactly the way Representative Brinkman is striving to remedy in Ohio.

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The Broad Story of Pensions

As is the publication’s wont, GoLocalProv’s coverage of the Diocese of Providence’s pension problems makes a play for a sense of scandal and therefore misses a bigger story in the lesson that it teaches:

The document is dated June 19, 2018, and marked “immediate action” and it calls for drastic cuts to beneficiaries of the fund. Also, to be considered at the meeting is the October 2017 recommendation document and the plan outlined is to be considered for action this week.

Another dire statement in the report says, “Even with the revised more realistic assumptions, if we make these changes, it will still take 30-35 years to fully fund the Plan.” …

The four primary reasons for the plan’s lack of stability have been conditions for years.  Catholic schools in Rhode Island have been closing for the last three decades, the 7.5 percent annual rate of return has not been considered achievable for the better part of a decade, and the major changes in mortality rates was achieved decades ago.

Note that the state of Rhode Island uses a 7.5% estimate for an annual rate of return, as well, and employees of the state have had the same changes in mortality rates.  The only difference is that state government can always raise taxes to pay its mammoth obligations.

My understanding of the history, here, suggests that the problems for diocesan schools are wrapped up with changes in government.  (This would make for a worthwhile research project for any students in an appropriate field who have the time.)  During the same broad time period that the Church could no longer rely on religious brothers and sisters to run its classrooms, government employees unionized, and the unions began manipulating the electoral system to ensure that compensation — including pensions — would rocket beyond an amount that could conceivably be afforded without the bottomless well of taxpayer dollars. Private schools have to compete in this general job market.

Intentionally or not, public sector pensions were designed to hide the actual cost of the benefit.  The system looked affordable, and the diocese offered a variation.  Simultaneously, an explosion of regulations and mandates for schools, specifically, increased operating costs across the board.

So, yes, there’s a reckoning coming for this error, but it isn’t only for the diocese.

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That Teacher Absenteeism Issue

Linda Borg reports in the Providence Journal:

A national education magazine reports that Rhode Island has among the highest rates of chronic teacher absenteeism in the nation.

Among the states in the Civil Rights Data Collection, Nevada had the highest percentage of teachers, with nearly half of all teachers taking more than 10 days off, followed by Hawaii, at 48 percent, and Rhode Island, at 41 percent, according to a story in Education Week.

In South Dakota, the state with the lowest rate of teacher absenteeism, only 18 percent took more than 10 days off.

That’s on a work-year of generally 180 days, and it’s in addition to things like field trips and professional days taken as part of work. Granted, the absent time includes sick and personal time, but the state-by-state comparison is the central concern.

Considering that Rhode Island is pretty much the average state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, having a big chunk of the school year with absent teachers suggests missed opportunities.  That suggestion is reinforced by the Ocean State’s status as last in New England by this measure.

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The Union Organizer Who Thinks States’ Worth of People Don’t Care About Their Children

Americans periodically complain about the rancor in our political discourse, and while it’s certainly nothing new (and is better than, say, murderous feuds between factions), they have a point.  We do better as a society to the extent that we can discuss difficult matters without doing and saying things that escalate emotions unnecessarily.

For the most part, doing and saying such things is probably inadvertent; relatively few people are so deeply engaged in public debate that their rhetoric is thoroughly conscious.  Among those who are deeply engaged, some portion who use inflammatory rhetoric do so because they’re passionate and their sincere beliefs can’t help but inflame the other side.  And then there are those who escalate emotions in order to isolate their opposition and manipulate everybody else.

I’d put American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten in that last group, and find the sort of rhetoric that Dan McGowan reports from her to be beyond the pale:

“Providence, Rhode Island is not Oklahoma City or Phoenix, Arizona,” Weingarten told reporters gathered outside Mount Pleasant High School. “And the fact that a mayor of this city is not sitting down trying to solve these problems and acting more like what we see in states that haven’t really cared about their kids is shocking to me.”

According to this self-interested union organizer, entire states’ worth of Americans don’t care about their children.  Why?  Presumably because their elected officials don’t give as much money to her members as she’d like.

If this were some isolated statement, that’d be bad enough, but we’ve more than ample experience with teachers unions in Rhode Island to know that it’s part of a deliberate organizational strategy to keep union members feeling undervalued and citizen-governments in constant turmoil that can only be relieved by giving in to the union’s demands.  In short, it’s exactly the sort of attitude and behavior that ought to embarrass professional teachers and, if the Supreme Court decides for freedom in the upcoming Janus decision, lead them to cancel their memberships.

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Self-Discipline and a Right to Consider Data for Our Children’s Schools

Here’s an interesting finding from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:

  1. Students in Catholic schools are less likely to act out or be disruptive than those in other private schools or in public schools. According to their teachers, Catholic school children argued, fought, got angry, acted impulsively, and disturbed ongoing activities less frequently.
  2. Students in Catholic schools exhibit more self-control than those in other private schools or public schools. Specifically, they were more likely to control their temper, respect others’ property, accept their fellow students’ ideas, and handle peer pressure.
  3. Regardless of demographics, students in Catholic schools exhibit more self-discipline than students in public schools and other private schools. Thus, there is at least some evidence that attending Catholic school may benefit all sorts of children.

Of course, I’m predisposed to find this encouraging, not only for personal reasons because it affirms that something is nowadays missing from secular education and society.  But even if we can write off the results of this study for some reason, that a credible study does find evidence for the conclusion is important.  It indicates that families are rational to want access to different types of schools, given their specific circumstances, and should have increased ability to make those decisions.

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A Growing NAEP Gap for the Disadvantaged

Here’s a worrisome trend made visible on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive tool for comparing scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.  The lines show results on the 8th grade reading test among Rhode Island students.  The red line represents students overall; the gray line represents lower-income students (as determined by eligibility for free or reduced lunch); and the purple line represents students with some sort of learning, emotional, or physical disability.

That there would be a gap between the average student and students with marked disadvantages isn’t surprising.  That the gap is growing particularly because the disadvantaged students are losing ground ought to be a huge red flag.

RI-NAEP-Gr8-reading-AveSLDis-2000-2017

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A Side Lesson of One in Five Boys Not Graduating on Time in Tiverton

That’s the central finding of a post of mine on Tiverton Fact Check:

Tiverton’s four-year graduation rate (that is, the percentage of students who graduate in the typical four years) was 85.5% in 2017, whereas the average suburban high school managed 90.8%. Tiverton was down from 89.1% the prior year.  Nearby Portsmouth and Middletown beat the 2017 suburban average by healthy margins, with 96.7% and 93.8%, respectively.

The picture becomes more bleak if we look just at a population that’s been struggling in recent years: boys.  In Tiverton, one in five high school boys (81.7%) did not graduate within four years.  For the average suburban school, it was closer to one in 10.  Portsmouth was second best in the state, with only about one in 35 boys failing to graduate on time.

And yet, I haven’t seen a single letter to the editor taking the school committee or administration to task for this.

We have a curious political dynamic in town — one that’s probably the same pretty much throughout Rhode Island:  Work to give voters lower-tax options, and anything and everything can and will be said about you, often by parents who think they’re defending their children.  Preside over the lowest non-city four-year graduation rate in the state, and the silence probably means you’ll coast to reelection.

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Yes, That Racial Gap on the NAEP

Yes, I recoil from talk about race gaps on standardized tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), because the focus on race misses the underlying problems and undermines our ability to fix them.  Still, one can’t deny that they exist:

RI-NAEP-subjects-BvW--2000-2017

 

The difference of opinion, ultimately, is what to do about this.  More money gifted to the same failing system is not the answer.  Finding ways to give black families, proportionally, the same opportunities as white families probably is.  In other words:  The answer is a combination of responsibility and freedom.

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PC or PC? Vice President Goodwin Takes Out Restraining Order Against Smalanskas

Michael Smalanskas, who was recently the center of an open debate battle with progressive activists over a bulletin board he posted educating students about traditional Catholic marriage, has been barred from campus and has had a restraining order taken out against him by Vice President for Student Affairs, Kristine Goodwin.

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NAEP Module Shows Latino Advocates Are Right (About the Problem)

A couple of weeks ago, the Ocean State Current highlighted the relatively poor results of Rhode Island Hispanic students on the standardized National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.  Now, local advocates, including the Latino Policy Institute have contacted the state commissioner of education about that very issue:

A letter written by the executive director of the Latino Policy Institute and signed by a dozen education leaders says Rhode Island is failing its Latino students and urges the state education commissioner to make additional investments in English language learners.

The letter, which was sent to Commissioner Ken Wagner Monday morning, says that Rhode Island’s English language learners rank among the lowest in the United States for their performance on a nationally recognized test, the National Assessment for Education Progress.

This additional chart generated using the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive NAEP comparison tool gives a sense of the magnitude of the disparity:

RI-AveState-NAEP-Hispanic-4and8-2000-2017

 

When both math and reading scores are combined, compared with the average state (left image), Rhode Island’s Hispanics are certainly not achieving what our education system ought to ensure.  Of particular concern, students in 8th grade are losing ground against the national average.  If we infer that older students have had more experience within the public school system, that news is particularly discouraging — suggestive of the possibility that our education system is just doing something wrong.

Unfortunately, the advocates appear to limit their proposed solution to the usual go-to call for more money.  The reality is that Rhode Island schools are not doing especially well with any demographic group, suggesting that other reforms are needed, probably without additional cost.  The big gains for Hispanic Rhode Islanders in 8th grade between 2007 and 2011 give a sense of the potential of real reform.

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NAEP Fruits of Reform in Florida Versus Rhode Island

By way of a contrast of two states when it comes to education reform, Florida has been among the pioneers in school choice–themed education reform, especially for disadvantaged and disabled students.  Meanwhile, Rhode Island pursued a “fix the system” approach that hit a political ceiling when Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee took the reins.

Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test give a sense of the divergent results.  The following chart combines 4th and 8th grades and math and reading scores:

RIFL-NAEP-allgradessubjects-group-2000-2017

 

Generally, looking at the red line for “all students,” one could suggest that Florida’s reforms were more stable, compared with the now-sinking results for Rhode Island.  But look at the difference for disadvantaged groups!  Poor students (“school lunch”) have made huge progress in Florida, and “disabled” students (including all variations of learning disabilities) have at least kept pace with general improvements, while they’ve lost ground in Rhode Island.

To put it in progressive terms (or the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s 2012 report), look at the closing of the gaps in Florida.

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In RI, Hispanics Lag on NAEP and Whites Lose Ground

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive application for reviewing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) gives users an easy way to see how students in their state are doing from a number of angles.

One angle that seems of particular concern in discussions about education has to do with race, and Rhode Island’s results are somewhat unique.  The top line in the following chart shows that the demographic majority, white students, is on a down-slide when 4th and 8th grades and math and reading scores are averaged and combined.  For the average state in the country, at least this group is holding more or less steady.

The story for black students is somewhat the reverse, with this demographic group holding steady in Rhode Island but sliding nationally.  As a result, in 2017, black students in Rhode Island actually outperformed the national average.  Of course, this cohort unfortunately remains well below white students.

The big difference comes with Hispanic students.  Across the nation, Hispanic students trend a bit higher than black students.  In Rhode Island, the two groups have been tracking pretty much along the same path since 2011.

RI-AveState-NAEP-races-2000-2017

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An Indicator or an Outlier at the University of Denver?

I fear the University of Denver is more an indicator than an outlier:

Members of two conservative groups at the University of Denver say their organizations are likely disbanding after investigations by the university and pervasive harassment by fellow students have made the campus a “toxic environment” for their groups.

The school’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom debated closing at the end of last year, with its members fearful that they would be unable to land jobs after being investigated for “hate speech” and labeled racists and white supremacists in, among other places, the school newspaper. The group remains on campus, but with severely reduced numbers.

The Federalist Society there, meanwhile, has dwindled to a single student, and is set to shut down at the end of the year when the last remaining member graduates. Pervasive bullying and concerns about being called racist induced many of its members to depart this year.

Conservative students are getting a taste of what it’s like to be constantly under attack, and many are explicitly worried about what might happen to their future job prospects when they’re publicly labeled — even with no basis whatsoever — as racists and -phobes.  When one side of public discourse treats the other side’s opinions as not only illegitimate, but a form of violence, and when the people who control our society’s institutions don’t enforce neutral rules, standing up for principles crosses over from a brave learning experience to a potentially reckless eccentricity.  Better just to keep quiet.

I’m still hopeful that the United States can snap back from this (with the help of us reckless eccentrics), but that isn’t assured.  In any event, we’re certainly getting a lesson in how a society can slide from freedom and dynamism into of suppression and injustice.

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Falling Behind Our Neighbors on the National Assessment of Educational Progress

Here’s another disturbing finding from the recently released math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

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During the reform movement of the last decade, initiated by Republican Governor Donald Carcieri and his appointed education board (which in turn appointed Education Commissioner Deborah Gist), Rhode Island was making steady progress toward the New England pack.  The trend slowed and then stopped when Independent/Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee took office and shouldered the reformers out.  Now, under Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and new Education Commissioner Ken Wagner, Rhode Island’s eighth graders appear to be backsliding, especially in math.

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A Voice in the Wilderness, Calling Out the Real School Problem

It can get lonely battling the status quo in Rhode Island, but every now and then, one has reason to believe that many more people share our despairs and hopes than are willing to speak up and give them voice.  Kenneth Petitti’s recent letter to the editor of the Providence Journal is one such bit of evidence:

There is one simple reason why Rhode Island and its schools are in such a mess: the corrupt connection between the politicians and all public employee unions.

After wages and pensions, there’s nothing left for infrastructure. The unions continue to feed at the trough, while the taxpayers yearn to move elsewhere.

Yes, we have a responsibility to renew the government’s school buildings’ ability to host a modern education, but we can’t only do that.  If we don’t change the incentives that led Rhode Island’s ample education resources (read: “high taxes going to education”) to be directed away from basics like building maintenance, we’re only buying a few more years and creating hundreds of millions of dollars in increased ratchets for our taxes.  (That is, payment on our maintenance debt will be built into government budgets and never go away, even as buildings are paid off or even closed.)

We need a new approach.  Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s big long-term fix when it came to pension reform was to give an unelected board the power to hand the General Assembly two choices next time the pension system went off the tracks.  Her big long-term fix for our neglected bridges and roads was a new tolling system.

Those were the wrong approaches to reform, but the school building plan doesn’t even have that, and we’re not going to get the sort of reforms we need until the people who come forward with them know that they’ve got support.

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