Education RSS feed for this section
justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

Smanlankas Banner

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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).

RI-NAEP-Gr8-NEtrends-2000-2017

 

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

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.

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Helping Low-Income Students with Choice

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

NAEP Scores: Another Unacknowledged Crisis in RI

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

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

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

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

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

RI-NAEP-Gr8-subjects-2000-2017

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

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

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Toward Colleges That Are More than Indoctrination Hubs

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

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

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

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

The Herd of Rhode Islanders Can Afford to Allow Some Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

justin-katz-avatar-smiling

Ensuring More Such Union Behavior in the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quantcast