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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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Providence School Unions Send Parents a Message

… and that message ought to be: These unions have too much power over your lives.

First up is the threat of a strike by the Teamsters who represent the bus drivers:

The union representing 200 bus drivers for Providence schools is threatening to strike.

A strike authorization was approved by the membership of Teamsters Local 251, secretary-treasurer Matthew Taibi said Wednesday.

Astonishingly, what they want is for the bus company for which they work, First Student, to switch out their 401ks for a pension.  A pension!  Everybody in the world is learning that defined-benefit pensions just don’t work.  Reasonable contributions and a realistic rate of investment returns just can’t produce enough money to keep people living as well as they want for as long as they live.  Wanting in to this system would be insane, except that the unions are banking on their ability to make governments (and government contractors) increase the cost of services to taxpayers.

Yet, precisely this sort of shenanigan is what should make taxpayers less sympathetic to their plight.  The next time we have to choose between huge tax increases to “honor our promises” to employees and reducing the benefits that employees receive, remember that the unions are key players in forcing those promises to be made despite the risks.

Next up is the threat of work-to-rule from the teachers union:

The Providence Teachers Union has voted overwhelmingly to authorize work-to-rule in the event that tomorrow’s negotiations with the city do not show progress, according to PTU President Maribeth Calabro.

She said 1,940 members voted Monday to move to work-to-rule after two years without a new teachers’ contract. Work-to-rule means that teachers only do what’s is laid out in their contract.

Ah, life in a workers’ paradise, where bus drivers striking in order to enter a broken pension system could force families struggling to make ends meet to find some other way to get their children to schools in which well-paid teachers who work a significantly shortened work year refuse to do anything beyond the minimum in order to protect and expand their employment deal.

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Matt Brown Gets the Problems Right but the Solutions Dead Wrong

See, here’s the thing.  I don’t think anybody outside of Matt Brown’s progressive base believes that his socialist policy suggestions will fix the problems he describes:

“How did we end up in the situation where the roads are broken, the hospitals are closing, the schools aren’t providing a good education for our kids, we’re 50th out of the 50 states for education of Latino children, the school buildings are falling down,” he said. “That’s a pretty extreme situation to be in. And that’s going to take some bold ideas and some real changes.”

How did we end up in this situation?  Because big-government progressivism has redirected the money that we were taxed and feed from infrastructure maintenance to insider deals, interest-group buy-offs, and bureaucratic proliferation.  Because the progressive urge to take control of everything has squeezed opportunity out of our state, leading to the exit of productive Rhode Islanders and a lack of paying demand for services such as hospitals (while lowering the availability and quality of those services and driving up the costs).  And because co-opting public schools as a means of indoctrination and a funding mechanism for left-wing teachers unions has undermined the incentives for a healthy system.

If you agree with Matt Brown about the problems, you have to disagree with him about the solutions.

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Young Democratic Socialists Are a Little Late in the Game

The pamphlet described in an article by Zachary Petrizzo on Campus Reform reads like a smoking gun memo from a strategy that was implemented decades ago:

The Young Democratic Socialists of America organization is urging socialists to “take jobs as teachers” in order to exploit the “political, economic, and social potential the industry holds.”

“Why Socialists Should Become Teachers,” an 11-page pamphlet crafted jointly by YDSA and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, contends that education is “a strategic industry to organize,” and offers prospective socialist educators “a basic roadmap for how to get a job in education.”

Socialists enter education in government schools.  They get a high-paying job that is stable to the point of being just about permanent.  And they gain access to impressionable children whom they can indoctrinate.  As a bonus, part of their pay goes to labor unions, which cycle the taxpayer money back into activism and political donations.

The synergies here are so obvious that the plan is already in effect and undermining our society.  But kids always have to feel like they’re coming up with radical ideas.

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Questioning a “Safe Space” for Men

The College Fix reports on what appears to be an implicitly self contradictory (which is to say, dishonest) attack on masculinity at Brown University:

A program at the Ivy League institution provides “safe spaces for men to unpack all of the things they have learned about masculinity and what it means to be a man,” according to its website.

“Rigid definitions of masculinity are toxic to men’s health,” campus officials state online under the heading: “Unlearning Toxic Masculinity.”

“Men will often resort to violence to resolve conflict because anger is the only emotion that they have been socialized to express,” the website states. “Unfortunately, the way that young men are conditioned to view sex and their need to be dominant and have power over others also contribute to instances of sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence on college campuses.”

It’s been a while since I was part of a campus community, so maybe I’m missing the nuances of “safe spaces,” but I’m not sure how the term could cover a space in which one is explicitly identified as “toxic.”  Are the safe spaces provided to other identity groups similarly characterized by the safety to talk about what’s wrong with members of the group?  That seems more like a “hostile space.”

Indeed, spend some time clicking through the texts and videos associated with this program, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anybody who exhibits a sense of safety in acknowledging something like, “I’m strong and competitive, and all of these other guys talking about how masculinity means being cold, calculating, and distant just aren’t describing a reality that matches the society that I’ve experienced.”  Even a video of a young woman (who appears to present as a young man) tells the story of her toxic masculinity when she hit her brother for telling her she looked pretty.

In other words, it’s all play acting and virtue signaling, and there’s nothing really new, here.  The lesson that is pushed ad nauseam is basically:  People shouldn’t be jerks, and “jerk” and “masculine man” are basically synonyms.

By that definition, the most masculine people in the world would have to be the authorities pushing this nonsense on young impressionable men and women, and that clearly isn’t correct.

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Article on Teacher Shortage Misses the Obvious: Economics

This Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal covers familiar ground:

The demand for high school math and science teachers, especially in chemistry and physics, is so intense that districts often resort to “poaching” from one another, superintendents say. But the biggest competition comes from private industry, which offers higher pay and a better career trajectory.

In contrast, however:

In North Smithfield, Supt. Michael St. Jean said he had 260 applications for four elementary education openings last year.

Oddly, over the course of around 40 paragraphs, nobody expresses the obvious observation from economics.  We should change the way we structure employment in public schools so the system could rise to market price of the technical professionals who are in demand while reducing the pay offered to teachers in areas that have such a surplus.

That’s how the market would function in the private sector.  If one job seems impossible to fill while another generates sixty-five times more applicants than there are positions, employers will try to get a qualified person to fill the second job at lower pay so that he or she can increase the offer for the first job.  This will go on across the industry until the pay being offered for the second job can’t attract any qualified applicants.

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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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