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The Conversation Starts Tuesday: Opportunity To Become Self-Sufficient

Everyone concerned about the well-being of our state’s families should be alarmed by our unacceptable 48th-place ranking. It is time to challenge the status quo insider mindset and to search for a more holistic path to help real Rhode Islanders improve their quality of life. This week, the Center will co-host a forum at Bryant University, that will provide an ideal opportunity for community, religious, and political leaders to convene and begin the process.


Watch for the “Universal Pre-K” Money Grab

This New York Post editorial caught my eye (emphasis added):

As Carl Campanile reported in Monday’s Post, the city teachers union is spending more furiously than a drunken sailor: In the year ending last June 30, the UFT upped outlays by $13 million over the year before, to $182.1 million. That equals the entire budget for the city of Albany.

It helped that the union collected an extra $7 million in dues (to $151 million total), thanks to 7,000 new teachers hired under Mayor de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K program.

UFT boss Michael Mulgrew’s smug justification for it all? “Defending public education is increasingly expensive.”

As the push from the governor and the General Assembly for more unionized “universal pre-K” offerings from Rhode Island’s bank-breaking government schools continues, with talk of how it increases equity and all that, remember this central motivation.  Some of those union outlays go politicians, after all.  It certainly isn’t clear that such programs actually benefit children.

Of course, in Rhode Island, we’re a long, long way from putting our children before powerful special interests.


An Example of Anti-Community Labor Union Influence

Chicago lawyer Michael Hendershot takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to relate an anecdote from his daughter’s public elementary school:

Due to a combination of budget cuts and enrollment numbers that were lower than expected, Pritzker’s librarian was laid off shortly after this school year began. Without a librarian, Pritzker students aren’t allowed to use the library. Dozens of parents have offered to volunteer in the library to keep it open. There was so much interest that the parent-teacher organization created a rotating schedule of regular volunteers to help out.

But before parents could begin volunteering, a teachers union member filed a formal complaint with the school system, objecting to the parents’ plan. Several weeks later, a union representative appeared at a local school council meeting and informed parents that the union would not stand for parental volunteers in the library. Although the parents intended to do nothing more than help students check books in and out, the union claimed that the parents would be impermissibly filling a role reserved for teachers. The volunteer project was shut down following the meeting and the library is currently being used for dance classes.

Yes, as common a practice as it is in the mainstream media, it’s often unfair to pluck such local stories from around the country and hold them up as examples, but one could easily see this coming up in Rhode Island and easily imagine local unionists arguing for the lockout.  As former President of the RI Federation of Teachers Marcia Reback once put it, when the interests of the students and the teachers are different, “I represent the teachers.”

The problem is that this is the intrinsic incentive structure created by unionization.  It might (might) be appropriate within a private company constrained by market forces and without the muddying influence of union members’ being able to elect the management with whom they’ll be negotiating (like fellow union members from neighboring towns), and it might work for jobs that really are easily enumerated and packaged, but this mentality doesn’t belong anywhere near the education of children.


Horwitz Cranks the Left-Wing Noise Machine on WPRO

Steve Klamkin’s WPRO interview with Roger Williams University Law Professor Andrew Horwitz is unbelievable.  Horwitz is a Rhode Island signatory to a “character assassination” letter promoted by a bunch of his peers about President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R, Alabama) as attorney general.

The guy — that is, Professor Horwitz — gave over $5,000 to Rhode Island Democrats between the 2012 and 2016 elections, and to listen to Klamkin’s interview, you’d think he’s either a neutral expert called in to talk about some apolitical topic or a charitable philanthropist who’s organizing for an objectively good cause that Klamkin wants to help him promote.

In reality, the “news” is probably that Horwitz is the typical signer of this letter: not somebody offering a professional assessment, but a political hack.  Glenn Reynolds has it right: “At this point, the Left is mostly just a noise machine.”  The longer it runs, the more people will tune it out, which will be a benefit on the political front, but a detriment when it comes to the news media and even academia.


Not Surprising a Social Justice Warrior Would Bring Students to a Trump Protest

This is hardly surprising:

Central Falls High School math teacher Seth Kolker has independently organized the group [joining the anti-Trump “Women’s March on Washington”]. He did so to help students “channel their fear, anger and confusion” after the election, when they began asking such questions as, “Will I be deported,” or “Are Latinos going to be allowed to go to high school in America anymore?” 

Some might question the propriety of public school teachers’ using their positions of influence with students as a connecting point for political activism, but remember that Central Falls is the school district that is literally hiring social justice Warriors.  Of course, if we were to flip the politics, the Providence Journal would have written a scandal story rather than a celebrate-the-community story.


Propaganda Reversing the Impression of Economic Conclusions

On the topic of school choice, Scott Alexander appears to have spotted an example of the way in which the mainstream media phrases research in such a way as to create a false, left-wing impression of the news.  The relevant New York Times headline is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It,” but looking at the data, Alexander suggests:

A more accurate way to summarize this graph is “About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t.”

By leaving it at “only a third of economists support vouchers”, the article implies that there is an economic consensus against the policy. Heck, it more than implies it – its title is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It”. But its own source suggests that, of economists who have an opinion, a large majority are pro-voucher.

In a separate post, Alexander elaborates on why he believes the Times report is skewed, but the most persuasive evidence can be found by going to the Times’s source and reading the comments of the surveyed economists.  Here’s David Autor of MIT, who was marked down as “disagreeing” that school choice would produce “a higher quality [of] education” (rating his confidence at 6 of 10) (emphasis added):

Some students would benefit and the average effect might indeed be positive. But some students would surely be harmed.

By this standard, improvement only counts if universal; indeed, that appears to be the complaint of many “disagreers,” as well as some “uncertains.”  Here’s Ray Fair of Yale, who is level-10 confident in his uncertainty:

I think the majority of public school students would be better off, but certainly not all.

Wondering how much of all expert opinion is really predicated on a priori conclusions, I can’t resist juxtaposing this with progressives’ approach to the minimum wage, regarding which they acknowledge some percentage of people will be worse off but assume the net effect will be positive.

Experts’ differing opinions are, of course, legitimate, but spinning them to create a false impression of consensus isn’t news; it’s propaganda.


Social Dynamism in Government Policy

A Wall Street Journal editorial has gotten some attention with the headline, “School Choice Saves Money“:

Using data from a crime and graduation study by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the Milwaukee study finds that through 2035 Wisconsin will receive a $473 million benefit from higher graduation rates by choice students. More education translates into higher incomes, more tax revenue and a lower likelihood of reliance on government welfare or other payments. Meanwhile, greater economic opportunity also prevents young adults from turning to crime, which the study estimates will save Wisconsin $1.7 million from fewer misdemeanors and $24 million from fewer felonies over the same 20 years.

Some years back the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity had a victory, in our view, pushing dynamic scoring into the legislative debate with our proposal to eliminate the state sales tax.  Dynamic scoring means that one considers the economic effects of a policy and subtracts the increased tax revenue from the policy’s “static” (“sticker,” or first-order) cost.  The above paragraph reminds us that there is a social dynamism, too, reducing the need for government services as well as increasing the tax take from a healthier economy.

Obviously, this has perverse relevance to Rhode Island’s “government plantation,” which might gain back some lost tax revenue but lose clients and political leverage over them.

But imagine if we had policies that kept kids engaged in good schools (through school choice) and gave them opportunities for more entry-level jobs (through a lower minimum wage and reduced licensing requirements). It might just reduce the cost of paying government to mitigate social problems, create an environment of entrepreneurship, and turn our state around.

Of course, it would require us to shift away from the government plantation, so it won’t happen.


Education Overreach to Public Violence

Heather Mac Donald’s connection of holiday-season mall violence with federal pressure for public schools not to uphold disciplinary standards that may affect minorities disproportionately is worthy of consideration:

The Trump administration must tear up every guidance and mandate in the Justice and Education Departments that penalize school districts for disproportionate rates of school discipline. Absent clear proof of teacher or administrator racism, Washington should let schools correct student behavioral problems as they see fit. Students in classrooms where disruption is common are far less likely to learn; that is the civil rights problem that should get activists’ attention. Taxpayer dollars should not be funding specious federal crusades against phantom discrimination; school districts might have more resources if their local taxpayers were not also being hit by federal levies, which are redistributed around the country in the delusional pursuit of “social justice.” Until the two-parent family is reconstructed, classrooms remain the only hope for socializing children and for preventing the teen violence that broke out across the country this Christmas. Schools can only accomplish that civilizing mission, however, if they are allowed to insist on strict rules, respect for authority, and consequences for misconduct.

I generally agree with Mac Donald’s reasoning, here, although I’d want to look at some more evidence of the claim that she’s making if such a policy were to come up in Rhode Island.  Assuming she’s correct, though, I can only wonder how we can get people to see such progressive destruction for the misguided meddling that it is.


Agreement That RI Liberals Should Meet People Outside Their Comfort Zone

I had to chuckle at this paragraph from the Providence Journal’s “R.I. business innovators: 11 trailblazers to follow in 2016“:

As the head of the all-girls Lincoln School in Providence, [Suzanne] Fogarty, 48, is making sure her students have not only the skills but the mindset to be nimble in a fast-changing workplace. She is also pushing her students to experience people and places that extend well beyond their comfort zone.

Sadly, the subsequent paragraph makes clear that she’s not talking about having the school’s students meet, interact, and appreciate the points of view of conservatives, whether locally or in other parts of the country.


Education Outside of the Progressive Bubble

Education policy is certainly an area in which the establishment Left has been giving greater insight into its true beliefs, lately.  Maybe it’s the shock of following eight years in which the White House floated within the progressive bubble with the sharp prick of its exit under Donald Trump.  Here’s Frederick Hess, writing on National Review Online:

Within days of [Betsy] DeVos’s nomination [for education secretary], the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Columbia University professor Aaron Pallas that included this: “I’ve been joking that Ben Carson’s – Trump’s pick to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – primary qualification is that he grew up in a house. But Betsy DeVos attended private schools and sent her children to them. Her qualification to be Secretary of Education? She doesn’t even have that going for her.”

In a December New Yorker story titled “Betsy DeVos and the Plan to Break Public Schools,” columnist Rebecca Mead lamented that DeVos graduated from Holland Christian High School, “which characterizes its mission thus: ‘to equip minds and nurture hearts to transform the world for Jesus Christ.’” The horror of it all. Apparently, the 5.4 million students enrolled in 33,000 private schools have no standing at the U.S. Department of Education, parents (like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) who send their children to private schools have no standing in education policy, and graduates from religious schools are to be regarded with suspicion.

Education, to these people, is not about informing children; it’s about maintaining a near monopoly for labor unions and an industry for bureaucrats.  Perhaps more centrally, though, its mission is to shape children, and shape them according to the progressive worldview.  Allowing more than a sliver of well-heeled students to be shaped according to the religious views of their parents is, to progressives, heresy.

They know they need the free run of 12-20 years of indoctrination for their delusional, emotion-driven beliefs to stand up against reality when students exit to the real world.  (Of course, it helps if they can then keep the dependency going with corporate and social welfare and other programs, like loan forgiveness.)


Smart Students, All Students, Deserve an Opportunity to Decide Where They’ll Learn Best

Jay Mathews has it right when it comes to the inadequacy of America’s current method of handling our top students, but I’m not sure I agree with the tilt of his solution:

“There was absolutely no incentive to worry about the achievement of those who had already reached, or were likely to reach, that bar,” the report says. “To put it bluntly, NCLB did some good for America’s struggling pupils, but for high achievers, it mostly hit the education pause button. . . . Those most victimized by this regime were high-achieving poor and minority students — kids who were dependent on the school system to cultivate their potential and accelerate their achievement.”

In keeping with my post earlier today, the broad way of thinking wherein we’ll actually find the solution seems not even to be on the table.  Why do we insist that, throughout a given state or from coast to coast, district school systems must be prepared to answer the needs of every single student, no matter his or her specific aptitude or circumstances?  Empower families and students to choose their own educational environments, and they’ll find their level, including schools that answer their specific needs — needs that are complex enough for individuals and those close to them to discern and that cannot possibly be considered adequately by distant agencies and boards.

There’s a reason families report more satisfaction across every criterion when their children go to private schools, first, or charter schools, second, and it’s not just because those schools tend to be better.  Rather, those schools better answer their students particular needs, whatever they are.

It’s past time for us to acknowledge that our school system’s focus should be placing students where they’ll excel, not on maintaining government control of education.


Public-Options-Only School Choice Relies on Irrational Prejudice

Notice anything about the recent op-ed from RI Education Commissioner Ken Wagner?

Some claim that charters take money that is owed to district schools. In my view, the money is not “owed” to district schools or any other education provider. Local, state and national taxpayers raised this money for a specific purpose: to educate the youth of a community. We have an obligation to ensure the money serves the children rather than simply maintains the current system.

This is the core of the argument that I’ve been proffering for total school choice.  Public dollars aren’t collected and expended for the maintenance of a government-branded school system, but for the cause of educating the public.  Whatever structure or method will accomplish that goal most effectively and economically is the proper one.

Indeed, just about every argument in Wagner’s essay would apply to education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, or any other school choice vehicle and could be added to the Bright Today list of myths.

It is only through the devotion of insiders to the status quo and their control of public information that this point remains sufficiently obscure that Wagner doesn’t feel he has to address it.  The people are starting to figure it out, though, and it is yet another area in which those of us who really wish to move Rhode Island forward for the benefit of its people need only guide their natural conclusions.

Consider Dan McGowan’s WPRI article on public testimony regarding the Achievement First charter school expansion proposal before the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.  The article is 17 paragraphs long.  Here’s the 13th:

But the majority of individuals who testified about Achievement First Tuesday encouraged the council to back the expansion.

That is, after 12 paragraphs — three-quarters of the article — conveying the points of view of insiders, who are in the minority, McGowan finally gets to what should arguably have been the headline of the article: that people want school choice.  When all is said, the only argument to prevent the people from using public funds for their preferred public policy is maintenance of the government plantation.


Students Trapped By Their Zip Code In Failed Schools

How many Rhode Island families have moved away? How many other American families have chosen not to make our state their home… because of a lack educational opportunity and economic prosperity? The die has now been cast: School choice is all about expanding educational freedom for families; those who oppose choice are all about preserving the status quo system. With aggressive education reform ideas to come from the White House beginning next year, and only one side will prevail.

In announcing his intent to nominate philanthropist, entrepreneur, and education reform leader, Betsy DeVos, to serve as his administration’s Secretary of Education, President-elect Donald Trump has selected a talented woman who will place the interests of students and families above the interests of the state controlled school system model. A proven innovator, Betsy DeVos will ostensibly work with states and with Congress to implement the new president’s bold national school choice initiative

I have had the pleasure of personally meeting Ms. DeVos in attending multiple education reform conferences sponsored by the American Federation for Children (AFC), of which Ms. DeVos has been chairman, and I have chatted with her over dinner. I know that she will support reform of America’s broken educational system by removing barriers to change. It is the mission of educational leaders like Betsy DeVos to provide students, trapped by their zip code in a failed school, with the opportunity to attend a school of their family’s choice. Such choices include expansion of charter school seats, educational scholarships that can be used to attend private schools, and private mentoring programs.

Our Center has similarly advocated for Bright Today Educational Scholarships, which would empower parents in our state with the freedom and financial capacity to choose the best educational path for their children. Our Center produced reams of research that clearly demonstrated that such a program would not cause harm to students who remain in public schools. In fact, a detailed financial model showed that by funding such scholarships with state money only, and leaving 100% of local education dollars for exclusive use in local public schools, there would actually be more money available per public school student. You can read more about the model here.


Empowering Our Families!

Did you have empty chairs at your Thanksgiving dinner table? We all know people who have left Rhode Island for greener economic pastures. The Ocean State’s poor business climate is forcing our people out. For too long, there has only been one voice in the policy discussion in Rhode Island. What if Rhode Island’s political leaders were to realize that policies that focus only on the material needs of individuals were actually harming our state’s families? It is time for Rhode Island to adopt the family friendly policy reforms that can transform our state into a place where people can achieve their hopes and dreams.

We need to empower families, businesses, and all of the people of the Ocean State to make the calls, instead of a small group of insiders. Our state ranks 48th on both the Family Prosperity Index of the American Conservative Union, and the Jobs & Opportunity Index created by our Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. We have virtually no population growth, and have suffered the embarrassment of many other near-bottom rankings. Despite all this, our Rhode Island political class appears happy not to make the significant changes that are needed to turn our state around.

The Ocean State needs to dare to disrupt the status quo and boldly evolve itself into a regional outlier so that we can become a magnet – on our own – for businesses, jobs, and families. Will the elitists in Rhode Island learn the biggest lesson of the election? It is time to remember forgotten families. Both President-elect Donald Trump, and Sen. Bernie Sanders have said for a very long time that the system is rigged against regular people. While other states are decisively moved in a new direction, Rhode Island is doubling down on a failed agenda.

Rhode Islanders have had enough of the insider machine. It is time to make a complete turnaround. We must adopt the family friendly reforms that can make our state a place where our families can be prosperous. You are powerful. You do not have to tolerate the cronyism and elitist attitude any longer. Don’t be on the sidelines. The rigged system in the Ocean State has kept too many people out of the process. Now is the time for you to speak out and demand that the status quo changes.


The Learning Community’s Divisive Propaganda

Charter schools are still public schools, correct?  They’re still supposed to inculcate values that are truly shared among all of those who have no choice but to fund them, right?

I ask in reaction to an outrageous and divisive op-ed that three leaders of The Learning Community in Central Falls published in yesterday’s Providence Journal, apparently in their official capacity.  These educators are stoking dangerous fear and distrust among their very young students — implicitly accusing the Rhode Islanders who pay their high salaries of exhibiting “emboldened white supremacist, sexist and xenophobic attitudes and actions, escalating locally and nationally.”  They assert that Vice President–elect Mike Pence is “anti-gay.”

I emailed the codirectors, Sarah Friedman and Meg O’Leary for elaboration on that point, but they have not responded.  Had they done so, I would have asked whether their students participate in Governor Gina Raimondo’s sexist girls-only contest.

Their op-ed appeals to fellow educators, “if there is no neutral stance on bullying, there is no neutral stance on bigotry.”  Well, isn’t excluding boys discriminatory?  Isn’t it bigotry to dismiss Mike Pence as “anti-gay” because he understands our rights of free expression and free association to include the right to determine what events one will service occupationally?  Isn’t it bigotry to tell people that they “must reject their whiteness”?  “No neutral stance on bigotry” is nothing but an excuse for them to indulge in what they know is inappropriate behavior.

If the leaders of a public charter school took to the pages of the state’s major daily to slander their fellow Rhode Islanders and make clear that they were propagandizing students with Republican messaging, there would most certainly be consequences.  What consequences will there be for the heads of The Learning Community and the division that they’re using taxpayer funds to sow?  None, because their indoctrination serves the progressive ideology and Rhode Island’s insider system, even as it harms their students by failing to prepare them to live in a pluralistic society that respects the rights of others.


Letting It All Sink In

Most of the links I’ve collected over the last couple of days for further consideration and possible posting have had to do with national politics, and I’m not much in the mood to join the chorus, right now.  I will say, though, that the implications of the election are encouraging, irrespective of the president elect (that is, if he stays out of their way).

A pivotal moment came for me the other evening when I heard Rudy Giuliani discussing possible appointments that might fill out the Trump administration.  For most of them, it was a reminder that, before they backed Trump in the first place, I liked how most of these people approach policy issues.  This positive reminder has been reinforced by talk from the other side.  Here one clip from several local environmentalists’ press releases, which Alex Kuffner cut up and reprinted as a Providence Journal article:

“With an uncertain future and a federal government now determined to stop us at every turn, the innovative environmental work happening on the local and regional level is more important than ever,” said Josh Block, press secretary of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Sure, it’s a call to keep local funding going for crony projects and activism for economic deterioration, but if it’s not being pushed and largely funded from Washington, D.C., maybe Rhode Island can have an actual discussion of the policies.  Similarly for education:

Tim Duffy, the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents, worries that Republicans, who now control the House and Senate, will make good on their threats to cut federal spending on education, and possibly move to abolish the Department of Education in its entirety. …

Another area of uncertainty is school choice. Trump has proposed $20 billion to expand school choice for low-income children. Students could use the money to attend private, charter and traditional public schools of their choice.

Even the possibility that the federal government might put families first by skipping over the corrupt and inefficient educational bureaucracy to give federal education resources directly to families who need them is tantalizing.  As is this, via email, from Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza:

These results, and the current state of our nation, present a new opportunity and responsibility for cities to play a much larger role in shaping our democracy. As the mayor of Providence, I commit to doubling down on my efforts to advance a society that is inclusive, compassionate, and forward-thinking.

Yes, yes, he’s talking about “doubling down” on a worldview that is destructive and inimical to freedom and self actualization, but maybe without the federal government imposing progressivism from above and funding activists with tax dollars, we can actually make key decisions at the local level, where they ought to be made.

Nobody should be surprised when our dishonest president-elect looks for ways to back out of difficult promises, but even if his administration only partially reins in the corrosion and abuse of our civic system, we’ll be entering a new era.


Here’s How a Unionized Workforce Teaches Your Children (Warwick Example)

This sort of news never ceases to blow my mind, leaving me unable to understand how parents can stand for this sort of environment for their children’s education:

The implementation of electronic grading in the [Warwick] district has become a bargaining chip as the union and the School Committee continue to be locked in a contract dispute. …

Citing several other emails, Ahearn said parents would not speak publicly about the issue for fear that their children could face retaliation from teachers.

If the cost or other concerns keep the district away from online grading, that’s one thing, but for the district not to be able to fully use a system for which it is already paying $180,000 is outrageous.  Apply this same ridiculous standard across the educational board, and you’ll have a sense of why Rhode Island schools are struggling.  Add in the district’s chronic absenteeism, and the picture fills in as to why it’s so desperate to close down schools to keep pace with declining enrollment.

Of course, as Larry Sand notes while pointing out some WikiLeaks evidence that the National Education Association worked with the Democrat Party to undermine presidential endorsement votes, teachers don’t have much of a choice when it comes to their quote-unquote representation.

This arrangement isn’t advisable for any professional environment, but in a system meant to teach children, it’s simply unconscionable.  Teachers unions are top-down schemes to pay left-wing activists big bucks with taxpayer dollars so they coordinate with political operatives while manipulating education in a way that will radically change society.


RI Education Priority: Labor Unions

Here’s a telling bit of information from Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on new federal law related to public school improvement:

The revised law also eliminates a contentious part of teacher evaluations. NCLB [No Child Left Behind] required that teacher evaluations include student improvement over time, based on test scores. Rhode Island never implemented this part of the law after considerable push-back from teachers and unions.

Let that one data point act as a stand-in for Rhode Island public education generally.  Why are results stagnant or deteriorating?  Because teachers and unions won’t let them improve unless it can be done without harming their financial and political advantages.  Simple as that.  And now, the federal government has nationalized that principle.  Consider:

Now, school districts will be asked to look at such issues as how districts are retaining teachers and recruiting minority candidates, Snider said.

Judgment of schools will not be based on whether they are producing measurable effects for their students, but whether they are making their teachers happy and pursuing progressive social re-engineering.  Nationally, now, the most important thing about public education is not actually education, but benefits for an adult political constituency.  That’s a travesty, and it has been a travesty in Rhode Island for decades.