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The Disparity of Spending and Results in Education

This morning, I took a look at a chart whose creators seemed to see something sinister in the fact that productivity would go up at a steady pace while inflation-adjusted median income stagnated. This afternoon, I’ve come across a chart with an even more dramatic comparison, and it’s one in which the causes may be more sinister.

From page 45 of a new report from Cato:

Note that the spending is inflation adjusted, so it’s actually significantly less of a leap than the absolute spending would show.

A quick skim through the report suggests that Rhode Island has worse results than the average, but it would be fair to say that most states have some variation of the increase in spending and decrease/stagnation in SAT scores. It would also be fair to argue that SAT scores may not be the best measure of success, for one reason or another.

But those are both arguments that have to be made. Faced with this sort of evidence, the burden should be on those who want to continually increase the resources that our state and our society direct to public education to prove that the problem is not the way the system is set up.

Until such arguments are made, the public is justified in seeking new alternatives and reductions in the money that they spend on a failing school system.

Coming up in Committee on February 11 and 12: The Worst Institutional Design in Education History?


1. S2265/Bud. Art. 20: Completion of a full Dilbert cycle of Rhode Island’s education bureaucracy, where one board that was created by merging together two previous boards is re-reorganized into one board with two “councils”, each council being given basically the same responsibility as one of the original boards. (H Health, Education and Welfare/H Finance joint meeting; Tue, Feb 11, as Bud. Art. 20 & S Education/S Finance joint meeting; Wed, Feb 12, as S2265)

Akash Chougule: School Choice Can Bridge the Gap

One policy that would serve President Obama’s objective of reducing income inequality is school choice.

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

– From “Letter from Birmingham Jail“, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

RI’s High Cost, Low Results Schools

Another report gave RI schools a bad grade for their schools, relative to spending. WPRI’s Dan McGowan covered it today and wrote that Educacation Week gave Rhode Island a D+ for student achievement. There are a couple places where RI students have improved in the last 10 years, like math achievement and advanced placement scores. But [...]

Could Talking Curriculum Instead of Standards be More Agreeable to Conservatives?


I know the idea of a “common curriculum” in the United States will raise some immediate hackles, but if advocates for let’s-call-it a national movement for curriculum reform want to win over a few conservatives, they should try following the lead of CitizenshipFirst Executive Director Robert Pondiscio; it could even awaken some pockets of enthusiastic conservative support…

You [Deborah Meier] write that the struggle to define democracy and liberty continue to evolve and that schooling “ideally prepares us to join in that struggle.” I strongly agree, but here again I must insist on specificity. Do you expect children to absorb what they need to know to contribute to this discussion by osmosis? Through patient and persistent modeling of democracy in our schools? Or do you wish, as I do, for children to learn the story of America’s founding, study the American Revolution, read the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, and become familiar with major historical events and movements of the past 250 years, warts and all, so that they might understand, in your excellent phrase, “precisely what protects other rights such as fairness, liberty, equality, privacy, and happiness.” Yes or no?

The civic virtues we both prize are empty platitudes without history to make them meaningful. Why is it so difficult to say—loudly and proudly—there are things all Americans should know to be competent citizens, so there must be a common curriculum

My sense of how we got to the current moment in education policy, dominated as it is by the “Common Core”, is that a group of establishment-type education reformers thought that a national focus on “standards” would be less acrimonious than a national focus on “curriculum”, but that this turned out to be a horrible strategic misstep.

As Mr. Pondiscio has argued in other places (and I agree with him) the focus on doing education right and making it better should be on imparting knowledge. You may find it surprising that this point is contentious, or maybe you won’t, but splitting the discussion over “standards” apart from the discussion over “curriculum” seems to raise the level of contention more than it ameliorates it.

Experts and many non-experts both understand that knowledge to be taught is contained(?) (<< have to think some more if this is right verb) in the curriculum, meaning that trying to discuss “standards” apart from “curriculum”, and hyper-emphasizing a discussion of standards first, has had the unintended consequence of suggesting that there are more important parts to education than imparting knowledge. Proponents of the Common Core don’t help their cause when they try to argue that conservatives should be in favor of standards, because the idea of standards is supposed to be a conservative one, when in other discussions, “standards” are regularly used to mean something very different from a guide to the specific knowledge that students are expected to possess, which is the idea of “standards” that conservatives might be predisposed to support.

Ultimately, if the curriculum reformers who believe that imparting knowledge is the essence of education want to successfully bring conservatives on to their side, they need to enthusiastically make the case that knowledge exists which is worth having — as Robert Pondiscio does in the above excerpt — and make clear what that knowledge is. Debates about standards and curriculum, and testing and accountability, and most of everything else about education cannot fall into their proper place until this basic issue is resolved.

So the “Dual Role” Has Become An Excuse to Give the President of CCRI A Hearty Raise?

This week, GoLocalProv‘s Kate Nagle shined a multi-part spotlight on various spending items at CCRI, the Community College of Rhode Island, one of three state colleges/universities and, accordingly, annual recipient of many millions of state tax dollars. We have yet to hear why, for example, it is prudent and appropriate that college funds are used [...]

Taveras’s First Major Policy Proposal of Questionable Value

A universal pre-K proposal from Providence Mayor Angel Taveras may be fighting the current of research showing such programs to be of dubious benefit.

Five Rhode Island Scholars Sign a Letter to US Bishops Opposing the Common Core


Five professors from Rhode Island institutions of higher learning have signed on to a letter sent to all of the Catholic Bishops in the United States, urging that the Common Core not be adopted by Catholic primary and secondary schools.

Where We Do and Don’t Have Rights

It’s beyond dispute that progressive activists don’t really believe in a right to free speech, in the sense of the American founding, and where that will take the country ought to be of desperate concern of Americans who value freedom.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 10 (School Choice)

Justin Katz and Bob Plain discuss school choice in Rhode Island for this week’s Wingmen segment.

Districts for the Indoctrination of Children

Linking to yet another story of a parent’s facing surprising behavior from people within a public school district, Glenn Reynolds repeats his common refrain, “I’m beginning to think that putting your kids in public schools is parental malpractice.”

In this instance, a Jewish man from Pennsylvania objected to the political slant that he perceived in his child’s homework, related to the government shutdown, and his complaints appear to have inspired the local teacher union president to make at least one call to a third party in the community suggesting that he is a neo-Nazi.

Another recent story concerns a Georgia mother who has allegedly received a criminal trespass warning banning her from her disabled daughter’s school because she posted on Facebook about having been issued a concealed carry permit.

On the list of Rhode Island stories on which I have information, but for which the involved people are disinclined to come forward for fear of repercussions against them and their children, is one about a student assigned to do a project on one of the amendments in the Bill of Rights who told that he had to pick again when he chose the second amendment.

Add into the mix a worksheet “aligned with the controversial national educational standards” called Common Core that uses subversive sentences as examples for grammar assignments — un-American notions like, “the commands of government officials must be obeyed by all.”

Of course, as with random shootings, it’s easy to get the impression of epidemics when there’s a nation’s worth of bleeds-it-leads local news coverage flying across the Internet. That said, Americans should realize that there are no inherent protections in government when it takes over a public activity like education and a growing degree of opportunity to use its assumed authority to restrict and to indoctrinate.

Ravitch’s Lather-Without-Rinsing Rhetorical Style on School Choice

Anti-school-choice advocate Diane Ravitch misleads her readers on “vouchers” and the opinions of Rhode Islanders.

Go figure: aid down, cost increases slow.

I was just telling my eldest daughter (still some years away from high school, let alone college) that everybody should study economics for a mandatory year when I came across a blurb that made me chuckle. It’s the text summary of a data inlay to an article about moderating tuition hikes at public colleges and universities:

College costs rose again this academic year, but not as steeply as they have in past years. However, federal aid, which eases the burden for most students, has declined over the past two years.

The punchline is that “however.” Imagine that: When the federal government pours less money into higher education, colleges slow down their tuition increases! It’s almost as if federal aid doesn’t help students so much as inflate the cost of education.

The Ideology of Speech Restriction, at Brown University and Everywhere


There are two dimensions of political ideology useful for understanding yesterday’s events at Brown University. The first is attitude towards the nature of rights. The second concerns beliefs about the relationship between individual, groups and society.

If you believe that 1) that rights are not natural but granted by a collective and that 2) membership in a collective is primary — perhaps even everything — to social relations, then the idea that those outside of your collective don’t enjoy the full range of rights granted by your collective is an easy step to take.

(Alternate Title: I’ll describe the ideology of speech restriction. You determine its name.)

School Choice in Rhode Island: A Matter of Education

Results from a school choice survey suggest that Rhode Islanders are aware of the state’s problems and can grasp the common sense solutions; we just need to realize that we have a right to change things.

Hess: Differentiated Instruction = “benign neglect” for gifted learners

In his latest dispatch, Rick Hess makes the following observations about “differentiated instruction” and how, in general, some education “reforms” offer diminishing returns for children with parents who actively take a role in their education.

Depriving the People of an Education and Happiness

Speeches at the 2013 National Summit on Education Reform by Theodore Olson and Arthur Brooks offer a lesson on civil rights and the pursuit of happiness.

Public school self-evaluations are like elections in a dictatorship…

… nobody thinks the regime can afford to show vulnerability. That’s why there’s such a gaping hole in Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on results for Rhode Island’s new teacher evaluation experiment.

It isn’t just that weak-kneed administrators don’t want to risk the careers of teachers or the wrath of unhappy unions; it’s also that the administrators, themselves, look bad if they’re building “ineffective” organizations. And if they start reporting an honest and negative assessment of their schools, then the only people who can really enforce accountability — those who ultimately hire them and pay their salaries (taxpayers and voters) — might actually begin to do so.

What these results suggest is that there is zero institutional incentive for school districts to evaluate themselves honestly, and much incentive for them to take up the teacher union talking point of “an effective teacher in every classroom.”

  • The Foster school district reported not a single teacher less than “highly effective.”
  • Another seven districts or charter schools reported no teachers less than effective (that is, either “ineffective” or “developing”).
  • Thirty-one of the 50 districts/charters for which there is data admit to no more than 5% of teachers’ being less than effective.
  • Only five schools put their “ineffective/developing” count above 10%.

This simply isn’t credible, and if you think about it, it isn’t surprising that those five systems reporting the worst results are Barrington and four alternative schools. For alternative schools, accountability is enforced, ultimately, by parental choice (limited as it may be), so they can better afford to utilize evaluation tools as intended.

Allowing parents to evaluate their children’s teachers and potentially withdraw funding for them is the only means of real accountability. When that’s the case, administrators don’t have to manage via public report and can actually work with teachers to improve.

The Roosevelt Society 10/2/2013 with Deborah Gist


Here are eight takeaways from last evening’s Roosevelt Society forum with Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist…

8. Finally, Commissioner Gist offered that students don’t necessarily like an easy teacher, despite what the conventional wisdom might be…