People interested in education reform policy shouldn’t put to much weight on the first study to find negative results from a school choice program in Louisiana.
Yesterday, I had an interesting Sunday Twitter conversation when local policy guru Gary Sasse suggested that Rhode Island should replace its notion that “tax incentives and real estate deals” are game changers and instead focus on “education, education and education.” By way of agreeing, John Ward of Woonsocket asserted that Rhode Island is last in the country when it comes to state funding (“participation”) in public education, suggesting that this points to the problem of our high property-tax burden, to which Sasse added the specific that RI ranks 44th in portion of school funding coming from the state.
That raises an interesting topic — one of those that illustrates both how slippery statistics can be (advising caution about their use) and how useful such data points can be for narrowing down what people find to be important and what they believe would change things for the better. Such exercises may be the only way really to advance policy discussions.
Although I couldn’t get anybody to point me to a specific source, I think they were referring to a Census report from last June that breaks down state-level 2013 education funding by use and by source. Indeed, according to Table 5 in the report, Rhode Island is 44th on the list for the percentage of public elementary and secondary school funding that comes from “state sources.”
The problem, for John’s property tax point, is that Rhode Island improves a little, moving to 42nd, when it comes the percentage of funding that comes from “local sources.” More importantly, the states that rely more on local revenue (which is presumed, in the conversation, to be a bad thing holding Rhode Island back) are more-directly comparable to Rhode Island as a regional matter: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.
Another dimension of the ranking that Sasse original cited can’t be ignored — namely, the amount that each state spends in total. Rhode Island’s funding from local sources is 7th highest (not counting Washington, D.C.), behind its near neighbors. But our state funding is hardly back-of-the-pack, at 21st, and is supplemented by the 9th-highest federal funding. In other words, that original percentage (state portion of funding) results from the facts that (1) the state spends so much in total and (2) the local governments add so much more into it.
Now, I’m definitely not one to deny that the state forces much of this cost onto localities, through funding mandates and laws in favor of labor unions that drive up local costs. But that doesn’t mean the answer is to shift the excessive burden from local taxpayers onto state-level taxpayers, much less that doing so would be a game-changing economic development move.
I don’t think I can, in good conscience, leave this Brown Daily Herald article about the difficulty that students at the university are having balancing academics and activism, without comment, so I’ll pivot off of Katherine Timpf’s suggestion:
If you want to do no college coursework and full-time social-justice work, how about just not going to college and doing social justice work full time?
Brilliant, I know. I don’t know how I thought of it either! What’s more, it can actually save you from racking up all of that student-loan debt that you’re always also complaining about!
Honestly, I don’t see why a social-justice activist would need to spend money on an education anyway . . . it’s so clear that they’re already so much smarter than the rest of us.
Obviously, the problem for these students is that their lives at Brown are either fully or substantially subsidized through loans, scholarships, and or parental largess, creating a substantial cost to dropping out. Why the government, the school, or the parents would subsidize this acadmicesque lifestyle, I’m not sure.
And frankly, given the news that the activists are able to get classroom extensions for the purpose of being socially aware makes me wonder why anybody seeking actual academic rigor would consider Brown at all.
Not to give the latest copycat protests at Providence College more attention than they deserve, but this passage in a Providence Journal article strikes me as raising a critical point:
[President Rev. Brian ] Shanley instead announced he wanted to write a pact using his own words, but couldn’t do it “right now.” Mary-Murphy Walsh, a senior and one organizer, said the group of more than 50 students at this private Catholic college were frustrated and disappointed — eight hours and nothing.
They stopped. They prayed.
“We took a minute to channel our ancestors, take a few breaths and get into prayer circles,” she explained Wednesday. “And then it was back to business.”
Compassion and nuance are essential in life and society, of course, but sometimes it’s helpful to step back and describe things simply and in stark terms. Here we have students in the office of the priest-president of a Roman Catholic college conducting a pagan prayer as part of their action to change the character of the college, notably in the area of its teachings on Western Civilization.
Stating the situation in this way doesn’t suggest any particular action, but the reality ought to be considered in the response. What is essential in the college’s Catholic identity? What might it mean for such a college to capitulate on points of culture? And Christians also have to ask: Is there something spiritual in the mix that ought to be considered?
The first question is especially important. All controversies should come back to a clearly articulated reason for the Catholic Church’s being in the college business in the first place. It shouldn’t be possible for somebody like me, a Catholic who ponders these things more than the average person, not to know the answer.
Without such clarity, the college — let alone the Catholic community — risks grave error, particularly when the movement seeking to change the school is spreading stickers with such peremptory messages as “Justice… or Else!” Or else what? And what do they mean by “justice”? If those whose school and culture are being targeted don’t have definitions of their own, then they’re in no position to resist, much less to educate.
A quick question: Is there any expansion of the government budget that the Providence Journal editorial board wouldn’t support?
Given its importance, it makes sense that parents and teachers and schools should be encouraging students to prepare for and take the SAT. Thus, Gov. Gina Raimondo is on the right track with her plan to make the PSAT and the SAT “free” for Rhode Island public high school students — funded by the taxpayers, that is — and let them take the test during a school day rather than on a Saturday.
It stands to reason that both of these moves will encourage more students to take the test — particularly those who might find it difficult to pay a registration fee that can be more than $50. It also stands to reason that more students taking the test could result in more students choosing to attend college or further their education. According to a 2015 College Board study of Maine’s decision to make the SAT mandatory, the policy resulted in a more than 40 percent increase in the number of students taking the test and a 2 to 3 percent increase in the state’s college enrollment rate.
The one data point — that is, the one statement that doesn’t take the form of “it stands to reason” — is a study of Maine’s mandating the SAT, which study was performed by the College Board. The editorial doesn’t happen to mention it, but the College Board sells the SAT. It stands to reason that readers should be skeptical when a private company finds it beneficial for the government to force people to use its product.
But what about the conclusions that the Providence Journal reaches simply through reasoning? Is the cost of a $50 test really what’s keeping students from committing to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on college? Perhaps the editors would note the proliferation of scholarships and loans that make college “affordable” for lower-income students, but shouldn’t there be any cost to the prospective student, causing him or her to give some thought to his or her reasons for attending college?
Apparently not. So, you and I will pick up this $50 tab. Then, we’ll subsidize the individual students’ tuition, which very likely is a big part of the tuition inflation that affects everybody. Then, if they live in or move to Rhode Island, we’ll pay their loans fully for a few years. Then, if they still find themselves struggling with debt in a failing economy, we’ll cover them with food stamps, Medicaid, housing subsidies, and a number of other welfare programs.
And all of this, by the way, is before we challenge the editors’ dubious assumption that students emerge from subsidized college, which they attend without immediate reason to weigh the cost, “well educated.”
So Providence College President Reverend Brian Shanley did make his college’s race-grievance agitators wait for a bit, and his resolution wasn’t so much a capitulation as a diplomatic delay, but I worry about the attitude we’re teaching the current generation of college students:
After a 13-hour sit-in outside President Rev. Brian J. Shanley’s office, about 50 Providence College students protesting what they called “anti-blackness and racism on campus” ended their demonstration when Shanley agreed to make progress on the demands.
Senior Mary-Murphy Walsh, one of the sit-in’s organizers, said late Tuesday night that Shanley “did promise today that he would do everything in his capacity. We will see within 20 days, we will see what he comes up with.”
From what outside readers can tell, the students’ complaints have mainly to do with an off-campus party and a number of unconfirmed incidents over which the college cannot be expected to have any control anyway. At best, the organization can only offset the inappropriate behavior of individuals (if that behavior actually exists) with handouts to special interests, although the protesters’ demands go as far as rewriting the Western Civilization curriculum, which may be tantamount to rewriting history, and mandating “cultural-sensitivity training,” which is essentially forced reeducation, in contrast to, say, forums for public discussion of different views.
To the young protesters — shown in the Providence Journal photograph enjoying the comfortable area outside the president’s office, with its conditioned air and complimentary wifi — there is no such thing as differing views. The intellectual landscape consists of their worldview surrounded by inexcusable racism and failure to capitulate.
Complaining that Shanley didn’t rush back from Florida to address a minor he-said-she-said incident off campus, Providence NAACP representative Pilar McCloud said:
“By staying away and coming back at his scheduled time, to me it’s an open handed slap in the face and the students already had a list of demands for the president prior to that,” McCloud said. “This incident is just the icing on the cake.”
“Nothing gets resolved, nothing gets done and people feel like they are not being respected or heard,” she added. “So what did you expect them to do? It is their God given right to express themselves. PC, as much as they would like to, can’t take that away from them.”
Note what McCloud is saying, here. The students’ “right to express themselves” entails a requirement that others prove that they are “respected or heard,” which is proven by acceding to a list of demands. Failure to respond to the children’s stomping feet is “an open handed slap in the face.”
Again, what happens when these students leave the comforts of the expensive university setting? What happens to them, and what will they do to our society?
I’ve been saying that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s abuse of power, like Democrat President Barack Obama’s, relies on a level of audacity. To the extent this newer generation of politicians acknowledges that concerns about their behavior exist, the response is essentially, “Of course we can do this.” As illustration, consider an op-ed by William Hurt, the Chairman of the Board of the Rhode Island College Foundation, which hired Raimondo’s Chief Information Officer to a high-paying job that isn’t technically part of government at all.
From the text, published a couple of weeks ago in the Providence Journal:
It is important for Rhode Islanders to know that the board’s decision was based, fundamentally, on the following points:
-The proposal to create the Office of Innovation at RIC was brought to the foundation’s Board of Directors with the support and endorsement of senior officers of Rhode Island College, including the president and the college advancement staff.
-This new office will enrich the academic and career development experiences for students and provide new research opportunities for both students and faculty through hands-on experiences and other resources that no other college in Rhode Island currently has.
-While the foundation has identified sufficient unrestricted, undesignated and discretionary funds to provide the seed money to get the office started, the foundation expects and the new chief innovation officer is charged with securing funding sufficient to restore the foundation’s initial investment fully, as well as to create a self-sustaining office going forward.
-A considerable amount of due diligence was done to ensure that the new Office of Innovation fell within the parameters of the foundation’s mission and 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t address the basic question of this employee’s role within state government. That’s where the problem arises, and Hurt doesn’t bother to address it. The problem isn’t that the RIC Foundation has hired somebody to develop programs within the college, but that the job is actually to “partner with a multitude of stakeholders,” as Hurt puts it, on behalf of the state, all while trying to raise money for his own office at RIC. The conflicts of interest are so clear, here, the avoidance of ethics rules so obvious, that the only way it can possibly slip through is by the pure force of will and political power of the government insiders who are going along with it.
They can never just present their requests without layering in some political spin, can they? There it is, on slide 6 of the school department’s budget presentation for the upcoming year — produced by Superintendent William Rearick and Director of Administration and Finance Douglas Fiore — as an explanation for the request for $56,100 for a remedial math teacher:
This position was eliminated from last year’s budget as a result of the approval of the alternate budget proposal at the FTR.
This statement spins so much and leaves out so much that anybody who watched the budget process and its aftermath, last year, would have to call it untrue.
At Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown, school authorities apparently interpret the Will of the Universe in order to “re-teach” behavior that will turn the school into a “nirvana” as defined by local government employees.
One really has to go out of one’s way not to see evidence that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and the rest of Rhode Island’s political establishment is not interested in coming to correct answers so much as saying anything to get their insider deals over the (ostensibly) legal finish line. In today’s Providence Journal, Steven Frias notes that Raimondo’s friends at the Brookings Institution proclaim that “Massachusetts and New Hampshire show the way forward,” but gloss over the degree to which cutting taxes made a difference:
In 1979, the Massachusetts High Technology Council (MHTC), a trade association of high-tech companies, declared that the “single most important step to stimulate the growth of the high technology industry in Massachusetts is real tax relief.” MHTC explained that the “higher cost of living and doing business in Massachusetts can no longer be offset by the proximity of MIT or Boston’s active venture capital market, or the cultural and environmental amenities.” Instead, MHTC insisted “Massachusetts must reduce the tax burden,” particularly for property taxes and income taxes.
MHTC and Citizens for Limited Taxation, an anti-tax grass roots organization led by Barbara Anderson, joined forces to support a voter initiative known as Proposition 2½. Proposition 2½ was designed to reduce property taxes and limit future property tax increases to 2.5 percent per year. To control spending, Proposition 2½ also repealed state laws that gave school committees fiscal autonomy and mandated binding arbitration for police and firefighter unions.
In passing, we should observe that Frias has hit on another of Rhode Island’s problems. Whether because of the state’s size or its long history of corruption, the “business backed” groups that should offer a counterweight to state government as the MHTC did in Massachusetts — think chambers of commerce, business associations, and RIPEC — have simply been bought into the insider system. In RI, they are now almost completely controlled by people with high (often six-figure) salaries who are more worried about losing access to the political font than losing ground for their members.
More relevant to the governor’s budget, though, is the tax-limiting reform: “Proposition 2½ was designed to reduce property taxes and limit future property tax increases to 2.5 percent per year.” Raimondo is headed in the opposite direction.
As I noted last week, her Funding Formula Working Group suggested getting rid of the legal requirement that local taxpayers must pay at least as much toward education each year as they did the prior year, instead requiring them to increase taxes every year for inflation and/or for enrollment increases. (The report did not suggest that this ratchet should go in reverse in times of deflation or dropping enrollment.)
I didn’t see confirmation in the governor’s budget documents that this provision made it in, and the budget legislation isn’t available, yet, but Lynn Arditi has reported that it is, presumably as part of the governor’s effort to make the districts’ complaints about charter funding go away by throwing more money at them.
Bottom line: The Raimondo-Brookings plan is an attempt to work around the problems we all know are destroying the state.
UPDATE (2/3/16 7:58 p.m.):
Well, there it is on page 167. Local taxpayer funding of schools must go up by the greater of inflation or the increase in student enrollment. Municipalities can still calculate the increase per student (to account for decreased enrollment), but inflation must still be included. (Of course, this per-student approach is tricky, because it’s not clear what number counts. If the district projects an increase, for example, even after years of decreases, does that mean the budget must go with the district’s estimate? In RI, the safe bet is that the answer is “yes,” if the district challenges the number.)
Those who find Rhode Island’s governance maddeningly self serving, obtuse, and inept might have difficulty getting past the opening portion of this Sunday column by Providence Journal Assistant Managing Editor John Kostrzewa:
The difficulty of matching unemployed workers with available jobs, a problem called “closing the skills gap,” has bedeviled Rhode Island governors for decades.
Despite spending millions of dollars, the state still has tens of thousands of out-of-work or underemployed people and thousands of employers who complain they can’t find the help they need.
Now, Governor Raimondo is trying again.
She and Scott Jensen, her hand-picked Department of Labor and Training director, have started a new effort, called Real Jobs Rhode Island, that puts the design of skills-training programs in the hands of business managers who know what they need, not state bureaucrats. They already have handed out $5 million in grants to 26 teams of private companies, nonprofits, educational institutions and industrial associations.
In other words, to the list of now-discarded pretenses that used to allow us to pretend that we lived under a representative democracy, we can add the idea that government can take economic development on as one of its core responsibilities without undermining our free marketplace of rights and opportunities. No longer is the State of Rhode Island pretending that it’s confiscating our money in order to improve our neighbors’ capabilities. No, having failed to educate the public and having restricted our ability to make the economy work, the state is now simply confiscating our money to let businesses shape the population to their own needs.
Of course, the businesses aren’t alone in this. Kostrzewa also cites some progressives studies in support of the idea that the state should shift even more of its emphasis toward catering to the immigrant population that it has been luring here in order to justify its many social service programs:
“We need more resources focused on helping adults learn English so they can gain skills they need to support their children’s education and so they can get better jobs,” said Mario Bueno, executive director of Progreso Latino, in the report.
The referenced report is by the Economic Progress Institute, which Kostrzewa strangely characterizes as simply a “nonpartisan research and policy organization based in Providence.” He could have added that the institute is housed with a sweetheart rental agreement at the public Rhode Island College, after having been birthed (if I’m not mistaken) with funding from the private nonprofit Rhode Island College Foundation, which is currently under scrutiny for helping Governor Gina Raimondo hire a cabinet member outside the reach of the state’s transparency and ethics laws. The institute has also received funding from the state government and, as Kevin Mooney reports, is among the left-wing organizations supported by the Rhode Island Foundation.
Incidentally, Progreso Latino is also on the Rhode Island Foundation’s list of grant recipients, but its funding comes mainly from state and local government, having received over $600,000 from the state last year and almost $900,000 from the federal government.
To little fanfare, the state’s Funding Formula Working Group released its report making “Recommendations for Improvement of Rhode Island’s Permanent Foundation Education Aid Formula.” The tone of the coverage, such as it was, seemed generally to be that the working group acknowledged some challenges that the formula might be modified to addressed but was under such constraints in what it could recommend that it didn’t suggest anything particularly newsworthy. Given all of the work that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has done reviewing education data while research the plausibility of school choice in the state — particularly in developing the RI-DIMES model to predict the effects of school choice policies — the report contains a few points that might be worth raising in the future.
For the moment, though, taxpayers should take special note of this line, which deserves more attention than it received (if it received any):
The funding formula maintenance-of-effort language for cities and towns should be strengthened to account for reasonable factors such as inflation and enrollment increases.
Under Rhode Island law, local taxpayers must give their school districts at least the same amount of money as in the previous year, and they can calculate that amount per pupil, to reduce funding if enrollment drops. A change that imposed an inflation ratchet or that made bigger budgets for increased enrollment automatic while leaving smaller budgets for decreased enrollment to be fought in the political arena would be a significant step against local taxpayers, imposed at the state level.
Through the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, I put out a one-page report today, time to coincide with National School Choice Week. Using data available through the Center’s interactive application to review state-level results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, the one-pager points out something that I’ve noted before: Rhode Island actually gained ground through much of the last decade, particularly among disadvantaged students, but hit a hard ceiling when reforms were halted. Here’s one of the charts from the report with an added political dimension that’s quite striking:
As the General Assembly promises to knock around charter schools this session (with some reforms that I actually break from school choice allies in supporting), Rhode Islanders should rouse themselves at least a little bit to insist that the special interests who control our state — in particular, public education — must be made to step aside in the interest of real, secure, long-term school choice that stops funding government-branded schools and starts funding education. In other words, we need real school choice in the Ocean State.
Apparently for the first time, Bryant’s Hassenfeld Institute released detailed crosstabs from its most recent public-opinion survey. It’s interesting stuff.
Readers may have seen reports that Governor Gina Raimondo’s toll proposal is under water, with more people opposing it than supporting it. Republicans’ pay-as-you-go alternative is also under water, by even more, but the question may have caused that result with the phrase, “may take longer to repair the roads and bridges.” Given a list of four alternatives for funding infrastructure repairs, voters overwhelmingly support “reallocating state money to pay for the repairs,” 37.2% versus a toll-and-borrow plan’s 21.9%. In fact, people are even less supportive of pay-as-you-go with a truck toll (12.5%).
Particularly interesting, though, is the right-direction/wrong-direction question. Rhode Islanders are notably less optimistic than they were in September, although still a little more optimistic than last April. According to the newly available information in the latest poll, a large part of the “right direction” results come from people under 40 with household income under $25,000.
Tracing those groups through the other questions — especially measured by income — shows they tend to fall on what might be called the pro-government side. They are the least likely, for example, to support reallocating other money to infrastructure. They are the least likely to say “locally elected officials” are doing a “fair/poor” job (although more than half still say it). They give elected state officials the best marks.
When it comes to education reform, those with incomes under $25,000, they are the most likely to say principals need more authority, yet the least likely to say that the system has to “make it easier to deal with under performing teachers. (Perhaps they don’t see principals as the managerial employees who would handle underperforming teachers, but more like head teachers, themselves.) They are also among the least likely to support expanded school choice.
Not surprisingly, those with incomes under $25,000 are also the most likely to say that they are Democrats, as the only income group among which more than half of respondents say they are a member of a particular party.
That sheds some light, I’d say, on the state government’s preference for policies to make ours a “company state,” in which the government imports clients for itself, largely from other countries. It also seems relevant to an approach to economic development that places a premium on, as the Brookings Institution report put it, “coveted Millennials.”
The young and the least wealthy also made up the smallest groups in the Hassenfeld Institute’s survey. Many of the policies that our state government pursues can be explained if we assume that government officials want to change that.
Rhode Islanders have a right to be skeptical about ideas coming out of their government, and the “empowerment schools” that Rhode Island’s new education commissioner is promoting are no different. At this point, the only reasonable advice would be not to buy into the idea until there are more details about how it would actually work:
“Why can’t we give the tools to districts that the charters have?” he said. “This would address the demand for the charter sector.”
In a speech before the Senate Committee on Education Thursday night, Wagner fleshed out his vision for public education, one that would give principals much more authority over budgets, hiring, even the school day, allow schools to innovate and give parents much more control over where their children attend school.
Rhode Island, Wagner said, has to look beyond the entrenched debate over the value of charter schools and give every school the opportunity to innovate, whether it’s offering dual language classes, an enhanced arts program or a longer school day. This does not mean that Rhode Island abandons testing or a shared set of high standards, however. It means that the state Department of Education would give “extreme freedom” from many state regulations, much like charter schools.
As I’ve been saying in a number of venues, lately, these fix-the-system education reforms walk the edge between absorbing reform efforts into the education blob and pulling the blob toward actual reforms, and whereas the rights of parents and local communities ought to be the things that help ensure balance, they tend to be considered as an afterthought. Giving principals more authority in their own schools, for example, is a great idea, but only if they still have some accountability to parents and only if it doesn’t erode local taxpayers’ ability to determine what (and how much) they’re willing to support.
Similarly, legislators need to thoroughly consider how empowerment schools will actually be populated. If an elementary school converts, for example, will it still be the local district school for students in that neighborhood, or will those families have to enter a charter-like lottery not only against other families in their city or town, but against students throughout the state? And either way, who decides which option to use? It’s all too easy to lose sight of the distinction between funding education for all students and funding a particular set of government-branded schools.
If anything can be declared definitively about this style of education reform, it’s that we don’t need another proposal constructed of general promises and packaged with buzzwords that leads to another 15 years of helping a handful of children while doing damage to education overall, as well as to representative democracy.
Over in Detroit, unionized public school teachers have shut down schools attended by 46,000 students, of whom, Lindsey Burke points out, large percentages can’t achieve proficiency on key academic subjects. That’s just what labor unions do: rig things in members’ favor, limit options for fixing problems, and then shut the system down when even friendly Democrat administrations can’t keep up with the demands.
Meanwhile, in Providence, some students are demanding that standard topics of history — key to the rationale of publicly funding education in order to maintain the nation’s sense of itself as a nation — be displaced in favor of telling them more about themselves and their ancestral backgrounds:
“We should be learning about more of the world than the United States,” said Diane Gonzalez from Central High School. “I’m Guatemalan and I have no idea about my history. They make it seem like our countries are meaningless…”
Licelot Caraballo, from E-Cubed Academy in Providence, said he wants students to “feel connected to their history, not to lose it because they can’t access it. Our history matters. We can make history in Providence, our history in Providence.”
According to the 2015 PARCC results, only 7.4% of Central High students are performing up to expectations in language arts, with E-Cubed doing a little better, at 14.8%. In math, the schools do much worse, with 2.7% and 1.9%, respectively. The proposal to dilute the school day with more history from other countries should be viewed with great skepticism, notwithstanding an academic study finding grade improvement with ethnic studies in California. Even if we assume the results of that study are not biased or simply resulting from a flawed methodology, what they might mainly illustrate is that progressive obsession with race and ethnicity is a much more palpable detriment to students than most people would guess. (That is, these students are so hindered by the racial-grievance mindset that even mild alleviation brings improvements.)
What’s most stunning about the Providence students’ statements, though, is the sheer passivity. Nothing is stopping students from learning about the countries of their ancestors. Moreover, the fact that the government doesn’t hand something to somebody doesn’t mean that he or she has no access to it. (There’s a lesson that begs for expanded application.)
Both teachers in Detroit and students in Providence appear to have the attitude that activism is the only initiative that one need take. Going out to achieve things on your own is out; demanding that other people give you things is in. Look no farther for evidence that we need more American history, not less.
For a year or more, my fellow conservatives have looked at me a bit funny when I’ve suggested that maybe we shouldn’t see charter schools as part of our school choice movement. If you look past intentions and the first-order effects of charter school proliferation and take into account other forces in public education, observing what’s actually happening, you can easily foresee a future in which we discover that charter schools were simply a stepping stone to a total government monopoly of education, rather than just the near-monopoly that we have now.
First, we find it is impossible to break the insider-labor-union grip that’s preventing public schools from fulfilling their mission. Second, charter schools act as a school choice opportunity with full public school–level funding (which is much higher than most private school options in the state). Third, non-elite private schools go out of business because they can’t compete with charters’ free-to-parents price point. Fourth, once charters have killed the private school market in the state, the insider-labor-union forces flex their muscles and absorb the charters back into the education blob.
A Linda Borg article in today’s Providence Journal suggests that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence — the state’s single largest operator of private schools, most of them in the affordable range — sees the threat of step 3 and isn’t interested in playing along. The diocese has opted not to extend a lease with Blackstone Valley Prep, the largest network of charter schools.
Charter supporters claim there’s no evidence that they’re poaching students from private schools, despite the striking parallel of the numbers, but they ignore the complexity of human decisions. As contrary evidence, Blackstone Valley director of external affairs Jennifer LoPiccolo notes that “the vast majority of their students are enrolled in kindergarten, not the later grades” (in Borg’s paraphrase), so kids leaving Catholic schools can’t be transferring. But take a bunch of kindergarten kids out of a private school, and its tuition has to go up, pushing parents out. Some of their children will win the charter-school lottery, but most will simply lose their choice and return to district public schools. When the Catholic school ultimately closes its doors, that scenario plays out across its entire student body.
From a small-government, free-market perspective, one would have difficulty coming up with a better example of government’s using its ability to regulate, legislate, and direct near-limitless public resources to its preferred providers (mainly its own) than charter schools. Still, somehow, I’ve already had heated arguments about, for example, H7067, which would remove the unfunded mandate that local property taxpayers must provide big funding to charter schools. In my assessment, that would be a good, positive change consistent with conservative principles. Local taxpayers have next to zero input when it comes to charter schools, so they should have some say about whether or to what extent they want to fund them.
Whatever one’s political persuasion, Rhode Islanders need to give some fresh consideration to charters.
Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee makes several points with which I agree in his op-ed, today, in the Providence Journal, but Rhode Islanders should keep two things in mind if the truly want an education system that helps turn Rhode Island around.
First, McKee’s core prescription is that Rhode Islanders should change their state constitution to “guarantee every Rhode Island student a right to a high-quality public education.” It’s the sort of proposal that sounds good while giving the impression that it won’t actually change anything. Who could argue against such a thing, stated broadly and with no details? We need to know what the proposal actually means, though, especially when the state constitution already requires the General Assembly (i.e., the state government) “to adopt all means which it may deem necessary and proper to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.”
If some provision of state law and budgeting is standing in the way of adequate public schools (collective bargaining for teachers, say), one could argue that the General Assembly was not authorized by the constitution to implement that law or, alternately, that the General Assembly is obligated to change the law. An amendment such as McKee advocates might bring this right to a more individual level that would grant Rhode Islanders standing to sue the state, but in the State of Rhode Island as it currently exists, what might be the outcome of such lawsuits?
I suspect we’d see demands for more spending. That’s the one thing on which every powerful force in the education establishment can agree.
From there, the second point responds to McKee’s assertion that “if our public schools performed as well as those in Massachusetts, earning power in Rhode Island would jump by $1.5 billion to $2.1 billion annually.” To the extent that greater education increases each person’s earning potential, Rhode Island would likely find its students increasingly likely to leave the state. Investing in education doesn’t do much good for the economy if the state’s policies prevent Rhode Islanders from realizing their potential as entrepreneurs or even just as workers.
And if the end result of a right to “a high-quality public education” is to drain more resources out of the economy to fund the beat of Rhode Island’s ruling class, then even if the net result turns out to be better educated people, they’ll have even less opportunity in the state when graduating. Then, just as Connecticut is losing GE, we’ll lose even more of our children.
Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), Rep. Michael Morin (D-Dist. 49, Woonsocket), Rep. John M. Carnevale (D-Dist. 13, Providence, Johnston) and Rep. Shelby Maldonado (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) sent a letter to the co-chairpersons of the working group — which is poised to vote on its recommendations Thursday — beseeching the panel to consider shifting aid to communities with high concentrations of affordable housing, in large part because of correlations between low-income populations and students with higher education expenses. …
“Our communities have met the state goal of 10 percent low income housing. As such, we are generally absorbing additional costs since it has been repeatedly determined that students who live in public housing perform worse in school than students who live in other types of housing, thus requiring additional interventions,” the group wrote in the letter sent last month to the the working group’s co-chairpersons, Elizabethe Burke Bryant and Donald R. Sweitzer.
It could just be ignorance on the part of the legislators, but the state’s funding formula already notches state aid up in response to the community’s low-income residents at least twice: once by estimating that a low-income child needs 40% more money to be educated, and once by turning the balance of the obligation toward the state based on the principle that low-income communities have less “ability to pay.” This new bonus would be little more than a transfer of wealth that gives municipal government incentive to prefer low-income residents.
Moreover, bad drafting could make this bill even more mischievous. Note the calculation:
After the five (5) year period provided for in subsection (a)(1) of this section, and for each year thereafter, any community that exceeds the required minimum goals identified in subsection (a)(1) of this section for low and moderate income housing shall have its education aid increased in a percentage amount equal to the percentage by which the community exceeds its required minimum goals of ten percent (10%) or fifteen percent (15%) whichever is applicable.
If you’ll recall word problems back in math class, that language would have a huge effect. A community that is supposed to have 10% affordable housing, but that has 20% affordable housing exceeds its minimum goal by 100%. That would mean its education aid would double. The language ought to say that the aid increases by a percentage equal to the percentage points “by which the community exceeds its required minimum goal.”
In keeping with several recent posts, The American Interest posts a stunning graph showing the leftward lurch of American Universities since the mid-90s. According to the chart, as recently as when I first attended college, academics were evenly split (around 40% each) between liberals/progressives and moderates, with conservatives making up the difference (at 20%). Now, the far left accounts for about 60% of academics, with moderates being a 30% minority and conservatives down to around 10%.
The post raises the “canon wars” in the humanities as part of the reason for this shift, suggesting:
Whether or not you approve of these developments, it’s easy to see how they could have made scholarly minded students with traditionalist leanings less inclined to get a PhD and enter an academic humanities or social science department (the Heterodox Academy posts notes that most of the conservatives in the chart come from STEM departments and professional schools).
Progressives sometimes argue that the dearth of conservatives in academia can mostly be explained by self-selection, rather than discrimination, and is therefore not a cause for concern. But this argument fails to take into account the way that changes in academic culture affect self-selection.
This gives too much ground. Relishing the role of contrarian, I’d likely be a traditionalist humanities academic, right now, if I hadn’t been blocked from graduate school in 1999. Megan McArdle cites a passage of the book, Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping, that illustrates how this blacklisting happens.
As McArdle notes, the problems of this approach go well beyond simple fairness and concerns about a “Dream Deferred.” First, areas of intellectual inquiry can go far, far off the rails if those who would pull in one direction are deliberately excluded from the debate. This is especially a problem in the humanities, which don’t have mathematically provable equations or experiments that can be performed in a laboratory. Rather, the experiments of the humanities and social sciences can only truly be performed on large segments of society, where they can do substantial harm if the underlying theory is not sound.
Second, as the university races farther and farther from the public on matters of basic belief, it not only risks public support for its mission, but becomes increasingly focused on imposing its belief system as opposed to offering practical services to their students.
(Both links via Instapundit.)
Reading Carol Bragg’s Providence Journal op-ed titled “Nonviolence transforms R.I. school” might make one wonder how its topic could be considered anything other than an establishment of religion in a public school:
Broad Rock Middle School in South Kingstown has embarked on an ambitious mission to become a model school based on Martin Luther King’s philosophy of nonviolence. The inspiration came from Robin Wildman, a fifth grade teacher at the school who has taught about nonviolence for 15 years. Observers have remarked that they can feel in her classroom the respect, compassion and community she has built with her students.
Wildman accomplishes this by spending the first three weeks of the school year teaching nonviolence lessons, to establish the framework for how the class will operate for the remainder of the year. She says it is time well spent. The outcome is more time spent on teaching, and less on discipline.
Really, substitute a single name and it’s crystal clear that we’re talking a religion, here:
Education in Jesus’ method of nonviolence does this and more. It teaches respect. Encompassing the teachings of Jesus, it promotes love over hate; justice, forgiveness and reconciliation over revenge; respectful dialogue over rancorous debate; and positive, peaceful action over inaction or violence. The Broad Rock initiative has the potential to give young people skills they need for happy, healthy relationships throughout their lives. In addition, it will empower them to play an active, productive role in their communities, state and nation.
The article’s mention of non-profit organizations that are now being brought in proves that this isn’t just one teacher’s technique, but an organized cultural movement beyond the school’s walls. The only conceivable difference between the cult of “nonviolence” and a religion is that the cult doesn’t go so far as to claim any real existential foundation for preferring its teachings over any other. But teachers are still telling children what they should believe about the world, how they should interact other people, and what they should value.
Only a society enveloped in a fog of dim confusion could fail to be outraged at the notion that a secular humanist appropriation of Christianity is perfectly fine in a public school, while schools must be forbidden across the country from allowing any expression of genuine Christianity. This is another example of the ways in which progressivism constrains allowable actions in a way that gives it an advantage as a proselytizing faith.
Rhode Island’s new education commissioner, Ken Wagner, has some ideas worth considering, as Linda Borg reports in today’s Providence Journal. Time will tell how much of it is just sparkly talk from a guy who is neither a former teacher nor a parent. The initial points, however, do leave me a little concerned that he won’t pursue reforms with an eye toward their effects on incentives and rights.
The notion that principals should be empowered, for instance, sounds wonderful:
One of Wagner’s most dramatic suggestions calls for investing principals with the power to hire their own staff, manage their budgets, even set the length of the school day. Historically, the state Department of Education or the school superintendent have dictated everything from curriculum to the length of the school day.
Wagner said, “School is where the magic happens. Ken Wagner can’t create a culture of innovation and improvement, nor can the superintendent. That culture can only be created by a principal but not alone. The principal needs to be surrounded by a leadership culture” of committed teachers.
The tricky part will be in establishing accountability. Yes, principals are more directly knowledgeable of and accessible to their students and teachers, but insulating them from the influence of the superintendent and school committee insulates them from direct accountability to anybody. And if principals set their own budgets, what happens if local voters or the municipal government does not provide the district with everything it requests? The details of budget control will be very important.
Another of Wagner’s larger suggestions might seem to provide some answer on the accountability front:
Wagner’s most unorthodox proposal involves giving parents the opportunity to send their children to another school district. He cited the constant movement of students back and forth between Providence and Pawtucket and Central Falls.
“We’ve created this burden by making them go to school where they live,” he said. “If a school has extra seats, why not open the door and allow people to come in?”
This idea, called “open enrollment,” was actually part of the Bright Today legislation on which the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity worked, last year, and it would likely increase accountability among public schools, including for principals. A principal whose school began emptying out would have a lot to answer for, while the reverse would be a spotlight on merit. But if a bad principal is insulated from superiors, it isn’t clear how much the pressure would actually increase. Once again, the details are going to be important; Rhode Island government tends to try to hold everybody harmless, which reverses incentives.
Lastly, Wagner’s idea that 90% of Rhode Island students should be accessing advanced courses could set a metric that actually harms students. If only 20-35% of students reach the point of taking advanced classes before graduation, that’s fine. Education should be about achieving individual potential and finding personal direction, not pretending everybody is advanced or needs to reach levels of highly technical learning.
Way out yonder in Utah, Connor Boyack notices that federal bureaucrats are beginning to articulate a principle that the public should be able to sense in just about everything the federal government does: They aren’t clear on the threshold at which their responsibility to protect children crosses into our right to raise our own.
The entire purpose of the 18-page statement is to explain, promote and bureaucratically implement what the departments call “family engagement.” This term sounds like something every good parent would inherently want, but here’s how the government defines it: “the systematic inclusion of families as partners in children’s development, learning and wellness.”
Actually, Boyack could have selected worse phrases from the document in question, like this one:
It is the position of the Departments that all early childhood programs and schools recognize families as equal partners in improving children’s development, learning and wellness across all settings, and over the course of their children’s developmental and educational experiences.
The local school department and the state and federal government are not an “equal partner” with parents in raising our children. At best, the government is a provider that we engage for certain services (and some of us do our best not to allow it to be even that). The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education may presume to “recognize” parents as the equal of government, but what they’re really doing is asserting not only their equality with the parents, but also the authority to determine whether that equality exists.
And don’t think the federal government is alone on this. Last month, I highlighted a similar philosophical impression coming from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Children’s Cabinet:
According to the governor, the government is going to link together all of its agencies, along with federal funds, private non-profits, and private companies to take it upon themselves to stop children from “feeling sad.” This is the stuff of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. We used to chuckle about these make-work political initiatives because we knew we were protected by the limited powers of government, but we can’t chuckle anymore because it’s undeniable that people in and around government really mean it.
The Children’s Cabinet buzzwords haven’t yet crossed the threshold into subordinating parents, but it’s difficult to decide whether it’s a good sign or a bad one that its strategic plan only mentions parents three times, and only as the income-earners and housing-providers of their families. The lack of mention could be taken as an acknowledgement that the government isn’t on the same plane as parents, when it comes to their children, or an insinuation that parents’ rights are largely an irrelevant political problem to be addressed down the road, when strings come with the oft-mentioned federal grants.
As bureaucrats ease into language that better reflects their political philosophy and state agencies define their role as totalitarians, the public should be sure to keep one thing very clear: They are subordinate to us, not the other way around.
Thinking through the incentives of global trends reveals that protectionism and divisiveness is designed to keep power where it is, rather than disperse it in response to competition.
After about 30 minutes of plucking line items out of the Tiverton school district’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016, at a January 22, 2015, presentation to the Budget Committee, Superintendent William Rearick wrapped up with, “That’s really the budget in a nutshell.” Left out of the nutshell were any details about the cost of the proposed teacher contract, even though the basic terms were decided and tucked into the packet handed to Budget Committee members.
After another half hour of discussion, mostly about the prospect of all-day kindergarten, Budget Committee Chairman John Souza asked whether the School Committee was in the middle of any negotiations. Still, no details were provided. “I won’t ask you,” Souza assured Rearick, as if the details were a secret.
Some members of the public, and even some members of the Budget Committee, were therefore surprised when, in mid-September, the school department announced that the deal was complete and, in fact, it matched the terms that had been made public eight months earlier.
The announcement of raises was all the more surprising coming months after a heated argument about whether the district could afford to go forward with all-day kindergarten after the elector budget won at the financial town referendum in May, giving the district no increase in local funds. With all of the debate over finding around $127,000 to fund all-day kindergarten, nobody on the School Committee, in the school administration, or in the public pointed out that the committee was preparing to increase teachers’ pay by $255,281 for the first year of a new contract.
Those objecting to school choice (often anonymously) like to assert that there’s no way it would be constitutional to allow parents to choose their own education service providers using the public funds set aside for that purpose, even if the chosen schools are religious in nature. I’ve yet to see the objection come with evidence or real argument; it’s typically offered as a challenge to school choice advocates to prove the negative, and since legal argument is dismissed out of hand, it’s meant to be a rhetorical trap.
As with much of the messaging of the political left, it’s a trap that won’t remain available for much longer. Here’s Jason Russell asking in the Washington Examiner whether 2015 was “the best year yet for educational choice”:
Education choice advocates also won four out of five lawsuits decided in 2015. For example, the North Carolina state supreme court upheld the state’s tuition voucher law, while the Alabama state supreme court upheld the state’s tax credits for tuition scholarships.
Bedrick tallies seven lawsuits that are currently pending, two of which challenge Nevada’s near-universal education savings account law.
Decades ago, largely in a fit of anti-Catholic bigotry, some states passed “Blaine Amendments” that set a higher barrier for educational choice (although education savings accounts [ESAs], such as those introduced last year in Rhode Island are proving able to overcome that barrier). It’s worth noting that Rhode Island doesn’t even have such an amendment.
It might take a while, but school choice will come to Rhode Island and the country. It too perfectly fits a too-obvious problem for parents and society at large not to insist on it when once the understand that it’s allowed. We can only hope that part of that process will also remind Rhode Islanders and Americans that they are supposed to determine what’s allowed in the first place.
When it comes to public education, cognitive elites still can’t see that they’re demanding a standardized answer to an open-ended question.
The Commerce Corp.’s P-Tech program is an example of education reform and public-private partnerships that ought to set off alarm bells for those concerned with individual rights.
Rhode Island Association of School Principals director Joseph Crowley has a sort of response in today’s Providence Journal to my recent op-ed taking him and other education insiders to task for striving to redirect blame for abysmal scores on the PARCC tests and generally tepid results by other measures. I call the essay “a sort of response” because it skirts the real point:
There are those who believe schools alone can overcome the impact of stresses and toxic lead on children living in poverty. There are even educators, through their dedication, who believe they can overcome what poverty has created. Speaking at the University of Rhode Island in 2009, Richard Rothstein, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, suggested this is a grave error, since schools, by themselves, have never anywhere in the world been able to completely close the learning gaps between poorer and richer students.
The “accountability” that I find lacking in education doesn’t imply that schools can overcome underlying problems that children have (although it’s telling that Crowley dismisses his members’ abilities so dramatically). People have to be held accountable for taking resources on the promise that they can provide a service that they cannot, in fact, provide.
Crowley overstates his case by several degrees. Poverty and lead paint don’t explain abysmal scores in the suburbs or how urban Boston outscores our state, overall. Pointing that out doesn’t mean there’s a cookie-cutter fix for every school and every student.
Suburban schools that are failing their students should be held accountable and made to up their game or lose their students. Urban and rural schools, where some significant portion of students’ difficulties are problems that supersede their educational experience, should be held accountable for taking resources that would be better spent resolving those other, prior problems.
I do agree with Crowley in one respect, though:
We can stop assigning children of poverty to schools with upwards of 90 percent of like children.
Such a change can be accomplished by providing parents with opportunities to choose the schools that their children attend, both public schools in other districts and private schools. That decision will help to involve parents in their children’s education, allowing them to address their children’s unique needs, and it will make it more likely that the students remaining in a failing school have similar, non-educational problems for which services could perhaps be provided within or around the school building.
A Pew survey on children and parenting reinforces what we’ve always known: Parents should stay together and work to move their families to neighborhoods where over-involvement is a bigger danger than street violence.