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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Stop the Pre-K Union Giveaway

Via Gary Sasse’s Twitter stream comes a post from the left-wing Brookings Institution suggesting that the evidence is mounting that universal pre-K may not only do no measurable good, but might actually do harm:

By the end of kindergarten, the achievement test boost for treatment group children in the consenting subsample [who had been in a government pre-K program] had disappeared. By the end of first grade, teachers rated the same children’s work skills and preparation as weaker than the control group; the effects reversed. By the end of second and third grade, control group children did better on academic tests than treatment group children.

As always, the question is why.  In this case, the study’s authors, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Ron Haskins, speculate that pre-K might make kids just too darn prepared for school, so they get bored or otherwise distracted when mixed with children who aren’t as well prepared.  In June, another study put forward the alternative speculation that the organized pre-K is actually worse for a significant portion of students than the alternative care that they would have received from parents, grandparents, or some other care provider who’s in it for the relationship.

Maybe the answer is some blend of the two.  It wouldn’t exactly be surprising if the best education for children at very early ages is extensive interaction with people who love them and mildly guided free play, which then becomes gradually more focused on learning as they progress through kindergarten and elementary school.  The pre-K kids might do better early on in kindergarten because they’re already trained in the basic classroom techniques that kindergarten teaches, but once the non-pre-K kids pick up those simple skills, their own developmental advantages begin to make the difference.  Or maybe it has more to do with parents, who’ve begun the natural emotional separation earlier.

Whatever the answer turns out to be, perhaps we should consider the possibility that this is an area too individual and personal to families for government to be meddling.  Of course, that would put an end to public-sector labor unions’ push for more government-mandated members.

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Do Warwick Schools Operate with Sickouts Every Day?

It’s good to read, this morning, that Warwick’s public school teachers didn’t contribute to the recent wave of thuggishness in Rhode Island by having an organized sick-out over the disinclination of the school department to keep giving them more and more money to teach fewer and fewer students.  But then Paul Edward Parker’s article reports:

Eighty-three teachers have called in sick, according to Catherine Bonang, secretary to Superintendent Philip Thornton.

On an average day, the number of teacher absences runs in the 60s, Bonang said. The school system has about 840 teachers.

What?  On a typical school day, one in thirteen teachers is absent?  That’s between 7.1 and 8.3%!  According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average absenteeism in America is 2.9%.  (It’s 2.7% in the private sector and 3.5% among government employees, which is a 30% difference.)

Granted, the BLS data excludes vacations, personal days, and a few other reasons people miss work, while the Warwick secretary may or may not be including such absences in her rough number.  On the other hand, we also have to consider that there are only around 180 school days in the year to begin with.

Whatever the case, should it sit well with the taxpayers and parents of Warwick that their public school teachers are so often not in the classroom?

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What We’re Buying with “Spending on Education”

In a brief post last week, the American Interest suggested that America’s increases in education spending aren’t really going toward increasing services for students:

Campaigns to increase spending on schools are always popular, and understandably so: Education ought to be a great equalizing force in our society and, in theory, an efficient way to invest in the future. The problem is that in many states, new “K-12 spending” isn’t really an investment so much as a transfer payment to retired employees of the public schools who have been promised untenable lifetime pension benefits.

I think that net’s a bit too small.  Mainly, “investments” in education are simply transfer payments to unionized teachers with lots of professional incentive to advocate for better pay and benefits and limited professional incentive to advance the actual cause of education.*  Our system creates a large funding stream for labor advocates and political agents who are actually harmed to the extent that teachers are valued for success in their vocation (because then who needs labor advocates?) but who profit by building a cult of members who focus on the victimization inherent in anybody suggesting they shouldn’t get even better pay for the unacceptable results of the system overall.

This isn’t exactly difficult to understand or to predict.  Students’ advocates are families, whose interests are narrowly targeted toward their own members and whose resources of money and time are limited, perhaps with some legitimate non-profits who have to rely on shoestring budgets collected from donors.  Advocates for teachers, as workers, get an easy funding stream directly from taxpayers and have a vast professional organization paid for with those funds.

That professional organization has, in its own interest, developed deep ties and alliances with political actors and bureaucrats and invests those resources not paid to its own employees toward putting people in public office who will tilt laws in their favor and negotiate specific contracts in a compliant way.  When it comes to it, union organizers will admit as much.

For as long as this is the case, “investing” more money “in education” only makes matters worse, as the increased tax burden gives families even fewer resources and less time to devote to advocating for their own children.

 

* Note that I used the term “professional incentive” to indicate the systematic incentive that is separate from teachers’ personal sense of responsibility and vocation.

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Rhode Island’s Agent of Indecision

Anybody else wonder why Linda Borg’s front-page article, in yesterday’s Providence Journal, comparing Rhode Island’s abandoned education reform with Massachusetts’s forward march, didn’t mention former Independent-to-Democrat Governor Lincoln Chafee once?  He was the single-most-responsible party for Rhode Island’s policy reversal and the resulting halt of improvements.  Another way to put it would be that he was the teachers unions’ tool for achieving that reversal and halt.

Given Curt Schilling’s op-ed broadside against Chafee on the 38 Studios debacle, also in yesterday’s paper, it would have made a strong statement, indeed, for readers to have been given reason to consider the former governor’s effect on education, as well.  It also would have provided some food for thought with respect to Massachusetts’s now-“stagnant” test scores, as Borg puts it, because Democrat Deval Patrick played much the same role during his time as governor.

Of course, giving Chafee his shameful due on education would also have raised questions about how he achieved his office.  And that might have undermined the pro-Raimondo section with which Borg closed out her article.  After all, the new Democrat governor — whom Borg credits with bringing “a fresh approach” — achieved office in much the same way as her predecessor: with multiple candidates splitting the vote and preventing the election of anybody with a clear majority.

ADDENDUM:

This post wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t raise the front-page graphic’s insistence that another $432 per student somehow makes the difference between Massachusetts’s first-place test results and Rhode Island’s merely average performance.  When last I looked at these numbers, Massachusetts’s per-pupil spending was seventh in the nation, while Rhode Island’s was eighth.  Anybody who’s looking for an explanation of the differences in our results can safely put the funding differences to the side.

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Lessons on Teaching

I was going to put up a post about a data source I came across today with lots of historical information on unionization in the United States, which puts Rhode Island as the fourth-most-unionized state, when it comes to the government sector, just barely behind Massachusetts.  A big majority of government workers (63.2%) in Rhode Island are covered by unions.  If Rhode Island is like the country, overall, about half of government workers work for local governments, about a third, the state, and the rest the feds.

But let’s close out the blogging week on an empathetic note.  Faith Moore is correct about “3 Understandable (But Untrue) Assumptions About Teachers“:

  1. Teachers have tons of free time
  2. Because I went to school, I could teach as well as the teacher
  3. Maintaining order in the classroom is easy, anyone could do it

As the husband of a teacher who has had the opportunity to give it a try, I found these all true, although footnotes are needed.  Some teachers do structure their classes and conduct their teaching in way that requires minimal work, although even then, it probably takes them a while to get to that point, and a case-by-case assessment would be necessary prior to criticism.  On the third point, obviously the students play a large role in just how difficult it is.

The second one may be the most surprising in actual experience, and not just because teaching is a process distinct from the subject matter.  Moore writes that a teacher “needs to know how to teach that material to someone who’s never even heard of it before.”  I don’t think most people, even parents, understand just how surprising it can be when something isn’t obvious to a child.  (For one thing, parental interaction with children doesn’t generally include as many areas of abstraction or topics that might have no immediately obvious application.)

Now multiply that times a classroom full of students who will not-understand different things, or not-understand the same thing in different ways.

Obviously, it doesn’t immediately follow that these truths entitle unionized public school teachers to the maximum amount of money that can be wrung out of taxpayers, indicate that they are underpaid at this time in this state, or make the unionized structure (including, among other things, rigid step scales for all teachers) suitable to education.  But it’s too easy for progressives and unionists to get us into an us versus them mindset that encourages both sides to stop realistically assessing each other for positives and negatives as human beings.

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An Education Gap RI’s Compassion Class Doesn’t Seem to Care About

The Washington Examiner  has a brief article on education that we can cross-reference to the imagine-if-the-situation-were-reversed file:

The report, released by the College Board, looked at the test scores of college-bound seniors in 2016, and reviewed high school data demographics. Girls, it turns out, are doing much better in high school than boys. In a chart compiled by American Enterprise Scholar Mark Perry, it’s clear that girls are outperforming boys on nearly every level in high school.

According to the College Board’s demographic information, nationwide, America’s top 10% of students (measured among those who took the SAT) is 56% female and 44% male.  Girls make up 60% of students with A+ averages and 61% of those with A averages, and they make up 55-65% of students who take AP courses, depending on the subject (55% in math to 65% in art and music).

In case you’re wondering, boys in Rhode Island do even worse.  Of students who took the SAT, 59% of those who say they’re in the top 10% of their classes were female, and so were 68% of those with A+ averages.  Rhode Island has a slightly smaller gap when it comes to AP tests, though, ranging from 54% to 64% female.

If anything, this understates the gender gap.  Boys made up only 47% of SAT takers nationwide and 46% in Rhode Island, and because the likelihood of taking the test probably goes up with academic performance, boys almost certainly do worse among those who didn’t take the SAT.

If these numbers pointed in the other direction — finding that more than two-thirds of students in the top 10% of their classes were boys — there would be front-page pie charts in the Providence Journal proving that Rhode Island was leaving its girls behind.  Instead, far from worrying that we’re shortchanging our boys, we have a governor who proudly has an (unconstitutional) annual contest just for girls with scarcely a peep from the people and organizations who generally care so much about demographic gaps.

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Praying for Deliverance from Public Schools

The office of Rhode Island education commissioner Ken Wagner just put out a statement (PDF) on media reports that the Achievement First charter school company is looking to expand its offerings in Rhode Island.  The statement attempts to finesse the line between (paraphrasing) “we absolutely believe every one of our regular district school teachers is dedicated and wonderful” and “but we can’t deny that parents think we’re failing them, and we can’t really argue the point.”

That is to say that the statement seems mainly targeted toward teachers and education-system insiders uncomfortable with the Dept. of Education’s continued reluctance to blow up the engine that’s pulling the charter train forward.  For those not in this target audience, though, this might be the most interesting sentence:

Last year, I met with a group of parents who created a year-long prayer group asking for one thing: success for their children in a charter lottery.

One could go in a number of directions with that tidbit.  Given my own interests, what strikes me most is that this group of apparent believers is praying for school choice within a public school system that remains, at best, doggedly neutral about the existence of God, at worst, actively hostile to religious belief, or most likely, a relatively non-ideological cog in the great progressive gear that is purposefully grinding religious belief to a benign dust in our society.

Why not pray for legislators to implement a funding system that allows families to choose schools that aren’t explicitly or implicitly hostile to their religious beliefs?  Perhaps it seems our world, in Rhode Island, is too far gone for believers to harbor such hopes.

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Conclusions from Evidence in RI Science Scores

Is there anything about the science scores released by the state Dept. of Education yesterday that ought to give Rhode Islanders confidence that state and local governments are capable of improving public education or to give parents confidence that spending money on private school is not a moral obligation if at all feasible?  The state’s primary excuse is more of an admission that its foolish behavior is structural, not incidental:

In 2013, Rhode Island adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, developed by a consortium of 26 states and several science-education groups, which ask students to think like a scientist and call for more hands-on, investigative work. But the NECAP is much more focused on subject matter, so the test no longer reflects what students are learning in the classroom.

Some skepticism is justified, inasmuch as science lessons at that level of education ought to be broadly applicable, not narrowly tailored toward a specific test.  (Ultimately, we don’t pursue education simply to be able to score well on a test.)  But even putting that aside, what could possibly be the rationale for wasting time on tests that students are not expected to be able to pass?

The state’s second excuse edges into a much broader problem that nobody in public education wants to discuss:

[State Education Commissioner Ken] Wagner said there is another reason why students perform worse in high school. Research has shown that it’s much harder to retain good science teachers in high school, particularly in urban districts, because of the challenges posed by urban classrooms and because jobs are much more lucrative in the private sector.

For the benefit of special-interest labor unions, local, state, and federal elected officials and bureaucrats have allowed us to force our education system to handle employees in a way that is wholly inappropriate to an environment requiring teachers of varying skill levels to address the needs of students from early childhood to young adulthood across multiple capabilities and a large variety of subjects.  Some districts do have agreements with their unions to allow some pay difference between, say, a kindergarten teacher and high school teacher in possession of highly valuable scientific knowledge, but the cost to taxpayers isn’t part of that equation.

That is, we’re not permitted to adjust payroll; the system won’t allow, say, a district hiring both a kindergarten teacher and a high school science teacher to reduce the salary for the former in order to increase the offer for the latter.

Wagner claims that these science scores “call for urgency,” but if government agents really believed that, they’d admit that urgency would not allow for another lost decade spent denying that public education as it’s developed simply cannot perform the function that we say we want it to perform.

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Pitching Pre-K to Take Your Children Away

Not to be harsh, but how would Rhode Island Kids Count’s pitch for more money for public pre-K programs be any different if it were nothing more than a front organization for teachers unions?

“We know that investments in high-quality early learning are among the best investments you can make,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, a state policy and advocacy group committed to children’s well-being. “The question is one of scale. In the past, we have had to patch together a system of programs that don’t serve all of our kids, especially those from low-income communities.”

No, Ms. Burke Bryant “we” don’t “know” that.  Brookings has found that simply giving families money has better effects for their children than putting that money toward early childhood programs.  Meanwhile, Heritage has found that government pre-K and preschool programs have no effect on academic results and may, in fact, harm children academically and behaviorally.

Both results can be explained, in part, by the possibility that subsidized early childhood programs do more harm by drawing children away from healthier arrangements with their families or other close-knit groups than they help by placing children from unhealthy environments under the protective wings of government and its helpers.  One could ask for no better evidence of the soulless flaws in the government-centric mentality than the metrics and solutions Kids Count deploys for its argument:

Research has shown that the first five years of a child’s life are crucial to his or her success. And yet Rhode Island spends much less on early childhood — $9,641 per child in a state-sponsored pre-K class compared to $20,000 per child in a K-12 class. …

Kids Count, in its report, offers several recommendations to improve both access to early-childhood classes and the quality of those classes:

Pay teachers in Rhode Island’s pre-k programs more money. Pre-K teachers, all of whom are state-certified, earn an average of $43,458 in community childcare settings compared to the average elementary school teacher, who makes $66,000. Sixty percent of family childcare workers earn $30,000 or less a year.

Put aside the obvious response that public school teachers in general are overpaid and consider the mindless devotion to giving a special interest group more money.  There is no discussion of what pre-K programs would use the money for if they had twice as much.  There is no comparison of the tasks involved in such programs or the training necessary to conduct them.  What concerns RI Kids Count is that the government isn’t taking twice as much taxpayer money to pour into a school environment of questionable value.

But that’s how it works when we allow government to become the state’s key industry and the locus of all of its economic development plans.

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The Decline of an Immature Society

For an explanation of Western pessimism, give David Solway a read:

“Are we not witnessing,” asks John Agresto in Academic Questions (Vol.29, No.2), “something that looks to be the…purposeful eradication of what it has historically meant to be educated?” The mission of the university is now the inculcation of intellectual conformity, a duplicitous “inclusiveness” that banishes dissenting voices, “social justice,” and discursive closure, coddling students into a condition of protracted puberty as the academy devolves into “separate programs of grievance and outrage.” In this way, students, stunted in their development, become the shock troops of the new world order as they have been taught to see it. And as we know, and as university policies have made glaringly public, children throw tantrums and don’t like to be contradicted. …

Such is the damage the educational institution has wrought in a culture spoiled by affluence and forgetfulness—a culture that has shucked the past and de-realized the future. The falling off from academic integrity and rigor explains why almost everything from political culture to cultural politics smacks increasingly of retardation. And it accounts in large measure for the descent we are observing. For children, who have no knowledge of the history of their civilization and no sense of an empirical future, cannot think rationally, they can only feel and act upon their feelings. They live in a realm defined by the present and the imaginary. They are the low-information voters, partisan pedants, liberal socialists, leftist ideologues, suborned journalists and entitlement parasites of the current day, living in a make-believe world that is running out of time.

Because I’ve always been aware that it existed, yet had never seen it, I’m watching The Paper Chase on Netflix as I work out each day.  After the observation that I don’t particularly like a single character in the movie, what’s most striking is the confidence of the stern Professor Kingsfield and the unquestioned understanding of the students that there is nothing lamentable, and probably something very desirable, about accepting his authority.

The standard was conformity because the mature, developed mind was better.  Indeed, the only way to real independence of mind is by working one’s way along the path as it’s been discovered, adopting habits and principles that bring us to the edge of what is known.  Imagine some giant, interlocking structure in space developing into a purposeful network.  We had a general sense of the plan and fresh young minds were welcomed and brought into it, being told how to interconnect.

Now the better metaphor for the conformity is a black hole.  The unifying principle is that there is no objective way to say what is better, so young minds of mush (as the cliché goes) are sucked in through emotion and social manipulation.  Independence is not permitted.

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The Education That $62,000 per Year Buys You

For the low, low price of $62,046, your child can attend Brown University to learn crucial facts of life, like this:

By putting menstrual products in women’s, men’s and gender-inclusive bathrooms, Nguyen’s campaign highlights an often-ignored fact: Not all people who menstruate are women. “We wanted to set a tone of trans-inclusivity, and not forget that they’re an important part of the population,” he says.

In a fantastic two-fer, Newsweek proves the quality of its reporting by labeling as “fact” the absurdity that “not all people who menstruate are women.”

On the bright side, now that Brown students have resolved the pressing problem that low-income Ivy League male students who menstruate cannot afford, umm, “feminine hygiene products,” we can conclude that Western Civilization has reached its intellectually menopausal phase.

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Warwick and RI Can’t Be Generous While Shrinking

The Warwick school department is considering closing up to three schools, and predictably, people aren’t happy about it:

So far, the city has fielded complaints of traffic jams, unfinished construction projects and overcrowding at Warwick’s high schools.

And in an excellent civics lesson, democracy is producing candidates implying they’ll make all the problems go away if elected:

School committee candidate Dean Johnson said he lives nearby and sees the problems every day.

“Nothing but traffic,” he said. “It was 15 minutes from Benny’s to Pilgrim – it was absolutely ridiculous.”

Fellow school committee candidate Nathan Cornell is just 18 years old and said he still has friends in high school.

“At the first day, I called them and say, ‘how was school for you,’” he said. “And they told me it was crowded, especially the lunchrooms.”

Rhode Islanders want to run things as if the state is economically healthy and growing.  It’s not.  When I looked at Warwick’s population in 2012, it had dropped nearly 4% from the 2000 Census to the 2010 Census.  This May, I wondered how the school department could be considering any raises at all (let alone the 10% per year the teachers union reportedly wanted) with a smaller, less-working population with shrunken house values, and what justification there could be when the under-performing district had seen its enrollment drop 34% since the 2000-2001 school year.

Look, if you want neighborhood schools, you need the population and the enrollment to support them.  If you want small class sizes, you need to control the costs of teachers.  Rhode Islanders can’t keep up the economy-strangling approach to government and the union-gorging approach to employees and expect to maintain the quality of life they’ve enjoyed.  It is not paradoxical to observe that when you let government take more money from you and your neighbors and to limit your freedoms, you wind up getting less from government.

What will it take to make Rhode Islanders realize this?  Or more precisely, what will it take to make Rhode Islanders realize this and then change things rather than simply move away?

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A Tale of Clashing Intra-Boomer Greed

Essays by Joel Kotkin are often frustrating.  On one hand, he’s clearly more reasonable than the typical mainstream liberal and willing to consider evidence even if it leads him to conclusions that conflict with the standard liberal line.  On the other hand, he pulls up sharply short of following his thinking all the way through.  Consider this, from a column attacking Baby Boomers for their role in constructing the civic society that has produced our terrible presidential choices:

Trumpian boomerism is easily evidenced in my own neighborhood of Villa Park in Orange County. Our lovely, well-maintained and aging little enclave is friendly, civic-minded and civil. But it also is the center of opposition to such things as school bonds that would improve local schools now in a shocking state of disrepair. Villa Park residents helped defeat the last school bond, and it’s a former (thank heaven) City Council member who seeks to lead the effort to overturn the one on the ballot this year.

The arguments of the anti-bond advocates, like those backing Trump, base their pitch on accusations of public incompetence but rest on a culture of selfishness. Many opposing the bonds, which would cost them a few hundred dollars a year on their property tax bill, think nothing of spending lavishly on luxury vacations or home upgrades. The fact that better schools might increase their own property values seems to sail against their mind-set, which apparently renders them oblivious to the penury imposed on the next generation.

Kotkin seems not to consider that bonds typically require higher tax bills for 20 to 30 years.  Boomers are more likely to have purchased their homes when property values were much lower (even if only 15 years ago), and they are more likely to have finished paying off their mortgages; they’re also farther along in their careers and wealthier.  “A few hundred dollars a year on their property tax bill” is therefore not as big a deal to them as it is to those in Gen X who may be struggling to get on the other side of life’s financial hump or Millennials looking to buy houses (or even rent them) for the first time.  Long-term debt will also affect whatever generation comes after today’s kids in the same way.

In fairness, it’s entirely possible that Boomers in Kotkin’s suburb of (typically liberal) coastal California haven’t thought this through, either, and are, indeed, acting out of greed.  But even if we cede that point, we still must challenge his assumption that more money will improve education.  The same teacher unions that have helped to diminish public education in the United States have spent decades driving up the cost, pushing taxpayers toward antipathy to new expenses and forcing administrators to cut corners when it comes to maintenance and capital improvement.

That is, to the extent greed is involved, it is in no way one sided.

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Compassion of the Progressive State

Here’s one of those stories that might just provide what we writer types call “foreshadowing”:

A mother who pleaded guilty to fraudulently enrolling her six-year-old son in the wrong school district has been sentenced to five years in prison….

McDowell told police she was living in a van and occasionally slept at a Norwalk shelter or a friend’s Bridgeport apartment when she enrolled her son Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School.

Police said McDowell stole $15,686 worth of ‘free’ educational services from Norwalk.

Of course, this story may not include the sorts of details that lead conservatives to suggest that laws and judgments ought to be made and enforced at the most local level possible.  Although McDowell’s drug prosecution appears to have produced an entirely separate sentence, prosecutors, juries, and judges rightly take the individual into consideration when assessing penalties.  Racial tensions during the Obama Era provide ample evidence of the danger inherent in elevating local stories to the national level in the service of a narrative.

Still, with all of the lip service New England progressives give to helping the disadvantaged and all of the millions of dollars they spend developing ways to ensure an easy on ramp to the easy street of government dependency, we’re in need of reminders that the mission is all about control, not charity.  We can be sure that the government of Connecticut is happy to give McDowell much more than $16,000 in taxpayer-funded benefits and free services, provided she doesn’t try to exercise the parental prerogative of school choice.

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Escaping Backwards Thinking in Education

Future generations may study the education system in our day as a lesson in how difficult it is to make government do the right thing when there are entrenched interests involved.  Indeed, reading a post by Annie Holmquist on the Foundation for Economic Education site, I wondered if our progeny will think us downright backwards.

Quoting a former public-school-teacher-turned-homeschool-mom named Nikita Bush, The Monitor explains this movement:

“Despite the promises of the civil rights movement, ‘people are starting to realize that public education in America was designed for the masses of poor, and its intent has been to trap poor people into being workers and servants. If you don’t want that for your children, then you look for something else,’ she says.”

Bush is not alone in thinking that the public schools are keeping minority children from reaching their potential. According to a poll released in 2016 by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, minority parents “strongly reject the notion that students from low-income families should be held to lower standards.” In fact, “Nine-out-of-ten African Americans and 84 percent of Latinos disagree that students today work hard enough and instead believe that students should be challenged more to help ensure they are successful later in life.”

According to Holmquist’s post, black students who are homeschooled perform as well or better than the national average in reading, language, and math, and the contrast with black public school students is stunning.  (Having not reviewed the underlying research, I should note the possibility that there may be factors affecting the numbers, such as the relative income of the group.)

The thing that seems backwards, though, is that only in Georgia is it possible for parents to work together for a sort of homeschooling co-op.  How did we get to a place in a supposedly free country in which the government’s underlying assumption is that parents cannot be trusted to educate their children?  That doesn’t strike me as the proper relationship between government and the governed.

Of course, it may be an exercise in unreasonable optimism to think that future generations will have a better sense of how that relationship ought to be structured.

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Rhode Island Admits Its Diplomas Are Meaningless

Articles on Rhode Island’s education system have become downright depressing.  Here’s Education Commissioner Ken Wagner essentially admitting that his office sees diplomas from the state’s public schools as meaningless pieces of paper designating satisfactory attendance:

Wagner, who arrived here a year ago, defended his decision to drop a standardized test from the high school graduation requirements. He said it doesn’t make sense to punish students for poor test scores when “it is just as likely that they weren’t adequately prepared” by their schools and teachers.

“When kids don’t graduate, it has lifelong consequences,” he said. 

Wagner wants to hold school districts, not students , accountable for improving student achievement….

Starting in 2021, Rhode Island will offer a “commissioner’s seal” for high school students who meet proficiency on a standardized test like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Career. Instead of evaluating districts based on student test scores, the state Department of Education could judge districts based on the percentage of graduates who earn a commissioner’s seal.

Wagner’s thinking is all wrong.  Rhode Island Association of School Committees Director Tim Duffy is right that “we’re not doing students any favors by not preparing them for college or work,” but it’s more than that.  A diploma is supposed to be an achievement, not a participation trophy.  We’re supposed to hold students accountable, and moreover, they ought to be the first link in a chain of accountability:

  • If students aren’t succeeding, parents are responsible for resolving whatever problems are getting in their way.
  • If parents conclude that the school is the problem, then they hold the school accountable by seeking correction or leaving.
  • If the schools aren’t performing, then it’s the responsibility of the community that pays the bills to hold elected officials and administrators accountable.

The Dept. of Education’s role should be to facilitate this process, not to supplant it.  Otherwise, the state government is presuming to take on the role not only of every school’s administration, but also the roles of parents and of voters.  The childless commissioner’s apparent fondness for calling children who are students in pubic schools “kids” is not a good sign for the department’s perspective on those young Rhode Islanders.  (“A kid’ll eat ivy, too,” after all.)

The ideal reform would be to empower students and parents to hold districts accountable more directly, but allowing them to apply money that would otherwise to go the district to an alternative, like a private school. Until that option becomes feasible, though, the incentive for parents and students to complain has to be stronger.

The bottom line on Wagner’s ploy is that the people who are the most insulated from accountability — the unionized teachers — have a controlling hand in the state government.  The state, therefore, cannot be trusted to “judge districts” and take appropriate action.

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Central Falls Schools Literally Hiring SJWs

Anybody who’s glanced around the rightward side of the Internet and social media will have come across the pejorative acronym, “SJW.”  That stands for “social justice warrior,” and it’s pejorative because it connotes excessive and superficial self-righteousness, combined with a lack of self awareness that would be comical if the SJWs weren’t able to hurt people.

Unfortunately, in a world with an entire generation stewed in political correctness (an abyss into which college campuses appear to have fallen almost completely), SJWs are not as powerless as they would be in a sane world.  Still, it’s jarring to see a public school district in Rhode Island openly advertising jobs for them, although somehow that fact didn’t find its way into Linda Borg’s glowing article on the plan in today’s Providence Journal:

This year, a pool of 15 substitute teachers will be hired to serve the full 180-day school year. They will be offered a week of training this month and repeated professional development during the school year. They will also be mentored by certified teachers. And they will be offered a sweetener — either health-care benefits or $130 per day (typical pay is $100 per day).

The “teaching fellows” would also have an opportunity to lead after-school activities, although permanent teachers would have the first crack at these positions.

In exchange, they will be asked to learn about the school’s mission and values, to become part of a team of valued educators committed to high standards.

That such a plan seems like radical innovation may be a testament to just how rigid and averse to innovation the public school system is, but another layer becomes visible if one looks at the job ad for these positions.  Note, first, that the actual title the district has given these positions isn’t “teaching fellows,” but “Warrior Fellows” (Warriors being the school mascot).  Now consider some language from the ad:

The Warrior Fellowship will require passionate leaders to serve as education and social justice advocates and mentors in all six Central Falls schools while at the same time helping to bridge the gap between the academic and social-emotional support our students and families need in their schools and community.

Fellows are expected to “go through a rigorous training program” and “weekly and monthly workshops and seminars” that will help them develop “the courage and passion to inspire change in our schools, influence the lives of our students, and become advocates for the city of Central Falls.”  Among the areas on which they can focus is “Cultural Pride,” and we can infer that “Western Culture” is not what’s meant.  Among the job requirements (third on the list and the second mandatory one) is “commitment to social justice and urban education.”

In short, the school department in Central Falls, which is largely funded with state-taxpayer money, is literally looking to hire and train “social justice Warriors.”  Thus does Rhode Island endeavor to see just how far into the abyss it can dive.

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