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Bringing in the Tech Transport Out?

Story variant A:

A nationally know private company finds Rhode Island to be an up-and-comer with a lot of opportunity in the technology field and invests in an office and employees in the state.

Story variant B (reality):

A small, still-brand-new non-profit (i.e., tax exempt, to some extent) organization that has somehow gotten a call-out from the President of the United States receives $350,000 from the Rhode Island Dept. of Labor and Training (i.e., taxpayer money) to set up a location in the state.

What are the odds that LaunchCode‘s dominant model in Rhode Island will be to place students whose education was paid for and/or subsidized by Rhode Island taxpayers with companies that actually have technology jobs in other states?  Even if that were its entire reason for coming to Rhode Island, it would be wrong to ban such a company, but forcing Rhode Islanders to lure the company here seems to be a questionable economic development decision.

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Underground Free Speech at Brown

Jay Nordlinger, of National Review, has uncovered a secret Facebook society at Brown University.  It’s sort of like the Dead Poets Society, but instead of sneaking off to a cave to utter forbidden poetry, they log in to Facebook to have real discussions about controversial topics that are taboo at Rhode Island’s Ivy League University:

One student fed up with this atmosphere of illiberalism, fear, and nuttiness was Chris Robotham, a sophomore from Scituate, Mass., majoring in computer science and math. He created a Facebook group called “Reason@Brown.” You can set up three types of Facebook group: Public, Closed, or Secret. This one is secret. It provides a safe space (to coin a phrase) for the free exchange of ideas, online. A member can simply express his views without being condemned as a heretic or villain. Without being shouted off the stage. There is actual argument.

The group’s only other out-of-the-closet member is Marie Willersrud, who hails from Norway and couldn’t believe the degree to which dissenting voices are suppressed at the American university.

As Nordlinger suggests, an environment invested in the notion that some of the most elite students in the world face oppression at one of the most liberal institutions in the world is one in which people who have contrary ideas must be silenced.  It doesn’t take much cold reality at all — scarcely a warm spring breeze — to blast away that imaginary flower.

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Sorting by Color When the Education Ship Is Going Down

The latest education insider to enter into the editorial tug-of-war after release of Rhode Island’s abysmal results on its first Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests is Anna Cano Morales, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University and familiar face around the Statehouse:

Ninety-five percent of Rhode Island’s English learners do not meet the state’s English Language Arts and Literacy standards, according to recently released Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores. Eighty-nine percent of our Latino students are below the standards in math.

Those are staggering numbers. When we picture what they mean in human terms — 10,000 English learners, 32,000 Latino students — these numbers are stunning.

Those who promote identity politics are striving to make matters of race and ethnicity an area in which disagreement is not allowed, but we owe it to all of Rhode Island’s children to think realistically about our schools’ problems so we can identify true causes and develop appropriate solutions.  As Morales goes on to concede, talking about the English scores of students who have already been identified as needing help with English is “incoherent.”  Far more concerning is that 64% of students overall fail to meet expectations in English.

As for math, it is lamentable that 89% of Latino students don’t meet expectations, but the percentage of all students who fall short is 74%.  That’s an unacceptable 30,000 students in the first case, but an unacceptable 105,000 students in the second case.  Should Rhode Island really allocate limited resources so as to focus on 30,000 students at the expense of 75,000 when solutions that help the larger group would surely help the smaller group, as well?

Morales refers to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, and a look at those results deepens the picture.  Over the last decade, Hispanic students were the fastest-improving group in Rhode Island, especially in math, on which they now outperform black students.  As with other groups, however, the improvement hit a ceiling when teacher-union-favored Governor Lincoln Chafee scuttled the accountability reforms that his predecessor, Governor Donald Carcieri, and then Education Commissioner Deborah Gist had put in place.

In this light, the Latino policy director’s prescriptions are questionable.  If 64% of all students can’t even pass a test on English, would it really help matters to “immerse” them in bilingual education?  While admittedly not an expert in the area of curriculum development, that sounds like lunacy to me.  If our current teacher corps and teaching resources aren’t able to bring 74% of students up to speed in math, does it really make sense to make English-language-learners — around 7% of all students — a key focus of our hiring and purchasing decisions?

The progressive thinking that seeks to push political agendas through racial-grievance guilt trips is a big part of our problem in Rhode Island, and we need to break its hold on us.

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R.I. Center for Freedom & Prosperity: 2015 RI Report Card on Competitiveness Confirms Status Quo is Failing Rhode Islanders

The grades are out, and once again the status quo fails on the 2015 RI Report Card on Competitiveness. When will the political class learn that their way is simply not working to reach their stated goals? If Rhode Island is to reform its way of conducting business, our elected officials must learn to place less trust in government-centric programs for every problem. We will never improve our state’s employment situation unless we adopted the need reforms that will allow Rhode Islanders to empower themselves to achieve their hopes and dreams. The 2015 report card decisively demonstrates the wreckage that decades of liberal policies have wrought upon our state.

The 2015 RI Report Card shows how Rhode Island’s political class continues to cater to special insiders, while depriving other Rhode Islanders of the opportunity for upward mobility, educational opportunity, and personal prosperity. In the major categories, Rhode Island was graded with two F’s, seven D’s, and one C. The two categories with F grades are Infrastructure and Health Care; the seven D’s are Business Climate, Tax Burden, Spending & Debt, Employment & Income, Energy, Public Sector labor, and Living & Retirement in Rhode Island; while Education received a C-. Among the 52 sub-categories evaluated, Rhode Island received 19 F’s, 24 D’s, 5 Cs, 3 Bs, and just one lone A.

These unacceptable grades should be a wake-up call to lawmakers that a government-centric approach is not producing the social justice and self-sufficiency that Rhode Islanders crave. By burdening the public with policies that discourage work and a productive lifestyle, the status quo is failing the people of our state. On the 2015 RI Report Card on Competitiveness, the Ocean State received “Ds” in the major categories of Jobs and Employment, and in Tax Burden. We must learn to trust in our people and remove the tax and regulatory boot of government off of their backs by advancing policies that empower the average family with choices, that reward work, and that grow the economy.

Only free market policy will transform the Ocean State by advancing policies that empower the average family with choices, that reward work, and that grow the economy. We can no longer tolerate Rhode Island falling further behind. The Center will continue to work tirelessly to promote policies like sales tax reform and school choice in order to help our fellow Rhode Islanders by unleashing their potential. We encourage you to help spread the word about the failing grades the status quo in Rhode Island received this year. You have power to change the Ocean State into a place where everyone can prosper. Thank you.

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More Clarity About the American Left

What are the odds that the same Midwestern university that ousted its president over trumped-up accusations of apathy over racism and saw professors employing Alinskyite tactics against the freedom of the press would see another professor arrested for dragging his early-teen “relative” out of school by the hair because she wasn’t wearing a hijab?

An assistant professor at an American university has been arrested for allegedly grabbing a 14-year-old female relative by the hair and dragging her into a car after he noticed she wasn’t wearing a hijab.

Youssif Z. Omar, 53, was reportedly at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri, on Tuesday when he spotted that the girl did not have the traditional Muslim headscarf.

No, really, what are the odds?  What could possibly link cry-bully totalitarian impulses on a campus with the hiring of Islamic fundamentalists?  It’s almost like universities are at the forefront of creating cultural banlieues.

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“Education Spending” Not Always for Education

It sure has seemed like a lot of people calling for more money in Rhode Island education, lately, are not actually Rhode Island educators, so this Wall Street Journal story out of Arizona caught my attention:

Reviewing several poor options, the governor’s office noticed something curious about the results of the 2000 tax increase. Education spending had gone up 41%, but the share of funds eaten by non-classroom expenses, such as plant operations and student support services, had grown every year for the past nine. The state auditor’s office calculated that in 2013 Arizona spent only 54% of school funds in the classroom, compared with 61% nationwide. Several academic studies have shown a direct correlation between that figure and student achievement, so it’s no surprise that Arizona ranks near the bottom in educational success, too.

And so, Republican Governor Doug Ducey came up with a diabolical plan:

Providing more resources to teachers and students is popular with many voters; paying higher taxes to hire district paper-shufflers is not. So Gov. Ducey came up with a clever plan to draw $2 billion over a decade from the state trust lands—a constitutional set-aside, established at statehood to promote public education, that currently holds about 9 million acres and more than $5 billion. The governor wanted to put that additional money directly into the classroom, rather than funnel it through layers of bureaucrats. Even with this outflow, the governor’s estimates showed, the trust would continue to grow in the long term, and its value would be higher in five years than today.

More money for schools with no new taxes: What’s not to like? A lot, apparently. Mr. Ducey’s plan disrupted the usual coalition of teachers unions and public school districts, leading some in the K-12 establishment—those administrators and union officials who have a way of soaking up dollars while doing little for students—to take the unfamiliar position of objecting to new education funding.

Keep an eye out for this dynamic and the puzzle begins to come together.  A Massachusetts teacher of my acquaintance recently left the profession for a related occupation in human services, even though it will probably mean less money.  In keeping with other things I’ve heard from teachers, her complaint wasn’t her pay or a lack of resources, but professional restrictions and smothering paperwork requirements.

Such things are inevitably produced by administrators and other “non-classroom” professionals.  Simply pouring more money into a broken, poorly conceived education system tends to create more opportunity to siphon dollars away for this or that professional service to make administrators’ lives easier and make it appear that they’re doing something, while what they’re doing — evaluating the aforementioned paperwork, for example, or developing fancy new standardized tests — may actually prove to be detrimental to what goes on in the classroom.

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School Choice as the Option for Improving Schools

If the education establishment in Rhode Island doesn’t have a solution for improving education beyond (paraphrasing) “give us more money and give more money to our peers who also make their living administrating government programs,” what’s the solution?  Well, a Laura Kilgus article in this week’s Rhode Island Catholic provides one answer:

Parents and school leaders of all faiths agreed that each child deserves a quality education and every parent should have the freedom and opportunity to choose which school is best for their child. Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman, M.Ed. and current Dean of Providence Hebrew Day School/New England Academy of Torah, shared that it is imperative that school choice opportunities be expanded in the state and added that the question is not whether Rhode Island will have expanded school choice the question is when.

“If we want our children to be well educated we must offer our parents opportunities to be able to make the choice of where their children attend school,” said Rabbi Scheinerman.

During a school choice hearing in front of the House Finance committee two or three years ago, a Native American single mother described her horrible, abusive childhood and said that, although she is not a Catholic Christian, herself, she understands the importance of a school setting that is free to inculcate moral principles in her daughter, founded in a religious basis.  The private Catholic school that her daughter attended did what it could to help the family afford tuition; if I recall correctly, it’s a school that closed last year because it couldn’t make the numbers work.  I wonder, from time to time, whether that mother managed to keep her daughter on the track that she, as a parent, understood to be best.

The challenge of education generally and, especially, of closing demographic gaps in educational outcomes, is to stop focusing on pouring more money into a failed government education system, with the focus on government-branded schools, but to force change that refocuses that system while giving families the opportunity to direct their own destiny, taking responsibility for their own lives and their own children.

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American Students Are Taught to Want Inclusion and Tolerate Exclusion

Jonathan Haidt made an interesting discovery while giving a talk at a private West Coast high school:

So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid.

Sounds sort of like Providence.

Such is the scam that progressives have pulled on the West.  They’re all for freedom of speech, they say, and even a healthy dose of intellectual diversity.  It’s just that the folks on the right want to say things that are so bad that they transcend mere language into the realm of physical harm.  Anybody can speak, so long as their words are within a certain range and that their errors aren’t of the sort that are frustratingly difficult to disprove, even though uncomfortable.

The quotation above comes from a smaller session that Haidt conducted after he’d given a talk to the whole school.  When he’d opened the larger session for Q&A, he says, “it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had.”  The second question, for example, was “So you think rape is OK?”… followed by creepy finger snapping that intimidated Haidt like no other experience during his 25-year career of teaching and public speaking.

Note, also, the bifurcated society that the school has fostered, as Haidt describes the event.  He could find only one male student raising his hand to ask a question, and when he did, it was in concert with the hostile girls.  Yet, at the conclusion, other boys stood while they clapped, and a male-only line formed to personally thank him.

In the smaller session, Haidt discovered that boys, whites, and conservatives at the school feel uncomfortable voicing opinions that differ from the tolerated view.  The only conservative who said he felt free to talk about his views during class acknowledged that “everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up.”

This asphyxiating cloud was already beginning to descend on education when I was in college almost twenty years ago (being that one who spoke up against conformity).  I can only imagine how bad it’s become since then.

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Cause for Concern in Tiverton Schools’ PARCC Test Results

With the release of Rhode Island public schools’ first results on the Common Core–aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests, the state’s new education commissioner, Ken Wagner, told the Providence Journal that the shock people felt came from the fact that the prior standardized test — the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) — had been “masking” districts’ true performance.

That statement ought to be particularly disconcerting in Tiverton.  Although the town’s elementary and middle schools outperformed the statewide average and managed to bring more than half of test takers to the point of meeting or exceeding expectations for their grade levels in English language arts (ELA), the results collapsed in Tiverton High School.  Only 27% of Tiverton’s high-school-level test takers met or exceeded expectations in ELA, and a meager 8% did so in math.  That compares with 54% and 32% in Portsmouth High School and 32% and 12% for the entire state at the high school level.

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.

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Learning from the Real Question Among Reasonable Black Professors

In his Saturday column, Ted Nesi links to a straight-shooting Facebook essay by Brown University economist Glenn Loury, who in addition to being on sabbatical at Stanford is black:

The notion that Brown needs a revolutionary reshaping in order to become hospitable to “students of color”, that idea that “anti-black pedagogy” at Brown needs to be countered with some mandatory indoctrination of faculty, the proposal that external student committees should review purportedly “racist” departmental appointment processes, the initiative of creating “specialty positions” in academic departments to ensure their openness to hiring “faculty of color” — these are all mischievous intrusions on the academic prerogatives of a distinguished faculty which no self-respecting scholar of any color should welcome. They are a step onto a slippery slope that slides down into intellectual mediocrity, and I will have nothing to do with them.

I’d recommend also setting aside an hour of audio time to listen to a bloggingheads.tv conversation between Professor Loury and John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia University, who also is black.  Both men are relatively conservative (hedged mainly for lack of thorough familiarity with their work), and their central disagreement appears to be in how to address the actual students who are being swept up in the identity-politics fascism currently sweeping American campuses (my terminology, not theirs).

McWhorter repeatedly insists that these kids don’t know any better, citing his own experience as an undergraduate, when he believed all Republicans must be evil because that’s what everybody around him told him to be the case.  Loury agrees, but takes a more I-don’t-have-patience-for-your-prolonged-adolescence-inanities approach.

It struck me, listening to them, that the disagreement is not unlike differences in parenting styles.  McWhorter wants to have a reasoned conversation with his kids, and Loury’s more like one of those fathers who laughs at his teenager’s silly proclamations and says (lovingly), “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”  As a blanket rule, neither is probably any better than the other, and when it comes to individual relationships or specific instances, parents ought to have both in their repertoire.

Both responses, though, are especially telling in light of their thoughts on college administrators and sympathy for the professional need to appease the mania, to some extent, in order to keep administrative jobs and maintain fundraising.  (Indeed, Nesi notes that Brown had just kicked off a fundraising campaign before campus racial activism become the trending activity of autumn.)

To be fair, obviously, professors’ role on campus is different from administrators’, but when it comes to handling inappropriate impulses on campus, we’d do well to look to those who respond to students more as family than as clients.

It’s quite a puzzle that’s now in pieces on the table in front of America’s institutions of higher education.  The general public, I’d say, should take the approach of parents, whichever method one chooses.  Unfortunately, the fact that so many parents failed to prepare their children to behave appropriately at Ivy League colleges suggests a larger cultural problem.

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This Racism Brought to You by Liberals

Writing about one of the latest allegedly racist incidents on an American college campus, John Hinderaker may very well put his finger on the entire operating dilemma of the Left:

The Dean of the law school, Martha Minow, said that racism is a “serious problem” there. Really? Minow has been the Dean since 2009. Why has she allowed racism to flourish? Where has this “serious problem” been manifested, and what has she done about it? Who, exactly, are the “racists” who have created this serious problem? Frankly, I don’t believe a word she says.

Hinderaker, who attended Harvard Law, thinks such lies are just the sorts of things that administrators of higher education say to maintain a sort of peace with some groups, while expecting that nobody responsible will really believe them.  But isn’t that a summary of the Left?  They overtook the culture and most of its institutions by proclaiming a problem that only they would solve.  Obviously, for example, racists wouldn’t solve the problem of “institutional racism,” but neither would those who are skeptical about the problem or those who, believing in it, think the best resolution is gradual and cultural.

The Leftists, in other words, are The People Who Care — The People Who Will Bring Change.  Well, they’ve been running things for quite a while, now, in large areas of society, both institutionally (e.g., universities and the news and entertainment media) and geographically (e.g., urban areas), and what do we have?  Suddenly, at the tail end of the second term of America’s first black president, we suddenly have a resurgence of racism in the cities and on college campuses?  Come on, now.

If that’s true, why have the liberals/progressives allowed it to fester for so long?  It’s possible, of course, that there really is some degree of racism extant on the campus of Harvard, but more important to the Leftist narrative and sales pitch is that there be a belief in the existence full colonnade of boogeyman -isms.  Otherwise, our society might distribute power on the basis of (oh, I don’t know) experience, competence, and a willingness to leave people alone wherever possible.

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Is “Average” a Question on the PARCC Tests?

The front-page Providence Journal headline, “R.I. PARCC results near average,” jumped out at me, yesterday, so I had to take a closer look at the results from the nine states that have released comparable results.  The upshot depends what “near average” means.

Of the twelve tests (six grades, two tests each) listed, Rhode Island is an overall four percentage points below the other states’ results.  That means an additional 4% of Rhode Island students would have met-or-exceeded expectations if the state were average.  The results vary, though, from average in third-grade English to a 14-percentage-point deficit in eighth-grade math.

This comparison is dubious, though.  Is Rhode Island really comparable to New Mexico and Arkansas?  Take them out, and RI’s overall deficit is eight percentage points, ranging from four to 19.

Looking at a ranking of the nine states gives a better sense of Rhode Island’s relative performance.  On only two of the 12 tests (third- and fifth-grade English) did Rhode Island land in the top half of states — just barely, in fourth place.  Overall, Rhode Island would be seventh out of nine, beating only New Mexico and Arkansas.

In a foot race, one could say that a runner came in only a little bit behind the middle group, or one could say that he or she came in last, not counting the two out-of-shape kids at the back of the pack.

Oh, and one more thing: The article explains Massachusetts’s success (if having around 45% of students failing to meet expectations can be considered a success) in the words of Massachusetts Deputy Commissioner Jeff Wulfson: “By the time Massachusetts students took PARCC, they had the benefit of 22 years of improvements.”

An important asterisk on that assertion provides some warning for the future.  As I’ve pointed out before, when friend-of-the-teachers-union Governor Deval Patrick diluted accountability measures in Massachusetts, in 2006, the state’s NAEP scores stagnated and have been falling since 2011 and may be overtaken as the nation’s leader when the next NAEP results come out in 2017.

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Armed with Data, Americans Might Question Education Funding and “Equity”

The Rhode Island Department of Education has released the state’s first-ever results from the Common Core–aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests and sent a shudder through everybody who is, or should be, accountable for them.

Two recent bits of local political rhetoric concerning education illustrate how important it is for Americans to understand the math of education, and in Rhode Island, those with financial incentive to divert accountability and push for increased funding will quickly redouble their efforts.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.

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Again: Money Isn’t the Problem in RI Education

Writing in today’s Providence Journal, Meg O’Leary and Sarah Friedman argue that the state government should increase funding for public schools, especially those in urban areas — including, naturally, those in which the pair are co-directors of a charter school:

Why this gross inequity? Our current funding formula perpetuates a divisive approach to paying for our public schools — based on property taxes — placing an ever-increasing burden on our local budgets. Essentials such as buildings, food and transportation have to be funded from the property tax base of the city or town.

So, a city with a very small tax base must carry the same funding burden as a town whose residents can pay higher property taxes? Yes. In fact, the state average for these basics to operate schools is equal to $4,400 per pupil, but cities can only afford to spend $2,100 per pupil.

But wait, aren’t we overfunding our schools? Actually, “For FY 2012, RI ranked 47th [near the bottom] in state support for public education and seventh [near the top] in local support” (p. 3, House Fiscal Advisory Staff’s Rhode Island Education Aid, 2014). This means that our state could do better in decreasing the burden any one community feels by including all of the essentials in the formula.

As usual, when people who live off tax dollars cite statistics, their work has to be checked.  If we apply the percentages from the House Fiscal report that O’Leary and Friedman cite to the U.S. Census estimates for per pupil funding that I mentioned the other day, we find that the 47th state percentage turns out to be more actual dollars than average.  The average U.S. state had per pupil spending of $10,700 in FY13, with the state government paying $4,869 (by House Fiscal’s 2012 percentages).  According to the Census, Rhode Island spends $14,415, of which the state government provides $5,117.

As for the fairness of how those funds are distributed, the state government puts multiple thumbs on the scale to tilt it toward lower-income urban communities.  The formula adds 40% to the estimated cost of educating a student if they are lower-income.  For the 2016 school year, that meant adding $3,571 to a base of $8,928.  Then the formula also estimates the community’s ability to pay and adjusts again in favor of poorer communities.

As a consequence, when the funding formula is fully phased in, the state will cover 8.7% of estimated necessary funding in Jamestown, 15.9% in East Greenwich, and 16.3% in Portsmouth while covering 93.5% in Central Falls, 87.8% in Providence, and 83.1% in Pawtucket, the three cities that O’Leary and Friedman’s charter school, the Learning Community, serves.

If the formula were fully phased in, state taxpayers would be giving the Learning Community around $10,838 per student, this year, while giving Jamestown $805 and East Greenwich $1,463. The co-directors each make over $94,000 per year in salary, with around $15,000 more in “other compensation” each.  The per-student cost of their compensation is nearly $400, which is about half of the fully implemented state aid for Jamestown.

How much more “equitable” do they think the state’s funding formula ought to be?

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Against Free Speech and for Cultural Weakness

On Thursday, Paul Caron (of TaxProf Blog) pointed to another article that would prove to represent a convergence of issues within a couple of days.  Among the student cry-bully uprisings across America is one at Vanderbilt, where the radical whiners have been attempting to unseat black female professor Carol Swain:

In the January column, Swain asked, “What would it take to make us admit we were wrong about Islam? What horrendous attack would finally convince us that Islam is not like other religions in the United States, that it poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration?”

Even those who take the view that Swain is wrong to suggest that the government should undertake targeted monitoring of people on the basis of their religion should be able to see the value of American freedoms in such situations and understand how the campus fascists may bring about precisely the outcomes they seek to prevent.  Imagine a non-tenured member of a university’s staff or faculty writing such things.  Even more: imagine somebody just starting out, as early as applying to attend as a graduate student.  He or she would have to hide any such feelings until securely tenured, some years and years down the road, perhaps in a world in which his or her warnings come too late.

If we don’t want to get to a place in which government is monitoring targeted populations (although I suspect the brainwashed students would think it only natural for the government to monitor Christians and conservatives), and if we don’t want to get to a place of such division that we’re behaving as if one religion “poses an absolute danger to us and our children,” then we need more open dialogue, not less.  People must be truly free to articulate what it is that makes their beliefs better than others and to highlight what in other beliefs seems dangerous.  And that freedom must extend not only to people who can only be fired in extreme circumstances, but also to those who still need to find doors in their careers.

That’s the only way we can, as a society, work our way down to defining the good and the bad and determining who is in the thrall of each and why.  As it is, anything that resonates with the tones of traditional American beliefs is treated as suspect, and the only way that attitude won’t have bad results is if there is nothing amazing about our country and nothing in our tradition that enabled it.

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The PC Monster Was Entirely Predictable

Two items in the news remind me of a short story I wrote a long time ago, proving that the politically correct cry-bully monster currently rampaging on American college campuses could be seen a long way off, even by the likes of me.  Consider:

  • Tim Wolfe, the president of Missouri University, resigned his position potentially over fabricated incidents, but certainly over protests that no rational person could consider reasonable.
  • Nicholas Christakis, the Yale resident master whom a student berated with tearful swears over an only slightly un-PC email that his wife had sent offered a pitiful apology for his not-sufficiently-abject capitulation to the extended-adolescence masters attending his university.

In a short story I wrote in December 2001, titled “Guest of Honor,” a monster is slithering around a dinner party for representatives of our cultural elite. With the attendees nearly all devoured:

The nearest man, a much applauded professor of English, with patches on his elbows, knelt and, with arms outstretched, said, “Though I personally railed against the imperialist oppressions, perpetrated by fascistic elitist capitalists, that incentivized the agitated reprisals for which we all now answer, I comprehend the perceptivities of the Other and, in cognitionation of the acts wherewith Mother Nature will only benefit by the extirpation of all humanity…” But he managed to say no more before the blunt maw of death left only the echo of his voice and the jingle of the keys to his Volvo as they fell.

Then a famous opinion writer, to whom the professor had recently been talking, shrugged his shoulders and said, “What’s to be done? His appetite is of our creation, after all.”

The safe money, at this time, would bet that higher education in the United States will not respond to the monster’s younger siblings as it would to a threat to its credibility, its mission, and its existence, but rather will continue to deteriorate, at least to the point that people with more sense than flavor realize it’s not worth the expense of tuition or taxpayer dollars.

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Per Pupil Expenditures and Political Data

I’m off my schedule, this morning, because a behind-the-scenes discussion swept me up and caught my attention.  Although the underlying numbers haven’t become the subject of public debate for any specific purpose (yet), it’s worth sharing the lesson.

Somebody with an interest in protecting and expanding public school budgets sent around an email citing U.S. Census data that shows per-pupil spending in the three Southern New England states as follows:

  • Connecticut: $16,631
  • Massachusetts: $14,515
  • Rhode Island: $14,415

For the record, that puts the three states at the fourth, seventh, and eighth highest expenditures among all 50 states.  Also for the record, these amounts somehow put Massachusetts at the top of the nation if you average fourth and eighth grade NAEP scores in math and reading while Rhode Island is pretty much the average state and Connecticut doesn’t quite split the difference between its two New England neighbors by that measure.  In short, Rhode Island is spending a lot, not getting commensurate results, and spending more is not likely to produce better outcomes.

In an effort to argue that Rhode Island is actually dramatically under-funding its schools, the person who sent the email argued that Rhode Island’s number should be reduced by almost $1,300 because Massachusetts and Connecticut fund teacher retirement entirely through state government (which, he says, he confirmed with people in each state government).  Even adjusting that amount to the U.S. Census data would only drop Rhode Island to the 13th biggest spender, but the insinuation is that state and local governments could be contributing another $180 million a year to public schools before Rhode Island would actually spending around as much as Massachusetts.

The problem is that the U.S. Census already adjusts the numbers for each state to account for different methods of budgeting and accounting.  In fact, for all three Southern New England states, the Census methodology explains that “payments made by the state government into the state retirement system on behalf of … school systems are included in the tables that display state totals.”  I even called the U.S. Census to make sure this means the states’ appropriations into the pension fund for teacher retirement are included, and it does.

This is a good lesson in the development of public policy.  Potentially hundreds of people with an especially high level of influence on education policy in Rhode Island might now think that the state’s spending relative to its neighbors is much lower than it actually is.  Of course, a large number of them probably don’t care one way or another; to them, the goal is more money for public schools no matter the comparison or the results.  But it certainly won’t make it any easier to make good decisions for our children if we’re basing them on information that is not only selective but incorrect.

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UDPATED: A Tip for Pushing Back on the Community Organizing Fascists

If you haven’t seen this footage of students, apparently corralled by at least one professor, acting to eject and exclude anybody fulfilling the role of a journalist at a protest event at the University of Missouri, set aside the 12:41 for some preparatory research:

To me the most telling moment comes at the beginning, when a bespectacled guy who looks a little older than the average student tells photographer Tim Tai, from within the arm-linked circle of “protestors,” that the photographer “cannot push [the protestors] to move closer.”  It’s a reasonable sounding rule of engagement from somebody presenting himself as some sort of an authority figure.

A moment later, the students start pushing Tai away from the center of the circle, and he turns to the same guy with a complaint that they’re breaking the rules that he had just laid out.  The reply: “Don’t talk to me; that’s not my problem.”  Tai then spends several minutes arguing with the students while being physically pushed back.  The argument is fruitless, because the mob is clearly not interested in reaching fair conclusions.  They are righteous, and any infiltrating journalists are not.  It’s not about coming to a rational conclusion.  The only rule is domination.

The second half of the clip is videographer Mark Schierbecker’s already-infamous conflict with Professor Melissa Click and the aftermath after she gets her requested “muscle” to eject him.

The bespectacled guy’s role is classic Saul Alinsky: force the enemy to live by his own rules… and then deny them as your own.  In a chaotic interaction, people want some sort of authority figure who can negotiate between the sides.  Pretending to be that figure deflates some of the leverage of the target while not limiting the pretender’s own options.

If one refuses to capitulate — to subordinate one’s own rights to those who do not acknowledge them — the only two approaches are to (1) abandon your own rules or (2) bring those among the fascists who are unaware that they are behaving as such face to face with their decision.  In the first approach, Tai and Schierbecker would physically push back; find a weak link in the human chain, perhaps, and push through it.  Of course, then the fascists would call in the actual authorities (perhaps armed) who would proceed to enforce the rules (which the fascists were ignoring in the first place) in a one-sided way.

In this case, the second approach would have been better and would probably have been even more clarifying for those now discomfited by Schierbecker’s footage.  Standing on two legs leaves us susceptible to being pushed back by even jostling, as we strive to keep our balance.  Sitting down would have required the fascists to escalate or to give up.  Forcing somebody who’s sitting to move requires much more than simply leaning against him.  Brainwashed students might convince themselves — in the thrill of the mob action — that stepping forward is not really “pushing” or “assault,” but somebody who’s sitting would have to be unambiguously pushed or dragged.

If you’re feeling particularly interested in preserving your liberties, could reverse the leverage. As the fascists strive to keep their balance around you, they’ll naturally shift their weight away a bit, at least periodically, leaving room to advance against them.

In this case, the likelihood of things escalating out of control looked pretty minimal, and too many of the students had looks on their faces like they thought they were only mildly misbehaving for fun.  Contrast Schierbecker’s video with the scene when union thugs assaulted Steven Crowder in Michigan.

A little bit more fortitude while the fascism is still budding may prevent the need for actual risk of life for the next person down the line who attempts to resist.

UPDATE (7:51 a.m. 11/11/15):

Erik Wemple (via Instapundit) identifies the bespectacled guy as “Richard J. ‘Chip’ Callahan, professor and chair of religious studies at the university.”  From his bio page:

I am particularly interested in the ways that people creatively and constantly negotiate identity, significance, and power through religious idioms in the dense contexts of their everyday lives.

So, Professor Chip clearly understood the moral dimensions of his statement to Tai that other students pushing him, in violation of the rules that the professor had just articulated, “Don’t talk to me; that’s not my problem.”

Saul Alinsky did dedicate his Rules for Radicals to Lucifer, after all.

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RI Population: Starting Saturday on a Worrying Note

Over my habitual Saturday morning coffee and pancakes, I perused Ted Nesi’s weekly column and came across this intriguing item:

Moody’s latest Rhode Island economic outlook, presented this week at the twice-annual revenue conference, is a mixed bag. … Other pluses: the job market and personal income both appear to be improving, and net migration (residents moving in versus moving out) turned positive in 2014 for the first time in a decade.

The downsides are middle-income jobs and home sales (and I continue to believe the overall employment numbers are greatly overstated).  But what about that net migration?  Slide 23 of the Moody’s presentation does indeed show positive migration, although it isn’t clear what scale the numbers are on or why they don’t match up with numbers directly from the U.S. Census.

Population is a limited measure, though.  A more critical question, for a struggling state, is: Who is coming and who is going?  Unfortunately, the IRS taxpayer migration data for 2014 isn’t online, for the moment, and detailed state-level data from the Census isn’t out for that year, yet.  Still, the Census does have the population estimates broken out by “components of change,” with some high-level detail about why people came and went.

From 2013 to 2014, the Census estimates that 1,375 more children were born in the state than people died, but that’s not the detail we’re interested in.  Under “net migration,” the data does show 903 more people coming here from elsewhere than the reverse, but the “where” is important.  When it comes to domestic migration — that is, people moving from one state to another — Rhode Island lost 3,387 residents.  International migration that makes up the difference, with 4,290 more people coming to Rhode Island from other countries than emigrating.

Obviously, the world is full of varied people, so any assumptions made at this level are just that: assumptions.  Still, recalling my observation, in August, that the increase of students in Providence schools came almost entirely from Hispanics who need extra help with English, the picture comes into focus pretty well.  The Census’s FactFinder tool can fill in some of the details.  From 2009 to 2013 — over the course of just four years — the percentage of children living in households receiving cash assistance increased by more than 50%.

RI-childrenpoverty-2009-2013

To deepen the picture a little, consider that the percentage of all families receiving public assistance increased by just 17%.  That’s still a big increase, but it suggests that Rhode Island’s population growth is in large part attributable to migration of poor, young families from countries to the south of the United States.

One needn’t be xenophobic to worry about the consequences of this demographic shift on the well-being of Rhode Islanders overall.  If Rhode Island’s economy were healthy and was therefore able to accommodate foreign families and empower them to lift themselves up, that would be wonderful.  More likely, though, like Lawrence, MA, we’ll continue to see government bring in new clients to turn RI into a company state, and somebody’s got to pay the bill.

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Government, Media, and Data: Rhode Island Higher Ed Funding

It’s becoming increasingly important for the news media to start looking for holes in what government spinmeisters tell them.

Take, for example, a tweet from Providence Journal reporter Lynn Arditi, which WPRI reporter Dan McGowan retweeted and which turned out to be a tease for an article on today’s front page. The spin should be, frankly, offensive to anybody who pays taxes in Rhode Island.  The basic message of the tweet and the article is that the heavily taxed people of Rhode Island are not sufficiently subsidizing college students (whatever they may happen to be studying) and their administration-heavy schools.  Not only are there giant monuments of missing context, but the dollar amounts about which we’re supposed to be concerned are laughable.

The bulk of the information comes from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS), which has just released nationwide data on student debt.  The report shows Rhode Island (including private universities and colleges) as the fourth-highest-debt state, at $31,841.  It’s important to note, though, that RI drops to 14th-highest for the percentage of students who have any debt at all.

Arditi focuses on public colleges and universities.  “The average student debt among the state’s four-year public college graduates in the Class of 2014 was $29,076 — the ninth-highest in the country.”  By contrast, the “average debt of Connecticut public college graduates was $24,831 — ranking 32nd nationally and the lowest of New England’s public colleges.”

Playing with TICAS’s more-detailed search tool, one can see that Rhode Island’s high number comes mainly from the University of Rhode Island, with its $30,731 average student debt (versus $25,567 at Rhode Island College).  Well, according to U.S. News & World Report, in 2008, enrollment at URI was exactly half from out-of-state students, which is seventh highest on that list.  Not surprisingly, the core public university of Vermont, the state topping Arditi’s tweeted chart by a large margin, also tops the out-of-state enrollment list, at 74%.

The University of Connecticut? Just 33% out of state.  Rhode Island’s margin for out-of-state students, versus Connecticut, is larger than its margin for student debt.  And let’s be honest: The difference between the ninth-highest debt and the 32nd highest is all of $4,245 on a loan to be paid off potentially over decades.  Rhode Island’s state and local tax burden is the eighth highest in the country, and the people shouldering that burden are supposed to feel guilty that out-of-state kids studying who knows what might have to pay a few hundred dollars more per year on a loan (which we probably subsidized on their behalf, at the federal level)?

Come on.  If Rhode Island’s commissioner of post-secondary education, Jim Purcell, who made $174,471 in fiscal year 2015, really finds this “troubling,” he should push for RI’s public colleges and university to trim their rippling administrative fat.  In the meantime, journalists should stop helping government big-wigs push for more and more money based on well-spun data and, instead, take up the cause of the people who are trying to raise families and build businesses in Rhode Island.

UPDATE (10/30/15 9:49 a.m.):

If you’re interested in more detail, check out CollegeXpress.  The site puts URI’s out-of-state enrollment at 44%, but it puts UConn’s at just 21%.  Meanwhile, URI’s in-state tuition is actually a little lower than UConn’s, while UConn’s out-of-state tuition is a lot higher.

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The Demon RI’s Cult of Big Government Would Summon

As Halloween approaches, fear not the masks and movies; fear the quiet promises whispered in press releases and incanted with mystical words like “equity,” “sustainability,” and “diversity.” The Cult of Big Government is working night in and night out to raise from the dark abyss of dangerous philosophies a demon to possess all of society and sap the human will.  Look south of Salem, to Rhode Island, where the scheme is well advanced.

In a society so comfortable that it has become discomfited by the wisdom of its ancestors, our popular myths mislead us now.  The demon will not arrive with a flash of lightning and the smell of sulfur.  It has changed the masks of racial bigotry and overt greed in which it has been spotted in the past.  Its minions have no need of the ritualistic dances of the legislature.  No virgin need be sacrificed (though virginity itself may be).  Surviving until dawn will not save the victims.

Rather, the secular clerics of the soulless cult have chosen three points in the lives of unsuspecting national villagers on which to build their citadels, disguised as places of public service, and when the triangle is fully drawn between them, all hope will be lost.

Continue reading on Watchdog.org.

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NAEP Drop Shows Disservice to Rhode Island Students

I’ll be taking a closer look at the just-released scores from the national standardized NAEP tests later today, but initial reports suggest that Rhode Island slipped.  Linda Borg’s Providence Journal story focuses on whether the switch to Common Core standards accounts for the dip, and that might be part of the story nationally.  However, Rhode Island’s story is more detailed.  I’ll pivot off the closing comment from Rhode Island’s new education commissioner, Ken Wagner:

“The answers are around us,” Wagner said. “We need to invest in our students, our teachers and in our economy. This isn’t about coming up with something new. We need to be focused on having the will to persist in what we know works.”

Wagner’s new, so it’s possible he’s not familiar with the history, but in the years that Rhode Island was actually pursuing education reform, our test scores, both NAEP and NECAP were on the rise, catching and surpassing the national average (in the case of NAEP).  Then those “fix-the-system” reforms hit a political ceiling, with Governor Lincoln Chafee putting the brakes on the reform vehicle and the General Assembly beginning to dismantle it.

The most reasonable interpretation of recent history in Rhode Island is that the education establishment isn’t really interested in figuring out what works and “persisting” in it.  Politicians and labor unions want to persist in what benefits them, and improving the lives of Rhode Island’s children is only permitted to the extent that it doesn’t disrupt that primary objective.

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Funding Formulas and Political Rhetoric

As I’ve written before, public school districts have a point when they complain that charter schools drain their resources to build a parallel second school system.  As for Rhode Island’s education funding formula, it obviously makes some assumptions and throws some numbers at the wall, but at least it’s a formula, not an arbitrary annual decision.

But I do wish we could have more-straightforward, factual discussions of such topics in this state.  Here’s Governor Gina Raimondo in the Providence Journal:

Rhode Island’s existing formula allocates aid to public schools based on student enrollment, the level of student poverty and the wealth of the community.

“It is an excellent funding formula,” Raimondo said. “But it’s been around for five years. It needs to be tweaked.”

Rhode Island, Raimondo said, spends a billion dollars a year on public education.

But, she asked, “Are we getting the most out of our money? Rhode Island is seventh in the nation in terms of per pupil spending, but we’re seeing average [academic] results. What troubles me is we have the greatest achievement gap [between low-income and higher-income students] in the country.”

Shouldn’t it at least be acknowledged that the state is five years into a 10-year phase-in of the formula?  The details of the funding formula have been around for five years, but it’s still five years away from actually being fully implemented.  (And honestly, what person over 35 years old still believes that five years is a long time in public policy?)

Let’s not pretend that we need some shiny new fixes to an antiquated formula; that’s merely an invitation to mischief.  The charter school piece — or, ahem, school choice education savings accounts — is more of an add-on than a core component of the formula, of itself.

Most important, though, is the plain and simple fact that we can “tweak” the funding formula all we want and it won’t have an effect on academic results or the gap between the haves and have nots.  Money is not the issue in Rhode Island’s education system, and it serves Rhode Island’s vulnerable communities poorly, indeed, not even to be raise that fact as a possibility.

As you can see by playing with the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive tool for comparing results on the national standardized NAEP tests, Rhode Island had actually closed the gap with national results when it comes to lower-income students … until after the 2011 tests.  Those reversed trends align conspicuously with the brakes that Governor Lincoln Chafee and the General Assembly applied to the reforms initiated by former Commissioner Deborah Gist under former Governor Donald Carcieri and may indicate that there’s a political ceiling on education reform that tries to work within the system, rather than shake it up.

Education is too important to add to the pile of things that Rhode Island is getting absolutely wrong during the Chafee-Fox and Raimondo-Mattiello years.