Even before I’ve managed to work through every bill that made its way through the General Assembly, this session, I’d have to say that legislators did grievous harm to the value of diplomas from Rhode Island public schools. At a minimum, the General Assembly undermined even a pitiful baseline for what the piece of paper proves and catered to the teachers’ unions to limit administrators’ (already meager) leverage in trying to get them to work harder and perform better. There’s really no question, at this point, that the brief ray of work-through-the-system education reform has effectively been blocked out.
That’s a shame, and a tragedy for students who have no choice but to go through government-branded schools in the state.
Salt in the wound is the expressed reasoning of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston):
“I became frustrated with the waiver process,” he said. “It produced inequitable results. Depending on where you lived, some communities were more liberal than others.” …
“That’s what government is supposed to do,” he said. “In a unique way, it’s supposed to serve the most humble members of our community.”
Notice that it’s Rhode Islanders, specifically students, whom the speaker sees as “humble”; it’s certainly not the legislature, whose members apparently have the massive competence to micromanage an education system serving over 100,000 children during its six-month, part-time adventure in telling other people how they must live.
Giving communities the ability to set different expectations is exactly the way to ensure that our government is representative. If one town wants to ensure that its diplomas are known far and wide to be proof of a mastery of knowledge and ability to learn, then families that prioritize such things will move there. If a city wants schools that amount to thirteen-year courses in building self-esteem, then it will produce the predictable results.
The General Assembly is not an appeals board for people dissatisfied with their communities to seek a solution that applies to the entire state. Local opposition is one of the few areas of accountability that government-branded schools actually face.
If members of the General Assembly really want to empower families to find the best opportunities for their own children, they should allow parents and guardians to choose where to direct the funds that the system sets aside for their children. It shouldn’t only be wealthier Rhode Islanders who are able to save their children from an unaccountable system that is set up mainly to preserve the high-paying jobs of teachers and the political power of unions.