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Backing off Moral Panic over Abuse

Moral panics can destroy lives, and the Providence Teachers Union is right to object to policies that give children the power to bump their teachers out of class, at least temporarily.  Ted Nesi and Tim White report for WPRI:

The Providence Teachers Union is asking the city’s school department to change the way it handles allegations of abuse against students in order to prevent its members from being placed on administrative leave without reasonable cause.

In a letter to Superintendent Chris Maher, the union claimed students have been “emboldened to make allegations at a whim knowing that the teacher will be removed from the building with no questions asked,” with some “taunting teachers with threats” of contacting the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families with abuse claims.

Students have to be protected, of course, but giving them that sort of power is reckless.  Trying to control the issue through punishments is also the wrong approach.  Schools shouldn’t want to put themselves in the position that they’ve created an incentive for false accusations and then have to do harm to students’ future prospects because they were drawn in by that incentive.

We need to back off the notion that we can protect everybody from harm with top-down policies and instead allow human judgment to play a role.  Another aspect of that approach is to dilute our sense that human beings are psychologically fragile to the point that every inappropriate word or touch should be assumed to have scarring damage.

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Nursing Education Center and Rhode-Island-Style Innovation

Take a moment to consider the import of this paragraph, from Ted Nesi’s report of the opening of a new combination URI/RIC nursing center and Brown University administrative center in Providence:

“This was a power plant across the street from the vibrant Jewelry District,” [Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo] said. “The economy is changing, and we’re not standing still. We’re changing with it. The New York Times just called this area, quote, ‘a busy hive of invention and collaboration.’ And so we’re changing the narrative of our whole state.”

In the past… the private market made Rhode Island a hub for a particular industry.  Now… the government collects $85 million from productive areas of the state’s economy to renovate a building vacated as the economic tide went out from the Ocean State and use it for bells and whistles at government-run universities and a wealthy tax-exempt non-profit.

Honestly, I don’t want to sound that cynical, but come on.  Now throw this into the mix:

The developer of South Street Landing was CV Properties LLC, a Boston-based firm led by Dick Galvin. Earlier this year, real-estate company Ventas Inc. paid nearly $130 million to buy the facility and a new 750-space parking garage being constructed next door from Blackstone Group LP. Ventas is the parent company of Wexford Science + Technology LLC, the developer building a high-profile innovation campus on the vacant 195 land in the same part of the city.

As I mentioned when I detailed the suspicious interconnections of the bigger Wexford deal, Ventas CEO Debra Cafaro and her husband are substantial Raimondo donors, located in the governor’s notable fundraising hot spot of Chicago.

Yeah, for the general public, renovated buildings make for nicer scenery than abandoned ones, but that doesn’t mean we should accept the surface story every time politicians proclaim the advance of public-sector-focused crony deals.  Somebody’s got to lose out, and we can be reasonably certain that it’s us.

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Government Good Intentions Edge in on the Family

Breakfast in school for lower-income children is not a public policy that many people are inclined to spend time arguing against, this author included.  That said, something in Bob Plain’s RI Future article promoting the program is worth highlighting:

Too many schools in Rhode Island are leaving federal money on the table when it comes to providing free breakfast to their students,” said Governor Gina Raimondo, who recently visited Veazie Street Elementary to draw attention to its breakfast program. “We know students can’t do their best work if they’re hungry.”

We should be careful not to lose the distinction between two things in the governor’s statement:

  1. Students who are well fed do better in school.
  2. Schools are missing out on money.

While I’ve forgotten the details, I recall from local discussions some years ago that districts can make their food programs into a bit of a profit center.  On the money front, the range goes from a well-intentioned effort to secure funding in order to feed children who otherwise wouldn’t be fed to a more-cynical plan to maximize money for the district for whatever purposes districts use money (mainly personnel).

Wherever a particular advocate or school district falls in that range, however, we ought to spare some sensibility to be shocked at something that is never mentioned in this context.  Nobody appears even to think of the possibility that some of the students for whom districts could collect money are adequately fed at home and that, by pushing the program, the government is pulling children away from a potentially family-boosting interaction.  At the very least, they’re transferring some of the child’s sense of who provides for him or her from the parents or guardians to the government.

We see this with government-subsidized child care.  On average, studies suggest that students receiving such care perform worse, particularly in behavior, and one explanation is that they draw children into a classroom setting instead of leaving them with parents, grandparents, or other individuals with direct relationships with the children.

We’re far too cavalier about the potential side effects of using government as a cure.

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Pay No Attention to the Consequence Behind the Curtain

Felix Fernandes recently posted a video from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which the host is debating a DNC advisor about federal transgender guidance for schools across the country.  The short clip is definitely worth watching in full:

The most glaring point of interest is the extremity of the left-wing position:  a simple statement of belief about your sex can change your sex.  The only objective consideration that the DNC advisor will entertain is the fact that a person in front of you is, at this moment, telling you that he/she is a woman/man.  Plainly put, this is an elevation of subjective feeling over any tangible reality.

Perhaps more important in the long term, though, is the guy’s response when Carlson takes the obvious step of pointing out the consequences when verifiable biology is made immaterial in the face of personal assertions.  Can I proclaim the same about my race?  Answer: No.  What happens if I apply for loans, scholarships, sports teams, et cetera, dedicated to those whose biology is different?  Answer: That’s an irrelevant question.

Carlson’s interlocutor just won’t acknowledge the validity of contrary claims — claims so irrefutable that they would have to be the basis of any logical consideration.  Instead, he breaks out the totalitarian catch phrases of the Left that bully people into submission, even having the audacity to charge Carlson with pseudoscience for asking how it all relates to biology.

To the extent that progressives are able to pull our society along in this emperor-has-no-genitals delusion, we’re signaling a willingness to gamble our entire civilization on the premise that the entire universe is a flexible social construct.  A much healthier path is simply to note that people who express such views are plainly insane.  They’ve already ruled out debate and common ground, so the wise choice is to side with reality.

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Overestimating the Concern of Education Officials

I think Sandra Stotsky overestimates the degree to which Rhode Islanders actually pay attention to things like the standardized tests that government schools give our children, but her NewBostonPost essay does serve notice to those who do that Massachusetts’s test mightn’t be the font of rigor that they think:

We don’t know if the Rhode Island Department of Education knows it has been bamboozled because state education officials there haven’t told Rhode Island parents that the “MCAS” tests it is giving Rhode Island students are PARCC in disguise. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education convinced Rhode Island education officials and the Rhode Island legislature to use the Bay State’s tests in place of Rhode Island’s previously used PARCC tests.  Did it tell Rhode Island education commissioner Ken Wagner and state Representative Gregg Amore that Massachusetts’s current tests, called MCAS, use mainly PARCC test items and bear no resemblance to the Bay State’s pre-Common Core tests?  That would be the ethical thing to do.

Why are PARCC tests being called MCAS in Massachusetts? Because state law (the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993) requires assessment of state standards in grade 10 through state tests called MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) and the law couldn’t be changed without the legislature knowing about the game being played. So, if the Massachusetts education department and state board of education keep the name, but change its substance, the governor, the secretary of education, and the state legislature won’t be, officially, wiser.

Wagner doesn’t seem like much of a boat rocker and is childless, while Amore is a now-retired union teacher.  In other words, they are more likely to be happy, rather than concerned, that the new test they’ve brought to the state won’t be as effective in illustrating how much our public education system isn’t teaching children.

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Teachers’ Chronic Absenteeism: Another Area of Bad Performance for RI

Summarizing research for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute by David Griffith, Jacob Grandstaff writes:

Griffith defines “chronic absence” as when a teacher misses more than ten school days for “sick” or “personal” leave. When he compares public school teachers with charter school teachers in this area, the difference is quite glaring. Public school teachers are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as charter school teachers, 28 percent to 10 percent. This is true in 34 of the 35 states that have a large percentage of charter schools. In eight states and the District of Columbia, public school teachers are at least four times as likely as charter school teachers to be absent.

The study finds the gap is the widest in areas that require public school teachers, but not charter school teachers, to bargain collectively. It also shows that it is not an issue of public schools, but of unionization. Unionized charter school teachers are twice as likely to be chronically absent from work as non-unionized charter school teachers.

According to the study, of the 35 states plus Washington, D.C., Rhode Island is the 4th worst for chronic public school absenteeism.  Add this to the mountain of evidence that the Ocean State’s public school system is not designed primarily for the benefit of our children.

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“Fake But True” Tars the Innocent

For The Washington Examiner, Byron York reviews the case of a hoax racial incident at the Air Force Academy that inspired the superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, to make a destined-to-go-viral statement in opposition to racism.  York goes on:

… The cadet candidate who reported the racial slurs has admitted that he was behind the whole thing. It was all a hoax. The young man, who is black, has left the academy.

Anyone who follows such incidents, certainly anyone in the news business, should have known that there was a substantial chance the Air Force Academy vandalism was a fake. Too many such incidents have turned out to be hoaxes not to raise suspicions about new ones, pending the results of an investigation.

There was the young black man in Kansas who admitted writing racist graffiti on his car. There was the black man in Michigan charged in three racist graffiti incidents at Eastern Michigan University. There was the young Muslim woman in New York who admitted making up a story about being attacked by white Trump supporters. The black Bowling Green State University student who said white Trump supporters threw rocks at her. The University of Louisiana student who said a white man wearing a Trump hat tried to pull off her hijab.

Then there was the wave of stories about threats to Jewish community centers — stories that received widespread news coverage in the context of the new Trump presidency. Most of the threats were made by a teenager in Israel, with the others made by a former journalist who was somehow trying to get back at a former girlfriend.

Upon the revelation of the Air Force Academy incident was a hoax, those who had lauded Lt. Gen. Silveria applied the “fake but true” salve, as did the man himself.  Surely, we can all agree that racism is worth denouncing, even in the abstract.  One gets the sense, though, that a practice of denouncing individuals who don’t actually exist too easily translates into denouncements of those within a group who might resemble the fictional perps in some superficial particular.

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Education Savings and Tax Reform

The Daily Signal has an analysis of the Congressional GOP’s tax reform proposal that includes this hidden gem:

The GOP tax plan would take the long-overdue step of allowing parents to use elementary and secondary education expenses under 529 savings plans. This could help parents across the country access more education options for their children.

A separate program — Coverdell savings accounts — already exists, but it is capped at $2,000 in contributions per year, and families are taxed on the income that they then put into the program.  The 529 approach would raise the cap to $10,000 that could ultimately be used tax free for school all the way through college and beyond. Most states also allow credits or deductions from income taxes for money contributed to 529s.

In other words, the change would move a program that, realistically, provides limited benefit to families that utilize private schools into one that could remove tax from a big chunk of the income that winds up in education expenses.  In short, that ultimately means a discount on education.

Reading up on the plan, however, raises a more fundamental point.  This whole system of giving some family spending preferential treatment through tax reduction is more complicated than families that don’t have financial advisors will necessarily pursue.  That’s more true in the case of programs involving investments, because they require the additional step of investing money through an account.

Of course, the investment-market lobby wouldn’t be very keen on the idea, but why not simply create a program that gives families the money for education directly?  The policy could easily cap each family’s voucher (or automatic education savings account contribution) at some amount of its taxes paid, but the math and the money flow would be more straightforward for the average American.

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CCRI Union: Students Will Have to Wait, We Won’t Innovate!

Watching government agencies like the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) attempt to maneuver around their labor unions can leave a private-sector observer scratching his or her head.

The college was all set to introduce a short, three-week semester in winter for interested students.  It was offering faculty an “overload” rate (which is like overtime) of $87.50 per hour, without affecting the pay and overload arrangements of their regular work, and some employees had agreed to the deal.  Then their labor union stepped in, and the plan is on hold.

In the private sector, management decides to try something, and if it can pull together the clients and the employees, even if it means hiring more on a contract basis, it gives an innovation a whirl.  What’s the union’s game, here?

The Providence Journal’s G. Wayne Miller reports the union’s excuse thus:

But CCRI Faculty Association president Steven D. Murray, in a YouTube video posted a week ago, objected.

“The college has unilaterally decided to offer courses in developmental math, developmental English, a course in human anatomy, all very difficult courses to accomplish in 15 weeks, let alone three weeks,” he said.

“The faculty who teach these courses tell me that to try to compress them into three weeks is academically unsound. They have similar J terms at other colleges, but our student population is very different than those other colleges. And we want to do what’s best for our students.”

That explanation has an air of plausibility until one realizes that this is college we’re talking about.  Nobody has to take the courses, and advisors should be able to dissuade those who aren’t ready.  Moreover, the program could attract new students, whether from other institutions or just from the private sector.

Perhaps Murray’s reference to “faculty who teach these courses” provides a clue.  Maybe the regular teacher of one of the courses won’t be the one teaching the “compressed” version and wants to protect his or her territory.  The union may also fear that the market will conclude that regular courses are unnecessarily extended.

Whatever the unspoken rationale for the objection, the bigger puzzle remains why our society uses government for anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be handled by it.

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A Policy That Puts Students First

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., is the president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which works with almost 50 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).  He had some strong statements to make to Allysia Finley for the Wall Street Journal.  Here are a few key points:

The root problem, Mr. Taylor explains, is that traditional public schools are failing to prepare students. In “economically fragile” communities, many low-income students graduate from high school without basic literacy, and those admitted to HBCUs often need remedial classes. That presents HBCUs with a dual challenge. “When you show up to my college, I’m in trouble and you’re in trouble,” Mr. Taylor says. “I can’t get you through, and the feds are holding me accountable for graduation rates. And you’re frustrated because you feel like you were shafted for 12 years by the secondary-school system—and you were.” …

He adds that “I don’t suggest that charters or vouchers or any of the other options are the panacea.” But he insists that if “you know that the traditional public school system is failing your children, to say, ‘I’m not going to do anything but pour more money into something I know is not working,’ should be criminal. And I know that’s a strong word—but it should be criminal because you are stealing children’s lives.” …

“We are nonpartisan,” he emphasizes before rushing off to give a keynote speech on criminal justice at the Charles Koch Institute’s Advancing Justice annual summit. “I hope we all start thinking: What’s in the best interest of the kid? If we let that be sort of our compass, our guiding light, then you don’t care what the union wants. You don’t care about what the NAACP wants.”

That’s really the key question, isn’t it?  The only question, ultimately, for public schools.  Revisit a post of mine from 2015 quoting former teacher union head Marcia Reback, who acknowledged that her job was to represent the teachers, not the students.  As Steiny related, “when their interests diverge, she said, ‘I represent the teachers.'”

And yet, our education system — our entire political system, in Rhode Island — is built with a tilt in their favor.  Somebody has to put the students first.

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Institutional Absurdity at Wheaton

Wheaton College, in Norton, Massachusetts, is apparently not a place designed to guide young adults fully into the adult world, to empower them to overcome challenges, or to train them to deal with differences between people.  Shaun Towne reports on WPRI that the college canceled the entire women’s soccer team’s participation in their conference tournament because one of the players attended a Halloween party in a costume of a movie character whose appearance required her to darken her skin.  That punishment is on top of consequences that the individual student may face for expressing herself in a way that the snowflakes who run the institution can’t handle, emotionally.

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Towne’s article includes the full text of a letter that President Dennis Hanno sent to the campus population.  Prospective students and their parents should judge for themselves whether the author of such a document, not intending it to be a parody, is likely to have the capacity to run an institution of higher education that is worth the price of admission:

The past few days have been disturbing and challenging for our community. A Wheaton student chose to wear blackface as part of an offensive and racist Halloween costume, and the incident raises difficult issues for all of us. …

This is a difficult moment for the college and our community and I am convinced that we can use this incident as a rallying point to build a better, more welcoming and inclusive place for all students, faculty and staff. I hope you will join me in this important work.

No kidding this controversy is disturbing. That a student and her teammates have been treated in this way over a costume shows how detrimental time spent at Wheaton can be.  When Hanno writes that the “college community aspires to be a place that welcomes a diverse group of students from every background and perspective,” he’s obviously lying.  Anybody who might think that young adults should be able to dress up as movie characters even when they’re of different races and that such activity actually speaks to a shared culture will obviously not be tolerated on campus.

(I wonder, by the way, if there isn’t an implicit sexism in the punishment.  Would the football team be treated so harshly, or are female sports seen as less-important affairs at Wheaton?)

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The Unspeakable Options to Repair Rhode Island’s Schools

Anybody who’s ever gone through a period of his or her life — or observed one in somebody close — during which he or she made the mistake of finding debt so easy as to avoid a necessary reduction in household spending will recognize what’s going on with the current push for new funding for school repairs.  Your budget seems impossible to manage without the debt, because unforeseeable yet inevitable expenses have a way of coming up.  You can’t know that the fridge is about to go or a health issue is cropping up out of sight or a loss of income is looming, but some of the expenses that can occur will occur over a given time period.

So, you spend money that ought to go into maintenance or savings on other things that seem justified at the time, and you wind up with the sort of thinking that Rhode Island’s young general treasurer, Seth Magaziner, exhibits when he “outlines funding options for school-facilities overhaul” in a Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal:

“I’ll argue that K-12 has been underfunded for a long time,” Magaziner said. “We haven’t had a K-12 bond [for school repairs] since 1984.”

One way to pay for these repairs is for the state to float a statewide bond to fund the pay-as-you-go system. He said a recent analysis projected that the state has the capacity to borrow $1.2 billion over 10 years.

When the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity developed its District Impact Model for Educational Scholarships (DIMES) tool for assessing the budgetary and enrollment effects of school policy, we found that school choice would free up hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars in government spending on education, depending how the policy was designed.  At the same time, school choice would draw more investment from parents and others into education in Rhode Island.

Yet, we hear about billions of dollars of new funding that the state, cities, and towns will have to find in order to repair or replace neglected buildings, because public officials don’t want to change how things are done and don’t want to revisit their priorities to find the money in existing revenue.

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A New Philosophical Underpinning of College Etiquette

Rob Soave’s article on Reason’s Hit & Run Blog — about a bisexual student who found bureaucratic trouble at the University of Texas–San Antonio when he told a classmate (outside of class) that he has reservations about Islam given the number of Islamic countries in which he could be put to death — is worrisome and interesting for a variety of reasons.  The possible angles span from the hierarchy of intersectionality to the deterioration of academia to the threat of being sent to “the Behavior Intervention Team” to the professor’s reflexive anti-Americanism (likening the United States to the countries to which the student referred).

Those interested in how people construct their views and arguments, however, might be interested in this snippet of the recorded conversation between student Alfred MacDonald and Philosophy Department Chairwoman Eve Browning:

BROWNING: Those are things that would get you fired if you were working in my office. The Islam comment would get you fired.

MACDONALD: …Would it really get me fired to say that I could be killed somewhere?

BROWNING: In that situation as you’ve described it, absolutely yes.

MACDONALD: How?

BROWNING: Don’t even ask. It’s clear you’re not taking my word for it. I don’t care to convince you. If I can’t persuade you that it’s in your interest to behave in ways that other people don’t find offensive and objectionable, then at least I’ve done my job.

MACDONALD: Well I know that it’s in my interest. I’m just trying to understand the reasoning.

BROWNING: You don’t have to.

MACDONALD: Well, this is a truth-seeking discipline!

The spectacle of a progressive college professor telling a student that he doesn’t have to understand the reasoning behind an asserted standard is almost too close to type to be believed.  Note, too, how well the exchange counts as evidence toward my repeated observation that the political postures that people take at any given time are among the most superficial aspects of their being.  In earlier eras, Browning would likely have taken exactly the same sort of stance on the traditionalist views that progressives claim to reject.  One suspects that the desire to assert certitude and power comes first, and the ethos draped around that desire is the ephemera of the time.

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One-Size-Fits-All Transgender Mandate Puts Students At Risk

The transgender issue extends far beyond bathroom or locker-room rights. As expressed in a June 2016 “guidance” document from the RI Department of Education (RIDE) on transgender rights, RIDE itself will be seeking to bully local school districts into conformity, openly flaunting its disrespect of other students and of parental rights.

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