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RI Dept of Education Transgender Guidelines Continue Disturbing Trend of Government by Political Correctness

[The RI Department of Education has announced “comprehensive guidelines” with regard to transgender students, though the ProJo reports that it is not a mandate. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity this morning issued the following statement.]

While professing to protect students from bullying and to respect all students, the RI Department of Education (RIDE), via its June 2016 Guidance Document on Transgender Students, itself appears to have been bullied by the federal government; seeks to bully local school districts into conformity; and openly flaunts its disrespect of of other students.

In perpetuating a disturbing trend of ‘government by political correctness’, RIDE has succumbed to federal pressure and has adopted a one-size-fits-all position that may not be compatible with the morals held by many public school families. There may never be a more obvious reason to empower parents with additional choices to escape an increasingly politicized government school system that does not respect their personal values.

The repeated emphasis in the document on laws dealing with “discrimination” can only be seen as a heavy-handed threat to local school districts, who may choose not to conform, by elitist bureaucrats who believe they know what’s in our family’s best interests.

The open and blatant disrespect (page-9, paragraph-2) for the comfort level of the majority of students, in favor of the comfort of a tiny minority of students, along with the disdain for the rights of parents and the sanctity of the family (page-7, paragraph-2), is particularly alarming.

The Center maintains that no single statewide or federal dictate can possibly satisfy the varying sentiments among Rhode Island’s diverse array of local communities.

Related: Video commentary by CEO Mike Stenhouse on The Ocean State Current following release of federal “guidance” document in May of 2016.


A Teacher Calls Out Teacher Seniority

Whoa. Exactly right, dude. (From an op-ed in yesterday’s Providence Journal.)

Is putting such emphasis on seniority really in the best interests of the teachers? We, as teachers and professionals, look foolish showing the door to a rising superstar while retaining the services of “Mr. Deadwood” upstairs in history.

If I’m clearly an underperforming teacher why am I not on the short list to be shown the door? What can we possibly tell students who lament losing that rising superstar when they sincerely ask, “Why is the abysmal Mrs. Do-Little still here?” Good question, kids. Unfortunately, the answer has nothing to do with what’s best for you. Sad.


Hassenfeld Poll

There are some interesting results in the Hassenfeld Institute poll that’s floating around Twitter (but somehow not yet mentioned on its Web site):

  • 50% of respondents think the state is headed in the wrong direction.
  • 52% would grade Rhode Island’s public schools at a C or worse, although that drops to 31% when parents are asked about the schools that their own children attend.
  • Respondents were pretty evenly split on the question of whether the state Dept. of Education has too much, too little, or just enough oversight, although 67% think there’s too much emphasis on standardized testing.
  • Nonetheless, 87% think it would be important for schools to have higher standards.
  • Although the phrasing and context are different, the poll found even stronger support (78% somewhat/very important) for school choice than did the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s poll, with the Friedman Foundation, a few years ago.

If there is an overall summary, I’d say that Rhode Islanders know the state needs a change, but they’re not sure what it should look like, even in the relatively narrow field of education.  At the most simplistic level, those who want to effect change have to do two things:  1) Cut through the distractions and noise of the powerful people and groups who benefit by keeping intact exactly the structures that are harming the state, and 2) make people believe that change can happen — not just little bits of obvious correction here and there, but big change.


Lack of Higher Ed Diversity an Existential Threat

Multiple folks around the Internet have highlighted a remarkable column from progressive writer Nicholas Kristof.  After observing on Facebook a conspicuous difficulty for would-be academics who are conservative, and being surprised by the viciousness of his “friends,” Kristof writes:

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion.  My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself.  When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.

Well, yes.  Anybody who was a vocal conservative in a college classroom any time within at least the last quarter century knows what that echo chamber sounds like.  Anecdotally, though, it seems as if things have gotten far worse; at least when I was a college upstart, the professors seemed to appreciate having a foil, and although some would notch down grades or demure from the writing of grad school recommendations, they at least gave the impression of mutual respect.

Those unwritten recommendations appear to have worked their magic, though, and all but emptied campuses of conservative professors precisely in areas in which having a diversity of worldviews is most important.

Kristof cites a study that seems to suggest that conservatives/Republicans engage in similarly biased behavior when it’s available, but such a finding should raise questions.  After all, it’s entirely possible that liberals exclude conservatives in academic settings for malicious reasons while conservatives would (at least in an experimental setting) exclude liberals because they know their fellow conservatives need all the help they can get.

Until evidence suggests otherwise, I’m inclined to return, for an explanation, to the ideological insecurity I mentioned earlier today and add in the deliberate (if often subconscious) “march through the institutions.”  This is how the Left has undermined a strong, culturally confident civilization: by infecting and overwhelming the institutions that allowed it to transmit its confidence and to build upon the virtues that gave it something to be confident about.


UPDATED: A School Musical and Pushing the Envelope with Your Children

The focal story in this week’s Sakonnet Times begins by noting that Tiverton High School’s now-running student musical marks the first time any high school in the entire state has performed Hair in the half century since it was released.  There’s a reason for that, and it’s the same reason the school felt the need to put a disclaimer on its fliers, warning in bolded all caps: “FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.”

Younger brothers and sisters of the performers… sorry, you’re out of luck.  The public high school is apparently no place for children in Tiverton.

Drama director Gloria Crist notes that she modified the nudity scene, replacing the potential child pornography with something involving glow sticks.  She also notes that there won’t be any depictions of drug use actually on the stage.  As for the script’s profanity, Crist says she took some out, but “kept the rest in, with taste of course.”

Those familiar with the musical — and I had the soundtrack memorized at one point — might question the judgment of taste by somebody who would choose this play for a school production involving children as young as 14 or 15.  I’ve requested from the district a song list and the libretto but have not yet received any reply.

According to Crist, Tams-Witmark Music Library, which owns the rights to Hair, refused to let the school cut the nudity scene, but allowed the glow-stick creativity.  One wonders whether the school was permitted to cut some of the songs, like “Sodomy” (“Masturbation can be fun/Join the holy orgy Kama Sutra everyone”); “Initials,” in which LBJ takes the IRT and sees “the youth of America on LSD,” or “The Bed.”  If individual parents want to validate this sort of content for their own children, that’s one thing, but for a public high school to be giving it a seal of approval is wholly inappropriate.

No doubt much of the most objectionable content has been removed or softened, but even so, “clever work-arounds,” as the article puts it, for content that goes too far even for radicals have a tendency to invite curiosity, especially among children with access to the Internet wherever they go, carrying the implied approval of the public school system.

Even edited, there’s simply no way to tease out the glorification of sex and drug culture in Hair.  Rhode Island is the sixth-highest state in the nation for drug overdose deaths, according to the CDC.  Addressing the counterculture of the ’60s in an academic setting is appropriate, to be sure, but Hair revels in it, promotes it.  Indeed, Crist seems to intend the explicit propagandizing of the town’s children: “It has been so powerful to watch them get it. But they do. They understand what freedom of choice is, social justice…”

This sort of decision by the school department certainly affirms the decisions of many parents who choose private schools for their children, but parents who lack the resources are stuck.  Frankly, if public school is now about pushing the envelope in this way, the case is even stronger for allowing parents to use the funds set aside for their children to make better decisions.

UPDATE (5/19/16; 8:11 a.m.)

Given a resurgence of attention to this post, I should note that the school administration did send me a song list, and I have watched the performance (although the video on YouTube has since been switched to private).  Busy days and other priorities combined with indecision about whether it would be appropriate to publicize an unofficial video of the performance led to the delay of this update.

The songs “Sodomy” and “The Bed,” described above, were removed from the script, but “Initials” was kept, as were other inappropriate songs, like “Hashish,” which lists drugs and ends with “s-e-x, y-o-u” and a euphoric “wow.”  Much of the sexual content of the musical remained, the anti-Catholic parts were actually more aggressive than I would have expected.


Where Do the Numbers Come from for Public Union Negotiations?

Don’t get too caught up in the conflicting claims about negotiations over the Warwick teacher union negotiations.  Even if it’s completely true that the union countered a relatively reasonable offer from the school department with an outlandish joke, that fact is most significant because of its illustration of the fact that they’re really just throwing darts at a board:

On April 20, members of the union and the School Department met with mediator Vincent F. Ragosta Jr. Thornton says that the School Department offered a 2-percent raise every year for the next three years. The union disputes that, stating that the initial offer was no raise for the first year, and 2 percent raises in each of the next two years.

Thornton stated that the union countered with a demand for a 10-percent raise each year for three years. He added that the request would result in most teacher salaries reaching $100,000 by 2018.

Three sequential 10% raises is obviously outrageous, but what makes three 2% raises not outrageous, except for the fact that the union wants even more?  What are these numbers based on?

Is Warwick’s enrollment growing?  No.  According to the state’s data, Warwick’s enrollment has fallen every year since the turn of the millennium, with an average annual drop of 2%, with 3,125 fewer students starting the 2015-2016 school year as started the 2000-2001 school year in the district; that’s a 34% drop.

Are the residents of Warwick substantially wealthier, such that they can pay for increases in the school budget despite decreases in students?  Not really.  Sure, according to the U.S. Census, median household income increased from the $46,483 in the 2000 Census to $62,803 for 2014 (a 2% annual average increase), but employment fell from 63.6% to 62.1%, and individuals living in poverty increased from 5.9% to 7.3%.

Are Warwick residents gaining wealth on their homes?  No.  From 2010 to 2014, according to the Census, the median home value fell from $234,300 to $198,200 (-15%).

Are the schools preforming at very high levels? It wouldn’t seem so, considering that not a single one is recognized as “commended” by the state.

So, again:  By what criteria can a smaller population with many fewer children, more poverty, and falling home values afford any increases in teacher pay at all?  If a business or other private organization were contemplating raises (especially contracted out for three years), it would have to base them on experienced and expected sales or other revenue, as well as productivity and the ability of the employer to replace employees who feel they deserve more money than the employer is willing to pay.

In the public sector, by contrast, we see the very different dynamic that one might expect when the negotiation is a bit more like: “How much can you and I take from that guy over there?”


Whose Diploma and What Accountability?

Watching the center-ring clowns of Rhode Island’s education establishment blow reform bubbles at each other provides numerous opportunities for incredulity from the watching public, but this statement deserves to be on the big-top’s central screen:

[RI Education Commissioner Ken] Wagner says he is trying to maintain rigorous standards without sacrificing students. To do that, he wants to offer two commendations beyond the traditional diploma: one for high academic achievement, the other to recognize individual expertise, say, a concentration in the arts.

“Students told us, ‘This is my diploma. Let me show you what I’m good at,'” he said.

If the state’s top education bureaucrat echoes that particular student inanity, I’d recommend anybody with the means should flee the public education system in this state.  (Rather, I’d re-up my recommendation to do that.)  A high school diploma is worthless if it’s little more than a marker that a child has occupied space for a minimum amount of time and proven that he or she is capable of finding something at which he or she doesn’t fail.

In a crucial way, it isn’t a particular student’s diploma.  It’s the system’s diploma.  It is a signal that the student has fulfilled the requirements of the education system, and those requirements define the value of receiving their final approval.  Moreover, inventing new levels of higher achievement (because we lack the guts to devalue participation awards) will be a Rhode Island quirk that most individuals, colleges, and employers will glance right over.

And then there’s this (likely) meaningless talking point:

Wagner wants to eliminate the state’s latest standardized test as a high school graduation requirement. The state would continue to test students but the districts would be held accountable, not the students.

How exactly is the state going to hold districts accountable?  Take away money?  Contractual pressure and economic reality make that little different than placing the consequences on students.  Do something that ensures that administrators and teachers receive some sort of professional or financial penalty?  The unions and their elected puppets would never let that go through.  Let parents take their kids out of the district and send them to private school using the money set aside for them?  That move would have to come straight from brave, determined elected officials (who don’t currently exist in sufficient numbers).

These are all smoky promises and hollow threats, and Rhode Island’s children deserve better.


Governor Raimondo’s Education Commissioner Wants to Further Erode Student Achievement

… that can be the only conclusion from his stated intent, as reported in today’s Providence Journal.

State education Commissioner Ken Wagner wants to remove a controversial new standardized test as a high school graduation requirement for students.

For the most part, Governor Raimondo has only paid lip service – lots and lots of robotic lip service – to her campaign promise to create jobs and improve the state’s economy. Will she permit Commissioner Wagner to do the same with regard to improving K-12 education in Rhode Island?


Charter School Demand Isn’t Surprising; Narrow Vision Is

It just isn’t surprising that demand for charter schools far outstrips available seats in Rhode Island, but I’m not sure the Providence Journal editorial board draws the right lessons.  After all, charter schools are — or at least people’s perception of them is that they are — tantamount to free-to-the-family private schools, and parents don’t have to be but so motivated as advocates for their children to seek free private schooling for their children.

The peculiarity is that the Projo editors won’t consider the possibility of modestly helping families afford actual private schools, even just a little.  Given the editors’ advocacy for charter schools, they can’t really turn around and argue that real school choice would take money away from schools, because charter schools do that even more.

One plausible argument, I guess, would be that the public maintains some level of control over charter schools, because they’re still public schools, but then it isn’t obvious why the editors would see legislation giving local taxpayers some leverage when it comes to charter schools as an unjust attack on them.

Now throw this into the mix:

The combined hit [of budget and leverage reforms] “would force the majority of Rhode Island’s highly successful independent and district charter schools to shut their doors in a matter of years,” [Timothy Groves, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools,] warned.

So, these free-to-the-parents, private-like public schools can’t survive without total subsidization arguably beyond the very-high level of public schools.

One wonders what the demand for charters would be if parents were required to pay some nominal fee to make up the difference.  The Projo complains about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s intention to reduce district funding of charters by about $700 per student, but $700 per year would be a very low tuition for parents, compared with existing private options.

Frankly, the underlying logic spins the head.  We need “public school choice” so the public has some control, but we can’t let the public make decisions about the schools.  We’re impressed by the demand, but we can’t let parents pay some small tuition.

One gets the impression that, proclamations aside, the advocacy places more emphasis on whatever it is that makes the word “public” magic rather than on whatever it is that makes school choice beneficial for children.  Either that, or it’s more of a statement of “we like these schools and the people who run them, and we think everybody should have to pay for them without much by way of accountability.”


Religious Faith at URI and Intellectual Diversity

The blind spot and contradiction in Lynn Arditi’s Providence Journal article, yesterday, about the religious beliefs of University of Rhode Island President David Dooley are so huge that Rhode Island progressives would feel the chill of its shadow if they were able to conceive of it.  Start at the end of the article:

One of the best reasons to go to college, Dooley said, is to explore one’s beliefs and ideas about the world in a safe environment. And a public university like URI, he said, is the best place to do that exploration.

“You don’t find the diversity” at religious institutions or small private colleges, he said, as you do at a large public university. “There’s an understanding of what the acceptable boundaries are of faith. The best place to get an education is when you’re in the midst of a place where people don’t think like you … where people have the ability to build bridges and find common ground.”

So a large public university is a place where faith is kept in the box that the (largely left-wing and secularist) academics believe it belongs.  Now flip back to the beginning of the article:

The president of the University of Rhode Island on Thursday publicly addressed a topic rarely broached by leaders of secular academic institutions.

How much diversity can there really be and how much exploration can students really do when a major part of anybody’s intellectual foundation (a belief system) is shoved beyond “boundaries” that universities’ “leaders” seldom cross — particularly when the Christian perspective that has informed the development of Western civilization and that still undergirds the beliefs of most Americans is targeted for special dismissal?

Toward the end of my own time at URI a decade and a half ago, when I was still an atheist, I attended some sort of honors colloquium event at which leaders from various faiths presented an audience-participation-heavy discussion.   An organizer later told me that the priest and rabbi who led the discussion were surprised by the hostility of some of the students, but I think that slightly misses the real atmosphere.

The problem was that there was no counterbalance to the few students who were actively and arrogantly hostile.  One could have picked those students out of a line up simply by having been told what their attitude had been.  But the religious authorities in the room were clearly timid about imposing their views (that is, defending their beliefs).  As for the students, any strong believers must have learned to keep their religious beliefs within their “acceptable boundaries,” and all of us who fell somewhere between them and the hostiles simply had not learned how to integrate religious topics into an intellectual discussion, except as targets for shooting straw men with secularist guns.

I don’t think it extrapolates too much to suggest that that atmosphere at a large public university at the turn of the millennium explains quite a bit about our current problems and the collapse of intellectual life.


RI Elite Approaches Jobs and Education from the Wrong Angle

I agree with the Providence Journal editorial board that:

Rhode Island needs a dramatic, game-changing, long-term plan to raise the bar in its public schools if the state is going to be in a position to supply the talent that 21st century businesses are looking for.

I’d say that means full school choice through education savings accounts (ESAs), while the editors likely mean another attempt at “fix the system” reforms, which have proven to be mildly effective and to have a political ceiling.  But let’s put that difference of opinion aside for a more relevant, and probably deeper, one.  The editorial is most useful in the direct way in which it approaches the idea of economic development from exactly the wrong angle:

There was a time when businesses chose locations for their proximity to raw materials such as lumber or copper. But “today, people are the natural resources,” Meredith Amdur, an analytics expert at the advisory firm CEB, told the newspaper. Indeed, finding the right labor pool can be the most important factor in choosing a location. Not surprisingly, regions “with fewer degree holders could struggle to attract big corporations,” the report warned.

The Projo’s approach is one in which human beings are a stationary resource akin to the natural qualities of an area and, worse, one in which it is appropriate for state government to use public schools and other programs to reshape the population to fit the interests of corporate executives.

As is usually the case, inaccurate and immoral conceptualization leads to practical difficulties.  To wit, even if we train young Rhode Islanders to fit the bill of the aforesaid executives,  employees remain more mobile than companies, especially young employees.  For the company to move, the cost of moving to or starting up in Rhode Island would have to be less than the premium necessary to draw an expert Rhode Island workforce away.

And that’s assuming technology doesn’t shift ever so slightly in a way that makes all of that taxpayer-funded technical instruction obsolete.  In other words, the assumption must be that the state’s public education system can be nimble enough and the state’s leaders sufficiently prognosticative to predict the future of the marketplace.

The basic problem is that Rhode Island’s elite, which includes the Providence Journal editorial board, doesn’t want to give up the heavy hand it has in determining what the state and its people should be like.  If we’d just lower the cost and difficulty of doing business here, and if we’d just give our neighbors maximum flexibility to make decisions for themselves, including in education, then businesses for which Rhode Island makes sense for other reasons will set up shop within our borders, and those of our neighbors attracted to those industries will rush for the opportunity.

Freedom and economic health go hand in hand, and the opposing option is aristocracy and stagnation.  One can only conclude that those who insist on aristocracy are actually just fine with the stagnation.


ProJo Editorial Endorses RIPEC Education Findings

Many of us were shocked and bewildered when the Providence Journal’s editorial board inexplicably went all in on Governor Raimondo’s highly damaging tolls. We haven’t either forgiven or forgotten that the board pretended to fall for the patently lame reasons put out by the Governor to get her completely unnecessary, politically selfish toll program passed. The result since then is that some of us look askance and even skeptically at the ProJo’s editorials.

But credit where credit is due. In an editorial yesterday, they echoed the conclusions and brook-no-excuses sentiment of RIPEC’s recent report on education. For that, the ProJo’s editorial board should be applauded.

The data shows Rhode Island public schools generally plod along near the national average, while Massachusetts students consistently outperform those in most other states on national tests, and its schools overall are among the best in America. …

The RIPEC report stands as a useful guide to the differences of Massachusetts and Rhode Island education reform. We hope key policymakers read it, absorb it, and follow its key recommendations to move the Ocean State along.


Whoa: RIPEC Report Says State Policy, Not Funding, is Reason RI Schools Lag Far Behind Mass

WPRI’s Dan McGowan covers. Thank you, RIPEC.

In a 57-page report released Thursday, RIPEC makes the case that state policy – not funding or socioeconomic factors – is one of the key reasons Rhode Island lags far behind its neighbor to the north when it comes to student performance.


Mike Stenhouse: Empowerment Schools Cannot Replace Charter Schools or School Choice

In today’s Providence Journal, R.I. Center for Freedom and Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse expresses concern about proposed “empowerment schools” and calls for an all of the above approach to education in Rhode Island.

Only an all-of-the-above approach can meet this demand. So, if the empowerment school program is added to the existing school choice menu, then it’s a positive step.

However, if empowerment schools are being positioned as alternative charter schools, it would actually dis-empower parents, reducing their options, and would be yet another deceptive ploy by our government to advance a hidden, special-interest agenda.


New RIPEC Study Confirms More Money Does Not Equal Student Achievement

More to come from RIPEC on this subject. But with regard to dollars spent, the numbers do not lie. From today’s ProJo.

Although Rhode Island and Massachusetts spend about the same on public education per student, Bay State students continue to outperform those here, despite recent reforms in Rhode Island.

By one measure, Rhode Island teachers have the highest salaries in the country. But student achievement here is at best average.

It is now clear that while throwing money at education budgets may have helped lots of local officials around the state get in good with teachers unions (and contributed significantly to higher property taxes), it has not boosted student achievement.


The Model of Redistributing Education Money

The American Interest highlights a model for education funding in Illinois that strikes a number of familiar chords for Rhode Island (via Instapundit):

A big part of blue state politics is the effort to equalize school spending across districts; rich Illinois suburbs can afford better schools than poor towns and cities, so they are asked to send extra money to Springfield to subsidize underfunded schools in Chicago. And it’s not just Illinois—state Democratic parties across the country are eager to subsidize schools in poor places with money raised in rich ones. (Incidentally, this may be one reason Democrats are struggling at the state level).

In the author’s opinion, this model might be just fine except for the fact that local interests on the subsidized side of the ledger want to keep control over their own affairs.  That is, they want to set their own priorities and budgets and tell the folks in wealthier communities how much money to send.

Things may operate a little differently in Rhode Island than Illinois, given our size.  The urban ring is a proportionally larger part of the state, so its representatives have an easier time running the state government for their own regional interests.  That simply makes matters worse, though.  In Rhode Island, all of government is an exercise in taking money from whoever has it in order to give it to whoever’s connected.

With fix-the-system reforms in the last decade, the administration of Republican Governor Donald Carcieri attempted at least to make districts accountable by implementing consequential statewide testing and some limited school choice through charters.  The insiders didn’t like the pressure, so they’re successfully pushing back.

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s alternative approach of setting up about a half dozen in-district “empowerment schools” that must have strong insider buy-in and that won’t be up and running for a number of years is simply not going to be consequential.  So, children will continue to suffer the effects of poor education and the state will continue to suffer the loss of its productive class as people who want to live in a dynamic society continue to make the decision that it’s not worthwhile to remain in a place where government sees them as nothing more than a funding source.


Empowering Schools to Stay in the Status Quo Fold

It looks like RI education commissioner Ken Wagner is getting another bite at the apple for public promotion of his “empowerment school” idea, which I addressed back in January.  Dan McGowan’s got a handy question-and-answer-style review, but Linda Borg’s promotional article  is notable for the refreshing honesty that it includes from Wagner:

“Quality charter schools make the whole system stronger,” Wagner said. “But we absolutely need a strategy to reduce the demand for charter schools. We must … strengthen our neighborhood schools so they can compete.”

In combination with new restrictions making their way through the pipeline — especially legislation that would give local governments more say in whether to accept new or expanded charters serving students from their towns — one could surmise that the effort is not so much to improve district schools to make them competitive in a growing landscape of actual school choice, but to reroute that demand back toward an in-district, more-union-friendly variation on charter schools.

I’ve argued, before, that taxpayers are absolutely justified in demanding more say when it comes to the big invoices that charter schools are permitted to send to them for payment and that charters have become a method of disrupting the private-school market.  That said, these “empowerment schools” have the feel of going in the wrong direction, particularly to the extent that teachers unions and other insiders get on board with the idea.


What Would “Empowerment Schools” Really Empower?

I’m getting a bad feeling about this proposal by new state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner.

From budgeting to class schedules, Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner on Wednesday unveiled a plan to give principals and teachers sweeping control over most of the major decisions made in their schools every day.

Participation by schools, including the ominous open enrollment aspect of the plan, would be completely voluntary (at this point). What is so concerning about the plan is that this comment appears to be the sole reference to the critical question of how “empowerment schools” would improve student achievement.

Wagner said principals and teachers should be given more flexibility because they’re the ones who know their students the best.

The question of how to improve student achievement has to be the focus of state education policy. But it seems to have been largely left out of the “empowerment school” proposal.

With regard to the critical matter of student achievement, why aren’t we pursuing what works rather than trying to reinvent the wheel? Student achievement rose during the tenure of former Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. We need to continue what she was doing before the General Assembly deplorably interfered by suspending the NECAP standardized test (“thoughtful pause” – snort) to appease their union masters.

Or if anything to do with the prior Education Commissioner is too upsetting for some people, the gold standard of education for years has been right next door in Massachusetts. As WPRO’s John Loughlin has said repeatedly, let’s simply emulate what they did to achieve this.

Refusal to take either of these paths means our elected officials are continuing to put special interests over the best interest of and highest education results for our children. Especially in the era of ratcheted back standardized testing, there is a real danger that “empowerment schools” will only empower a lack of education accountability and a corresponding lowering of student achievement when we need to do exactly the reverse.


Johnston Councilwoman – and Dean of RWU – Taking Best of Both Possible Worlds

Well, this is a tad awkward. Investigative reporter Jim Hummel has rumbled Johnston Councilwoman Stephanie P. Manzi and her husband sending their children to (presumably) better schools in Narragansett on the residency basis of an 800 square foot cottage in that town while grabbing a homestead exemption for their house in Johnston.

Councilwoman Manzi told us the cottage – and not this 3,200-square-foot house in Johnston they’ve owned for more than a decade – is where the children live.

Hummel: “Full-time?’’
Manzi: “Full-time.’’
Hummel: “You’re sure about that?’’
Manzi: “Yes I am.’’

Yes, awkward, especially as Councilwoman Manzi is currently Dean of the Roger Williams University School of Justice Studies. Dr. Manzi is certainly practicing “real world practical application” of the resources of two different towns.

… one of the most valuable tools that we can provide our students with is the ability to link the theoretical knowledge in the classroom to its real-world practical application.


Poorly Educated Millennials and the Urgency of Fixing Education

Testing company ETS has released a report that puts an exclamation point on our need to pursue a comprehensive and rapid reform of our nation’s education system:

One central message that emerges from this report is that, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.

As a nation, we’re failing our children and, therefore, ourselves.  We’re spending a great deal of money, and young adults are spending a great deal of time, on activities that we label “education,” but that aren’t producing results up to expectations and that seem designed more to indoctrinate our youth with a particular worldview while funding a particular ideological and political class.  Add to this anecdotal evidence in life and current events suggesting that young adults are less well equipped to handle disagreement.

We go too far, I think, in behaving as if a person’s growth ends when he or she leaves the fantasy land of education and enters “real life”; much the opposite is true.  Still, it represents a tremendous waste of resources if Americans spend the first 20-25 years of their lives being poorly educated and absorbing a corrosive ideology and then must spend the next 10-20 years developing skills they actually need while adjusting their worldviews to reality — doing damage to our culture all the while.

On both fronts, we face an urgent need to break the stranglehold that special interests have on our education system, and the tepid prodding that we’re currently doing in Rhode Island — attempting to improve things little by little without upsetting any of the harmful influences — will not work sufficiently, even if our children had time to wait for its slow implementation.


Colleges Suffering for Their Campus Lunacy Remind of Rhode Island

Over the past… what?… six months, America has watched its campuses taking the next step in their descent toward madness.  One can’t help but get the sense that they may no longer be places where learning is the top priority, but rather that they have moved on even from indoctrination to the stage of training shock troops for ideological war.  We may now be beginning to see what happens when students who do not wish to invest so much in that sort of training (and their parents) look for institutions that won’t make them the background bit-players on which the apprentices of outrage can practice.

In Missouri, for example, enrollment is down at the state’s flagship campus, and Mizzou is facing an unexpected deficit of $32 million.  Locally, the Brown Daily Herald may be reporting hints of a similar reaction among non-donating alumni of Brown University:

Students at the call center who chose to remain anonymous cited multiple instances in which alums have chosen not to donate as a result of student activism in recent years.

The Herald article adds an interesting wrinkle that ought to raise doubts about the university’s — about universities’ — ability to respond to the feedback they’re getting from those outside of their towers:

Another staff member pointed out that though older alums may be worried about the direction Brown is moving in and refusing to donate, these may be the same alums who are upset that Brown started accepting students of color or became co-educational.

True to the progressive formula, which prevents substantive communication and reconsideration through its control of language and handbook of knee-jerk explanations, this staff member doesn’t seem to understand why people might be uncomfortable with scenes like this, this, and this,  with the complementary indications that real free speech has been driven underground in a way against which we’d all thought Dead Poets Society and decades of similar themes had provided immunization:

Another staff member pointed out that though older alums may be worried about the direction Brown is moving in and refusing to donate, these may be the same alums who are upset that Brown started accepting students of color or became co-educational.

No need to consider the outrageous behavior of social justice warriors on campus; those non-donating alums are probably just racist misogynists.

Rhode Islanders, especially, ought to pay attention to these developments, because the campuses are providing a miniature of our state’s experience.  Give in to special interests and force people to live in a bizarre, contrived environment that doesn’t provide for their needs and interests, and they’ll go elsewhere.  Just as colleges and universities appear to to be turning away from education as a first priority, so too Rhode Island has turned away from its people.

In the long run, nothing is too big to fail, not even a state.


Who Pays for Education and What It Proves

Yesterday, I had an interesting Sunday Twitter conversation when local policy guru Gary Sasse suggested that Rhode Island should replace its notion that “tax incentives and real estate deals” are game changers and instead focus on “education, education and education.”  By way of agreeing, John Ward of Woonsocket asserted that Rhode Island is last in the country when it comes to state funding (“participation”) in public education, suggesting that this points to the problem of our high property-tax burden, to which Sasse added the specific that RI ranks 44th in portion of school funding coming from the state.

That raises an interesting topic — one of those that illustrates both how slippery statistics can be (advising caution about their use) and how useful such data points can be for narrowing down what people find to be important and what they believe would change things for the better.  Such exercises may be the only way really to advance policy discussions.

Although I couldn’t get anybody to point me to a specific source, I think they were referring to a Census report from last June that breaks down state-level 2013 education funding by use and by source.  Indeed, according to Table 5 in the report, Rhode Island is 44th  on the list for the percentage of public elementary and secondary school funding that comes from “state sources.”

The problem, for John’s property tax point, is that Rhode Island improves a little, moving to 42nd, when it comes the percentage of funding that comes from “local sources.”  More importantly, the states that rely more on local revenue (which is presumed, in the conversation, to be a bad thing holding Rhode Island back) are more-directly comparable to Rhode Island as a regional matter: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.

Another dimension of the ranking that Sasse original cited can’t be ignored — namely, the amount that each state spends in total.  Rhode Island’s funding from local sources is 7th highest (not counting Washington, D.C.), behind its near neighbors.  But our state funding is hardly back-of-the-pack, at 21st, and is supplemented by the 9th-highest federal funding.  In other words, that original percentage (state portion of funding) results from the facts that (1) the state spends so much in total and (2) the local governments add so much more into it.

Now, I’m definitely not one to deny that the state forces much of this cost onto localities, through funding mandates and laws in favor of labor unions that drive up local costs.  But that doesn’t mean the answer is to shift the excessive burden from local taxpayers onto state-level taxpayers, much less that doing so would be a game-changing economic development move.


When Academics Get in the Way of Activism

I don’t think I can, in good conscience, leave this Brown Daily Herald article about the difficulty that students at the university are having balancing academics and activism, without comment, so I’ll pivot off of Katherine Timpf’s suggestion:

If you want to do no college coursework and full-time social-justice work, how about just not going to college and doing social justice work full time?

Brilliant, I know. I don’t know how I thought of it either! What’s more, it can actually save you from racking up all of that student-loan debt that you’re always also complaining about!

Honestly, I don’t see why a social-justice activist would need to spend money on an education anyway . . . it’s so clear that they’re already so much smarter than the rest of us.

Obviously, the problem for these students is that their lives at Brown are either fully or substantially subsidized through loans, scholarships, and or parental largess, creating a substantial cost to dropping out.  Why the government, the school, or the parents would subsidize this acadmicesque lifestyle, I’m not sure.

And frankly, given the news that the activists are able to get classroom extensions for the purpose of being socially aware makes me wonder why anybody seeking actual academic rigor would consider Brown at all.