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Educational Efficiency Requires Lower Spending

Here’s an interesting study.  It’s from GEMS Educational Solutions, and I found it via a positive mention in a Guardian article, so we’re probably not talking a right-wing group, here.

The study compares certain educational statistics across countries, and one of its principles is that “inefficiency can be a result of either underpaying or overpaying teachers.”  By that measure, the United States would become more efficient (better managing results versus tax rates) by lowering salaries by five percent and increasing class sizes by 10%.

Rhode Island’s teacher salaries are top 10 for the country, so 5% would be too low for our state.  Also, the 15.3 student:teacher ratio listed on GEMS’s application compares with a Rhode Island average of 8.

To be clear, these are back-of-the-envelope comparisons.  A more-thorough review might require adjustments of the numbers (different years, different teacher roles included in the student ratios, etc.).  I come across people, though, especially locally, who find inconceivable the idea that less spending on anything government does might be bad.

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The Rigged System of Unions and Town Government

The cliché about the news media is that readers will always find reports in their own areas of expertise erroneous, and something similar applies to news reports from one’s own town:  What’s happening locally seems to prove the point of the whole broad world.

Even adjusting for that tendency, though, I have to say that Tiverton controversies are starting to feel as if we’ve come just an inch away from making it legal for town employees to walk into our homes and take our money. As I write on Tiverton Fact Check:

Such proclamations become more difficult to believe each time it appears that town employees are learning the lesson from former colleagues’ reaping the rewards of (alleged) bad behavior. We had Town Foreman Bob Martin and his pal, former Town Administrator Jim Goncalo. Last year, it was an entire shift of police officers led by overtime king Lieutenant Timothy Panell. And now it’s the fire department’s turn, with firefighter Patrick White:

The case of a firefighter who was terminated in early 2015 for allegedly abusing sick leave has been settled, with the town agreeing to pay $175,000.

That’s right. We paid him (and his union lawyer, naturally). The “neutral” arbitrator in the complaint sided with the union member.

One of the problems with settling is that neither side can claim vindication.  The institutional bias toward that sort of ambiguity, like union contracts and arbitration practices, is part of the problem.  Rhode Island has created a fundamentally dishonest system of government.

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A Deliberate Spectrum of Protest, from Riots Up

Overall, a Wall Street Journal article by Peter Nicholas and Carol Lee doesn’t exactly paint the picture of a White House in disarray, but rather of an ambitious president mixing things up and having to make adjustments in the process.  Those are very different stories, mostly of interest to those addicted to political news.

The more broadly significant, in my view, is this passage:

[Randy Bryce, political director of the local ironworkers union,]  learned through labor contacts the Secret Service had done a security check at a Harley factory in Menomonee Falls, Wis. He began organizing car pools and buses to bring demonstrators to the middle-class suburb in heavily Republican Waukesha County. Also, “we put up phone numbers for the [Harley] public-relations department and pretty much anybody we could get hold of,” Mr. Bryce said.

At Harley, which never acknowledged Mr. Trump planned a visit, executives became nervous about demonstrators, said a person familiar with their thinking. As word spread of the mounting protest, Mr. Trump’s appearance was canceled—at whose behest neither side has said.

Let’s stipulate that the labor union was planning a more-or-less standard union protest, maybe with some tense moments, but generally with a sense of control.  Even controlled protests, however, are now happening in an environment of potential riots, as seen at the University of California in Berkeley.

The first layer of threat against a company that takes the unextraordinary step of welcoming the President of the United States is that it will face organized boycotts and vitriol on social media.  If that isn’t sufficient, progressives have ensured a looming threat of property destruction, too.

Somehow, I don’t see this having the long-term effect that the activists want, but we’ll see.

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Weird: Good Teachers Want Pay Flexibility; Not-so-Good Ones Want Rigid Pay

Check out this unsigned editorial in the Wall Street Journal about an amazing innovation in Wisconsin education: letting school districts pay teachers based on their value to the schools!

As Stanford University economic researcher Barbara Biasi explains in a new study (which is awaiting peer review), Act 10 created a marketplace for teachers in which public-school districts can compete for better employees. For instance, a district can pay more to recruit and retain “high-value added” teachers—that is, those who most improve student learning. Districts can also cap salaries of low-performing teachers, which might encourage them to quit or leave for other districts. …

She also found changes in salary structure. For instance, salaries in Green Bay increased about 13% for teachers with five to six years of experience but a mere 4% for those who had worked 29 or 30 years. Salaries among teachers with the same seniority also diverged more. In Racine the opposite occurred. Green Bay was able to pay better teachers more without regard to the lock-step pay scales traditionally dictated by unions.

Well, you don’t need a degree from Rhode Island College to reason out why this would be so: “better teachers gravitate to districts where they can negotiate their own pay while lousy teachers tend to migrate toward those where salary scales are regimented.”

I’d add that it’s not just teacher quality.  Some teaching roles are easier than others, taking less learning and less work, depending on grade level or subject.  Sometimes unique challenges will be entirely specific to a school.

Only a system run primarily for the benefit of labor unions would organize something as critical as educating children in such a ridiculous way.

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Superior Court Reverses RI Labor Relations Board in Warwick Schools Case

RI Superior Court has ruled that the State Labor Relations Board erred in ordering the Warwick School Committee to seek arbitration with the Warwick Teachers Union under the conditions of the expired contract. As report by the Warwick Post:

In May 2016, the State Labor Relations Board ruled the Warwick School Committee had engaged in unfair labor practices by failing to arbitrate WTU grievances under their contract, an extension of which expired Aug. 31, 2015. The Board originally ordered the School Committee to “cease and desist from refusing to participate in the processing of grievances, including proceeding to arbitration.”

The next day, the WTU filed a motion to amend the decision to maintain the terms and conditions of the contract until a new contract was settled, which the State Labor Relations Board granted without further hearings.

“The Board issued its Amended Decision in this case on the Union’s motion without further hearing. The School Committee, it appears, was provided no opportunity to present for the Board’s consideration the particulars of any proposed departures from the terms of the expired CBA, along with its reasons why it should not be constrained by the Board’s status quo rule. In doing so, the Board acted arbitrarily and erroneously,” Gallo wrote.

The key point lay in the timeline of the items that the WTU sought to arbitrate: in short, they came after the contract had expired and therefore did not fall under the old contract.  As Judge Gallo explained:

“The Court’s review was limited to whether the layoff grievances were arbitrable,” Gallo wrote in his decision. The Supreme Court, he said, “held the obligation to arbitrate a grievance survives expiration of a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) only where the grievance arises under the contract.”

“Unlike in Litton, where the employer refused to discuss or participate in any grievance process with the union regarding the layoffs, here, the School Committee did engage with the Union regarding the two grievances filed after the expiration of the contract. See 501 U.S. at 194-95. There is simply no evidence in the record to support a finding of bad faith bargaining in violation of § 28-7-13(6) and (10). Under the circumstances, the Board erred in concluding that the School Committee committed an unfair labor practice,” Gallo wrote.

“After review of the entire record, this Court finds the Amended Decision of the Board was clearly erroneous based on the evidence of record. Substantial rights of theSchool Committee have been prejudiced. Accordingly, the Amended Decision of the Board is reversed,” Gallo ordered.

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At Providence Journal, Union Sympathy Overshadows Reporting

I still can’t get over the headline that the Providence Journal gave to Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article about the school choice rally at the State House:

At R.I. State House, Trump proposal overshadows rally for school choice

Add in the contrast with the relatively objective first paragraph, and the agenda of the folks who write the headlines couldn’t be clearer:

Thursday’s annual School Choice rally at the State House, which brought together dozens of private and religious schools, carried some additional weight this year due to President Donald Trump’s pitch to dedicate $20 billion in federal education dollars for vouchers.

So for the first time of this annual event, the President of the United States is bringing “additional weight” to the issue, and that “overshadows” the rally?  That’s just a bizarre way to frame the story.  It’s as if the headline writer called up the self-interested activists at a teachers union and asked them how to spin it.

For her part, Borg quickly recovers her bias in the subsequent paragraphs, highlighting that charter schools (which are the government’s attempt to edge into the private school market) didn’t attend the event and giving paid lobbyist William Fischer an opportunity to dismiss broader school choice than that provided by his paying clients in the government charter school interest group.  (Observe that Borg doesn’t label Fischer as a lobbyist, but as a “spokesman” — “lobbyist” having the unavoidable taint of organizations that want to push their selfish interests.)

The open question is whether the journalists at the Providence Journal are akin to activists deliberately pushing an agenda or are just so steeped in left-wing ideology that they really can’t get their brains around a truly multicultural movement, aligned more with conservatives than progressives, that wants to increase freedom and improve students’ education with much less direct personal interest than cash-flush labor unions.

Or maybe it’s just personal allegiances on the journalists’ part.  After all, although they don’t like to talk about it much, they are all AFL-CIO union members, themselves, and the AFL-CIO has a “partnership agreement” with the National Education Association (NEA), which is very strong in Rhode Island.

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Discount Rate Assumptions and the Certainty of Tax Increases

After years attempting to interpret public documents related to pension funds to understand the method of deciding what a reasonable investment return assumption would be, I finally have it straight from a municipal investment advisor. As I’ve posted on Tiverton Fact Check:

Me: So if a town comes to you and says, “We want to hit this number,” you say, “Well, what’s your risk?,” and that’ll play into seven-and-a-half percent.  The fact that the town can then in 20, 30 years increase taxes to make up for the loss, then you have a little higher tolerance for risk, so you can go up to 7.5%, which you may never hit, but in the end of 20, 30 years, you’ve got other assets — taxpayers — you can take money from.  Is that part of the conversation?

Gene McCabe, Director of Investments for Washington Trust:It is.

In the not-too-distant future, I suspect it’ll become unreasonably expensive for us municipal assets.  Elected officials and government employees should start pondering what will happen when assumptions about how much money can be confiscated from Rhode Islanders prove as fanciful as assumptions about high returns at the stock market roulette wheel.

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Unions Gain Strength in Failing State

The headline from Eric Morath’s Wall Street Journal article holds true for the country: “Share of U.S. Workers in Unions Falls to Lowest Level on Record.”

The share of American workers in unions fell to the lowest level on record in 2016, showing a return to the downward trend for organized labor after membership figures had stabilized in recent years. …

Only 10.7% of workers were union members last year, down from 11.1% in 2015, and from more than 20% in the early 1980s.

Unfortunately, the same does not hold in Rhode Island.  In our state, the percentage of “wage and salary workers” (those who work for somebody else) who are union members went up from 14.2% in 2015 to 15.5% in 2016.  Helping that percentage go up, to some degree, was the fact that the total number of workers actually dropped in Rhode Island over the year, from 483,000 to 481,000.  However, the absolute number of union members also went up.

A government stranglehold, both bolstering its employees and imposing restrictions on the private sector (often in favor of labor unions) is putting the state into a sort of death spiral as workers whose employment is either directly or indirectly subsidized by government hold on and those doing the subsidizing are finding themselves out of work… or out of the state.

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Fix-the-System Reform Means Preserving the Very Things Causing the Problems

Andy Smarick, of the American Enterprise Institute, explains how President Obama wasted a whole lot of money for zero results in education reform:

The final IES report on the SIG program is devastating to the Obama administration’s legacy. An evaluation commissioned by the US Department of Education and conducted by two highly respected research institutions delivered a crushing verdict: The program failed and failed badly.

As I’ve periodically written, fix-the-system education reforms that seek to preserve the very qualities that are causing the problem — predictable labor union incentives, central planning, the disconnect of decision making from bill paying, and a lack of direct accountability to students and parents — cannot work. We must admit this.

In any area of life except government (specifically, progressive government) it would be considered pathological to look for all sorts of complicated ways to avoid addressing the underlying problem of unhealthy behavior.  Unfortunately, the clear objective of those who do such things (specifically, progressives) is to make government do things it shouldn’t be doing, so of course perpetuating that activity becomes the irreducible factor.

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Surprise: Teachers’ Unions Are Just Political Activist Groups

I’ve written several times in the past that employee representation services are simply the fund raising mechanism for teachers’ unions’ real reason for being: progressive political activism.  Here’s Paul Bedard in the Washington Examiner:

Promoting a “National Day of Action” on Thursday, the NEA said, “On Thursday, January 19, the day before Donald Trump assumes the presidency, thousands of students, parents, educators and community members from across the nation will hold rallies in front of school buildings to inclusively stand up for all students.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to represent their members enough to ensure that they stay members (with wide rivers of funding) at the expense of those whom progressives claim to support.  David Harsanyi in The Federalist:

… teachers unions are the only organizations in America that openly support segregated schools. In districts across the country — even ones in cities with some form of limited movement for kids — poor parents, most typically black or Hispanic, are forced to enroll their kids in underperforming schools when there are good ones nearby, sometimes just blocks away.

The National Education Association spent $23 million last cycle alone working to elect politicians to keep low-income Americans right where they are. Public service unions use tax dollars to fund politicians who then turn around and vote for more funding. The worse the schools perform, the more money they demand. In the real world we call this racketeering.

It’s a travesty that teachers give these organizations a prominent, lucrative place in our government.

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How a Pension Discount Rate Deceives the Public

Over on Tiverton Fact Check, I’ve used Tiverton’s police pension as an example to show how the high assumptions for investment returns work to give taxpayers a false sense of security:

The problem is that 7.5% is a very high return to hit every year.  According to the latest actuarial report, Tiverton’s pension fund lost$332,601 last year, which is about -3.4%.  In other words, because we needed a 7.5% increase, we were 10.9% short.  Tiverton should havestarted this year with another $1,065,971 or so in the bank.

Investment professionals will tell you not to panic, because we have to expect the market to go up and down, and what’s important is the average over years and decades.  One bad year is not the end of the world, and during the three years prior to this loss, Tiverton beat its 7.5% every year.

Two things make this picture too bright.  The first is that 0% isn’t the break-even number in this calculation — 7.5% is — which means every loss is huge and every gain is smaller than it seems. The second is that coming up short one year means there’s less in the bank to invest the next year, so the gain the next year has to be even bigger.

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Watch for the “Universal Pre-K” Money Grab

This New York Post editorial caught my eye (emphasis added):

As Carl Campanile reported in Monday’s Post, the city teachers union is spending more furiously than a drunken sailor: In the year ending last June 30, the UFT upped outlays by $13 million over the year before, to $182.1 million. That equals the entire budget for the city of Albany.

It helped that the union collected an extra $7 million in dues (to $151 million total), thanks to 7,000 new teachers hired under Mayor de Blasio’s Universal Pre-K program.

UFT boss Michael Mulgrew’s smug justification for it all? “Defending public education is increasingly expensive.”

As the push from the governor and the General Assembly for more unionized “universal pre-K” offerings from Rhode Island’s bank-breaking government schools continues, with talk of how it increases equity and all that, remember this central motivation.  Some of those union outlays go politicians, after all.  It certainly isn’t clear that such programs actually benefit children.

Of course, in Rhode Island, we’re a long, long way from putting our children before powerful special interests.

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An Example of Anti-Community Labor Union Influence

Chicago lawyer Michael Hendershot takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to relate an anecdote from his daughter’s public elementary school:

Due to a combination of budget cuts and enrollment numbers that were lower than expected, Pritzker’s librarian was laid off shortly after this school year began. Without a librarian, Pritzker students aren’t allowed to use the library. Dozens of parents have offered to volunteer in the library to keep it open. There was so much interest that the parent-teacher organization created a rotating schedule of regular volunteers to help out.

But before parents could begin volunteering, a teachers union member filed a formal complaint with the school system, objecting to the parents’ plan. Several weeks later, a union representative appeared at a local school council meeting and informed parents that the union would not stand for parental volunteers in the library. Although the parents intended to do nothing more than help students check books in and out, the union claimed that the parents would be impermissibly filling a role reserved for teachers. The volunteer project was shut down following the meeting and the library is currently being used for dance classes.

Yes, as common a practice as it is in the mainstream media, it’s often unfair to pluck such local stories from around the country and hold them up as examples, but one could easily see this coming up in Rhode Island and easily imagine local unionists arguing for the lockout.  As former President of the RI Federation of Teachers Marcia Reback once put it, when the interests of the students and the teachers are different, “I represent the teachers.”

The problem is that this is the intrinsic incentive structure created by unionization.  It might (might) be appropriate within a private company constrained by market forces and without the muddying influence of union members’ being able to elect the management with whom they’ll be negotiating (like fellow union members from neighboring towns), and it might work for jobs that really are easily enumerated and packaged, but this mentality doesn’t belong anywhere near the education of children.

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If It’s “Unpaid Care,” It Cuts into the Government Plantation’s Market

It seems a point of personal pique for him, but Wesley Smith makes a great point when he objects to the characterization of families’ taking care of their own special needs children as “unpaid care”:

Really? What about mothers providing “unpaid care” for their babies? Or spouses for each other? Should such care also be measured in terms of the cost of having services provided by professional caregivers?

As Smith goes on to insist (emphasis in original), “the societal expectation should also be that families are the first line of care-giving.”  The first line of care-giving.  The first line of financial assistance.  The first line of loan guarantees.  The first line for education.  The first line, period.

The problem is that such activities cut in on the government plantation’s market.  Governments can’t tax other people to provide the services.  Labor unions can’t take a cut (although they do try).  And politicians can’t count on votes from people who aren’t dependent on government.

The deeper affront of the “unpaid care” attitude is how it teaches us to see caring for those we love.  The insinuation can be that families would (and maybe should) offload care if they can afford to do so, just as a homeowner may patch a wall to save the cost of a tradesman.  As a new state senator from Lincoln touchingly exemplifies, caring for loved ones can be a joyful fulfillment, and society should encourage us to see it as such.

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Drop in Manufacturing in RI Most Worrying Because of Government Solutions

Highlighting the change in the Providence area’s mix of employment, Ted Nesi reviews a study finding that the metro has seen the nation’s greatest drop in manufacturing jobs, as a percentage of all jobs, with jobs requiring a college degree increasing in the mix.

This is a percentage, not the absolute number of jobs, so all sorts of jobs could go up or down, but if they do so at different rates, the mix will change.  In that light, this metric could be indicative of Rhode Island’s government plantation approach.  As the economy shifts toward emphasis on government services, more of the available jobs require college degrees (not because, by the way, government-service jobs necessarily require degree-level skill sets, but because it suits politicians and labor unions to require degrees.)

Beyond such considerations, the response from the governor caught my eye:

In his paper, Whitaker notes concerns “that the growing industries do not provide enough work opportunities or middle-class incomes for people without college degrees.” That echoes frequent comments by Rhode Island leaders including Gov. Gina Raimondo who say the state needs to do more to encourage the creation of jobs for workers who don’t attend college.

She may have said such a thing somewhere, but the emphasis of her policies has been on “well-paying” jobs in trendy fields.  More importantly, her premise about government effort is wrong. State politicians and bureaucrats are not well positioned to create targeted jobs.  And even if they were, they haven’t the right.  When the government attempts to create specific jobs, it is either manipulating the public to match politicians’ preferences or replacing residents who don’t fit the plan with outsiders who do.  Note this:

A study earlier this year by Boston Fed economist Mary Burke reported manufacturing employment in Rhode Island plunged by 57% between 1990 and 2015, and found a growing number of the state’s skilled jobs requiring college degrees were going to out-of-state workers.

If the state government is to maintain democratic legitimacy, it has to represent the people who are here, not a marked-off place on the map or a collection of preferred industries.

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Public-Options-Only School Choice Relies on Irrational Prejudice

Notice anything about the recent op-ed from RI Education Commissioner Ken Wagner?

Some claim that charters take money that is owed to district schools. In my view, the money is not “owed” to district schools or any other education provider. Local, state and national taxpayers raised this money for a specific purpose: to educate the youth of a community. We have an obligation to ensure the money serves the children rather than simply maintains the current system.

This is the core of the argument that I’ve been proffering for total school choice.  Public dollars aren’t collected and expended for the maintenance of a government-branded school system, but for the cause of educating the public.  Whatever structure or method will accomplish that goal most effectively and economically is the proper one.

Indeed, just about every argument in Wagner’s essay would apply to education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, or any other school choice vehicle and could be added to the Bright Today list of myths.

It is only through the devotion of insiders to the status quo and their control of public information that this point remains sufficiently obscure that Wagner doesn’t feel he has to address it.  The people are starting to figure it out, though, and it is yet another area in which those of us who really wish to move Rhode Island forward for the benefit of its people need only guide their natural conclusions.

Consider Dan McGowan’s WPRI article on public testimony regarding the Achievement First charter school expansion proposal before the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.  The article is 17 paragraphs long.  Here’s the 13th:

But the majority of individuals who testified about Achievement First Tuesday encouraged the council to back the expansion.

That is, after 12 paragraphs — three-quarters of the article — conveying the points of view of insiders, who are in the minority, McGowan finally gets to what should arguably have been the headline of the article: that people want school choice.  When all is said, the only argument to prevent the people from using public funds for their preferred public policy is maintenance of the government plantation.

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And So Begins a New Phase of Paid Agitation

Rarely does one see such open racism in the pages of the Providence Journal — and never without implicit condemnation — as appears in today’s article about anti-Trump agitators in the streets of Providence:

“When we look at how the vote played out on Tuesday we saw white people betraying the working class,” [Mike Araujo, executive director of Rhode Island Jobs With Justice] said.

White people betrayed the working class?  Asking how this works, given Trump’s support among the white working class would be an overly intellectual response to what is nothing more than propaganda to cause tension in our society.

Araujo’s are racist words of civil war, and yet the local news media will continue to treat him as if he’s just a well-meaning advocate essentially participating in a charitable activity.  Indeed, the article spins the militant demonstration — with disaffected young adults chanting “not my president” — as “Facebook driven,” but one suspects any use of Facebook was incidental to the organization of the event.  (Even the small, hyper-local yoga pants march took days to coordinate, and that wasn’t nationwide, as this one was.)

Reporter, Mark Reynolds, pulls up short, merely characterizing Araujo as “the chief speaker at the event — the person with the megaphone,” but he doesn’t offer any information about his group, Rhode Island Jobs With Justice.  Araujo became the executive director of the registered non-profit “Rhode Island Jobs With Justice Education Fund” in May.  The previous director, Jesse Strecker, was paid around $42,000 per year in salary and other compensation as the organization’s only listed employee.  (I haven’t expanded my search to see whether these activists receive additional income from other related sources.)

The group’s funding source appears mainly to be labor unions, and the activities that taxpayers subsidize by treating it as a non-profit appear to be limited to political advocacy.  In the current case, it is actively fomenting discord and division in the United States.

Politicians at the top of this pyramid, like Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, get to call for unity while their shock troops on the ground march around with racist words of division and hatred.  No doubt, the calls for unity at the top will last until a convenient moment, and then the leaders of the movement will declare some action or statement of Trump’s simply beyond the pale and thereby unleash another level of disruption and violence from the paid troops.

Meanwhile, the media will cover it all as just the simple expression of concern about the evil of the other side.

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Here’s How a Unionized Workforce Teaches Your Children (Warwick Example)

This sort of news never ceases to blow my mind, leaving me unable to understand how parents can stand for this sort of environment for their children’s education:

The implementation of electronic grading in the [Warwick] district has become a bargaining chip as the union and the School Committee continue to be locked in a contract dispute. …

Citing several other emails, Ahearn said parents would not speak publicly about the issue for fear that their children could face retaliation from teachers.

If the cost or other concerns keep the district away from online grading, that’s one thing, but for the district not to be able to fully use a system for which it is already paying $180,000 is outrageous.  Apply this same ridiculous standard across the educational board, and you’ll have a sense of why Rhode Island schools are struggling.  Add in the district’s chronic absenteeism, and the picture fills in as to why it’s so desperate to close down schools to keep pace with declining enrollment.

Of course, as Larry Sand notes while pointing out some WikiLeaks evidence that the National Education Association worked with the Democrat Party to undermine presidential endorsement votes, teachers don’t have much of a choice when it comes to their quote-unquote representation.

This arrangement isn’t advisable for any professional environment, but in a system meant to teach children, it’s simply unconscionable.  Teachers unions are top-down schemes to pay left-wing activists big bucks with taxpayer dollars so they coordinate with political operatives while manipulating education in a way that will radically change society.

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RI Education Priority: Labor Unions

Here’s a telling bit of information from Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on new federal law related to public school improvement:

The revised law also eliminates a contentious part of teacher evaluations. NCLB [No Child Left Behind] required that teacher evaluations include student improvement over time, based on test scores. Rhode Island never implemented this part of the law after considerable push-back from teachers and unions.

Let that one data point act as a stand-in for Rhode Island public education generally.  Why are results stagnant or deteriorating?  Because teachers and unions won’t let them improve unless it can be done without harming their financial and political advantages.  Simple as that.  And now, the federal government has nationalized that principle.  Consider:

Now, school districts will be asked to look at such issues as how districts are retaining teachers and recruiting minority candidates, Snider said.

Judgment of schools will not be based on whether they are producing measurable effects for their students, but whether they are making their teachers happy and pursuing progressive social re-engineering.  Nationally, now, the most important thing about public education is not actually education, but benefits for an adult political constituency.  That’s a travesty, and it has been a travesty in Rhode Island for decades.

 

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Stop the Pre-K Union Giveaway

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

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

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

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

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

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Do Warwick Schools Operate with Sickouts Every Day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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