An Educational Opportunity Ripe for the Taking

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In the latest episode of his podcast, The Art of Happiness, Harvard professor (and former American Enterprise Institute CEO) Arthur Brooks talks about the importance of taking times of crisis and transition as an opportunity to grow, to find meaning, and to create a more secure foundation for your life going forward.  The key to the process is pausing to evaluate who you truly are and what you’re trying to accomplish with your actions.

COVID-19 is providing this opportunity for us as individuals and as a society.  Take particular note of two statements from a recent WPRI article in which Courtney Carter describes the recent enrollment experience of one local private school. First:

Diane Rich, head of the Rocky Hill Country Day School in East Greenwich, tells 12 News they prepped for months prior to their first day to move all of their classrooms outside.

Second:

“This year, because of the pandemic, as soon as the public schools announced their plans, we saw an extra wave of interested families who wanted their children at school all day,” said Jan Cooney, the school’s director of admissions and financial aid. “So we saw a lot, disproportionate in a positive way, number of students coming from public school this year.”

A college friend of mine who lives in Massachusetts recently complained that the children of his friends in Florida have been back in school for weeks, while New England continues to withhold services to one degree or another.  The increase in demand for private schools in our area shows that plenty of people share his complaint, and as I’ve written before, people with the resources can supplement services when government falls short.

But that shouldn’t be how this works.  If we, as a community, agree that we’re collectively going to pay for top-notch education, then we ought to get it.  Objectively, however, what we’ve actually agreed to pay for is this:

Rhode Island is the best state for public school teachers. While the NCTQ graded the state well overall for teacher quality. People in the teaching profession are paid well in the state, with an average annual salary of $74,414, the seventh highest in the country and the highest after adjusting to the cost of living.

Rhode Island public school teachers also benefit from one of the nation’s more coherent and generous retirement systems. About 59.0% of new teachers in Rhode Island will likely remain in the profession long enough to qualify for a pension benefit, the seventh highest share of all states.

None of the five criteria that Hristina Byrnes and Thomas Frohlich used to create their 24/7 Wall St. is a measure of educational success, but they do rank graduation rates.  That is Rhode Island’s lowest rank, at 19th worst in the country.

Note that this ranking entirely (or at least mostly) applies to unionized public-school teachers.  Private schools are able to offer nowhere near the level of compensation that the government does, and yet as the first quotation above shows, private institutions put in extra work to make themselves viable and attractive.

Our state and its education system were far from stable when the pandemic hit, and we can create something good from our current predicament if make this a period of transition, rather than of making due until we can get back to the same old, dysfunctional thing.