Putting Children Over Bureaucracy

Probably the most on-point thing any official has recently said about education in Rhode Island came from Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green on a Providence Journal podcast featuring her choice as Providence superintendent, Harrison Peters:

I do worry that we’re going to put adult agendas before children.  So, as we move on, we have to keep our eyes on the prize, and the prize is the education system for the students.  And I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations that are around students, but not totally focused on students.  So, my fear is that we can’t make that transition fast enough so that that agenda stays on the table all the time.

This is a central distinction articulated in this space again and again.  The ultimate, irreducible function of our education system is not currently the education of children, but the interests of the adults involved in the system.

Every adult interest group within the education system — the teachers, the administrators, the superintendents, the school committees — has advocates to guard their interests when they differ from those of students.  A system that is supposed to be set up to pursue the interests of children generates positions for people whose job it is to advocate for the adults, ultimately leaving student-advocacy to parents, who are not paid full time for their work and who lack the institutional experience to resist being misled by the professionals.

Erika Sanzi mentioned one of these professionals in a recent post on her blog:

Tim Duffy is the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees and he wants to see underperforming charter schools close. Seems fair, until we consider the fact that he never calls for the closure of district schools that have quite literally failed generations of students and often perform as badly or worse than the charters he’d like to close. It’s outrageous that holding on to the tax dollars children bring the district is more important to him than ensuring all students get the education they deserve. If districts want more money, they should open up the many available seats they conveniently choose to hide.

Duffy’s job is to promote the interests of school administrations, and they do not see it as in their interest to diffuse their resources and authority to schools that are partially independent.  Just so, school administrations also would not see it as in their interest to have a policy that spotlighted and targeted their own failures.

The only way to check all of these special interests is to empower parents directly by giving them access to school choice.  We’ll see whether our education commissioner can follow the thread of her insight that far.

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