Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part XVI

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on fifteen previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV).
It also builds on several previous postings on educational issues: There are well-known deep performance problems with public education in America. Yet, receiving a quality education can be the transforming event that allows many Americans to have a fair shot at living the American Dream. It is well know that the teachers’ unions and the public education bureaucracy actively resist the very change necessary to improve public education. On a more granular level, postings IV and XIV above address contract negotiation issues in East Greenwich.
Tom Coyne of RI Policy Analysis has published a powerful editorial in today’s Projo entitled “R. I. Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results”, where he provides third-party data showing how residents overpay for underperformance by Rhode Island public schools. That begs a bigger question of what to do about this serious problem. Here are some of his observations:

If lack of spending isn’t the cause of Rhode Island’s poor performance, what is? Common sense tells you that in the absence of challenging standards, testing and accountability, few organizations get top performance from their people.
Plenty of studies have found that schools are no exception to this rule. Unsurprisingly, other studies have found that Rhode Island ranks poorly in this area…
Common sense also tells you that standards, testing and accountability policies should apply to teachers, too, just as they do to other professionals…
As I said, Rhode Island taxpayers and parents are fed up with this situation. Our total state and local tax burden is the fifth highest in the nation, and what do we get for it? In short, the moment of truth has finally arrived for Rhode Island’s teachers.
Once and for all, they have to decide whether they really want to be professionals, in the true meaning of that term. Professionals do not refuse to have their performance evaluated, to be paid on merit, and to force incompetents out of their profession. Nor do professionals refuse to experiment with promising new techniques that have demonstrated the potential to improve Rhode Island’s dismal educational results. How would you react if your child had a terminal disease, but your doctor said that she couldn’t use a promising new drug because her union was against it?
So what can we do?
The Education Partnership, a coalition of businesses trying to improve Rhode Island’s public schools, has just answered this question. It has produced an outstanding report, “Teacher Contracts: Restoring the Balance” (available at their website). It is filled with sensible recommendations that seem very likely to save money while improving performance (e.g., a single statewide teacher health-insurance plan and salary scale, merit pay, and more management rights for principals).
As citizens, we need to read and discuss it, and urge our school committees, state senators and state representatives to implement its recommendations. As a first step, why not call the Education Partnership at (401) 331-5222 and have a representative come speak to your group?
Whatever you do, please don’t just sit there and complain. We now live in an integrated world economy in which over half a billion well-educated Chinese and Indian children will do whatever it takes to improve their standards of living in the future.
If Rhode Island’s teachers unions continue to block common-sense changes that could improve the performance of our schools, they are effectively condemning our children to declining living standards in the years ahead — and declining incomes (out of which we expect them to pay for our rising Social Security benefits).
I don’t want to face my children 20 years from now and have to explain why I stood by and did nothing to change a situation I could see was going to cause them great harm. The time for us to act is now.

The teachers’ unions have done a very effective job publicly of making criticism of union demands equal to criticism of teachers. We need to blow through the false logic of their argument because the information Tom shares shows how it simply does not hold up to empirical scrutiny. Our kids are suffering as a result of union demands and union-structured education – and the union does not care.
Teachers are going to have to take a stand about whether they are professionals or unionists. Only by acting as professionals will public education ever yield high educational performance. That won’t happen as long as they are represented by unions and adopt a union worker mentality of only doing what is specified in the contract or of bringing an entitlement mentality to the terms of their compensation.
We need to stand with the teachers and others in our state who are willing to challenge the failed status quo that dooms our children to be at a competitive disadvantage as they head into the global economy.
The challenge is up to us. Will we rise to that challenge and do right by our children?

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