Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box

We live in a global economy. Our children are going to be competing with the best students not from Central Falls or even Barrington when they grow up. Rather, they will be competing with students from countries like China, Taiwan, Singapore, India, etc. Not to mention students from the best prep schools in America as well as Massachusetts towns such as Wellesley, certain Long Island communities, Palo Alto in California, and other truly superb public education schools across the country.
To be uncomfortably blunt, some East Greenwich residents spend too much time congratulating ourselves on how good our school system is. I said it publicly while serving on the East Greenwich School Committee and I will say it again now: Being the best school system in Rhode Island doesn’t mean anything in a national and global context.
With the ability now to compare relative performance between school districts across the country on the new School Matters website, my comment is now an empirically valid one, not simply an opinion.
East Greenwich is a wonderful community full of many talented people. We have the people resources in our town to do unbelievable things in the future. Rather than polarizing and offending us, I would hope this empirical observation would make us even more willing to challenge the political mediocrity of the status quo. It also puts other battles into perspective. E.g., when we fight high taxes, it is a battle to keep successful people from leaving this state. It is also a battle to bring new, innovative businesses to this state with jobs and talented people. When we fight the power of the teachers’ union, it is about fighting for the freedom to build a great school system free of a costly system that currently only rewards mediocrity. All of these efforts are about ensuring we have an economy and a school system that empowers our working residents and children to compete successfully on a global scale.
With that global competition in mind, this story about charter schools is an example of why I supported Sue Cienki and Merrill Friedemann so strongly in last year’s East Greenwich School Committee elections. They are strong-minded, independent people who think outside the box and are not tied to the status quo like so many of the members of past School Committees. Kudos also to John McGurk on the EG Town Council for also supporting the exploration of similar ideas.
I haven’t agreed with Sue and Merrill on everything since they were elected and I am sure we will tangle publicly when we disagree on issues in the future. That is perfectly all right in our democratic society. But, regardless of whether we see eye-to-eye on every issue, I have confidence that they are intelligent people who are genuinely committed to seeking the best answers, not just the politically advantageous answers. We need more public servants who are willing to test new ideas.
In the end, this charter school concept may not be practical. It may not be the right way to go for any number of reasons. I personally think charter schools still suffer from too much government regulation which makes them a half-baked attempt at true school choice and vulnerable to manipulation by the public education bureaucracy and teachers’ unions.
But excellence never happens unless people are willing to think outside the box. And we all will be better off the more we challenge the status quo in our mediocre, monopolistic public education system.

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