Robert Walsh Responds to Tom Coyne

Robert Walsh, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Education Association, has responed, point-by-point, to Tom Coyne’s education proposals for Rhode Island. Mr. Coyne’s proposals are in boldface. Mr. Walsh’s responses are in italics.



1. Start by saving money through the use of a single state health insurance plan for teachers and putting RIPTA in charge of scheduling out of district transportation.
1) A single plan would likely average costs among districts versus saving significant funds, due the the use of a statewide rate versus community ratings. It’s good to see Mr. Coyne’s faith in the union members at RIPTA, however, perhaps letting the state fund the out of district transportation requirements would be best.



2. Use [funds saved from proposal 1] for (a) more in-class room materials; (b) merit pay for the best teachers; and (c) shoring up the teachers crumbling pension system.
a) We certainly need more class room materials b) merit pay reintroduces politics into the system and misunderstands how teachers are motivated and c) we have been advocating shoring up the pension system for years.



3. Institute a common state teachers contract with a longer school year and longer school day.
More time (which means more compensation) may be merited in some districts (or programs within districts), but not in others. If Mr. Coyne is unhappy with what teachers are doing, why does he want them to do it for a greater period of time?



4. Restore management rights to school principals so they can pursue innovations that are appropriate for the students they serve.
Management has lots of rights, but teachers are the ones pursuing innovations, principals (all of whom were teachers) should manage the process.



5. Reform our current system for classifying children as “learning disabled” as recommended in the late Rep. Paul Sherlock’s report to the General Assembly.
Why is he picking on these students, and how will it improve outcomes? Which students does he believe are incorrectly identified?



6. Make it easier for experienced mid-career people to teach in areas where they are needed, like math and science.
Gutting the pension system and having lower pay than math and science professionals currently receive is a lousy start.



7. Lift the ban on charter schools.
How about taking the programs that work in charter schools and applying them to all public schools? How about funding charter schools without robbing local school districts of needed funds so taxpayers will support them as learning laboratories?



8. Strengthen Rhode Island’s academic standards, and require that students demonstrate proficiency as a graduation requirement.
Good idea – fund the programs to back it up.

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johnb
johnb
15 years ago

I agree whole-heartedly with Tim2.
Rather than offering real-world solutions, Walsh has spent his time here attempting to deconstruct Coyne’s thoughtful proposals while offering nothing productive in return.
Why is it always more of the same? All I have seen out of Walsh is repeated attempts to repackage the same failed policies and outrageous union demands.
I’m a pretty young guy – educated proudly in public school, but I already am thinking of which private school to send my children to. Thanks Mr. Walsh for contributing nothing to the solution and so generously to the problem.

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
15 years ago

Tim2 and JohnB, I posted on this BLOG to start a dialogue, realizing that might not be possible in this forum. What has the number of teachers in the legislature (2 in the Senate, 2 in the House, plus three retirees, two of whom are Republicans) to do with merit pay? I was in the private sector for over a decade, and “merit pay” was a somewhat logical approach for incenting desired outcomes (make money for the company, cross sell product lines, etc.) The tasks could be easily measured. With children, parents, and society in the mix, how do you fairly measure outcomes to establish merit? Propose an actual system instead of repeating the words over and over again (which is my issue with Mr. Coyne – no details!). You also do not understand tenure – all tenure does is require that management have cause to dismiss a teacher – in other words, they have to make a case. The union does not hire or fire teachers, but we do have an obligation to protect their employemnt rights and we are proud to do so. Your phrase “get kids to perform” is troubling, but we’ll let it go for now. But yes, you may have to fund programs to help children reach their full potential – you know that we have children in the public schools who do not have adequate diets, health care and/or housing, who may have no books at home or chances to go to the library, or many worse issues to deal with before they can even focus on “performing.” Some people on this BLOG may want to focus on attacking their parents, I’d rather figure out how to help the kids. (And JohnB, I was proudly educated in a public school too, so I am… Read more »

johnb
johnb
15 years ago

Mr. Walsh, I commend you for your willingness to engage in a forum where clearly the majority of readers do not agree with your positions. Personally, I cannot help but look at Rhode Island and see the opportunity to have what should be a national model and be dismayed by our track record. While education is only one of the many areas where I feel Rhode Island should and must do better, I believe – as I am sure you do too – that it is the foundation upon which our future is truly built. So let me begin by laying some common ground: I agree with you on the following points: > “We certainly need more classroom materials” > “Fund the programs” to strengthen our academic standards Both of these points I believe go back in part to the funding of No Child Left Behind, which has emerged as an un-funded New Ferderalism project (which in itself is antithetical to the principles of New Fed). However, I do mean only in part. I believe that the administrative costs of our current system are in the least wasteful and in the most, irresponsible. We are a state of just over 1 million — really, an urban county. What, specifically, is your objection to the consolidation of our school districts into regional or even a state-wide entity? We are small enough that RI can be a national model for efficiency. As a private-sector guy, certainly you recognize the value of streamlining organizations. Absent adequate federal funding, the savings alone from restructuring would certainly allow for additional text books and the like. Our education system cannot afford to be run as a bureaucracy. Time is truly of the essence when dealing with developing minds. And time simply is not something that bureaucracies… Read more »

Tim2
Tim2
15 years ago

Bob –
Lest my eyes deceive me, I thought this was a dialogue transpiring. If it is not to your liking, does that cause it to be irrelevant?
The fundamental issue is accountability and progress. You raise some good points on the variety of situations that many students come from but does that mean we give up on them before we even start? Beware the bigotry of low expecations!!! A merit-based solution could still factor in these elements and also focus on progress – what is the baseline, how can we measure success, and what is a reasonable expectation of that success? There can always be a scale according to the social elements including access as well as aptitude of the individuals but nonetheless, we can also have the right attitude on how we approach.
You also marginalize the impact of tenure. In my PUBLIC schooling days in Cranston some 30 years ago, I had a high school Biology teacher with the spelling level of a 3rd grader. It was a disgrace this guy had no inclination to recognize that maybe he was setting a bad example. Fortunately everyone in my AP classroom knew better, but what about the underpriveleged students you reference? Talk about contradictory experiences going from English class to Biology. And tenure had nothing to do with it, right???
To my viewing, no one here is blaming the parents so why are you bringing it in? Another attempt to smear your critics and dodge the issues?

JSHeehan
JSHeehan
15 years ago

Bob, I believe that the only way we will achieve success in the public schools is by getting rid of the teachers unions. While the NEA began as a professional association, your union has become nothing more than an old-style industrial union, in the UAW mold. The nonsense you espouse about caring for the kids is about as sincere as that of a pedofile. Here is why I say that: I remember my younger sister ran track and had a dedicated coach, also a great social studies teacher. Layoffs came and who went? This great teacher and dedicated coach. Who stayed: The older lazy teachers who simply go through the motions. Who benefited? The teachers. I’ve seen the difficult assignments being doled out to the younger, inexperienced teachers. The older more experienced ones want the cushy jobs. Who benefits? The teachers, not the kids. How about that annual ritual where the most tenured teachers get to pick the best (and always the easiest and least challenging) jobs. Who does this benefit, the teachers or the kids? Of course – the teachers. I recently saw how in Cranston the teachers union approved a contract that has a mere pittance for the kids, yet healthy raises for the teachers. Who does this benefit, Bob, the teachers or the kids? Once again, the teachers. Bob, there is no doubt that condition of the public schools in America is very much like the state of the airline industry or the auto industry. They are all hamstrung by archaic union work rules that limit the ability of the companies/schools to make the proper, intelligent choices that allow for effective competition. What makes teachers unions so egregious is that we are not just talking about cars, we are talking about our kids and the future of… Read more »

bystander
bystander
15 years ago

whew. bravo. jsheehan, can you please run for cranston’s school committee?

Bobby Oliveira
Bobby Oliveira
15 years ago

Dear JSheehan,
Just two little questions:
1. If appointments are not doled out by seniority, how owuld you do it?
2. Where is this magic supply of non-religously based, and very accepting of applicant background, schools coming from?

Tim2
Tim2
15 years ago

Bobby O –
I will take a stab at your questions of JSheehan while acknowledging he appears more than capable of speaking for himself.
1) Your question of “if not by seniority” begs the motive. Why not merit? Attitude? Aptitude? Seniority is a valuable measure and criteria if it brings experience, credibility and worthiness. If not, it can contribute to low morale and lack of confidence. Seniority or tenure or whatever you want to call it in its own right is a simplistic and limiting measurement.
2) ??????

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
15 years ago

JSheehan,
Clearly, our views are so far apart that a point-by-point debate would not be productive. I have certainly run into your viewpoints before – you choose to ignore all that the union itself does and our indivdual members do for children, and you seem to be locked into a corporate business model belief about how schools should be run.
I do offer you this challenge, however – find the five, or ten, or twenty best public school teachers that you know, or people you trust know, and ask them the honest question about the value of the union to themselves, to the profession, and to the children. And ask them honestly if they would choose teaching as a profession if they did not have the union behind them. (While you are at it, ask them if merit pay would be a motivator or a political nightmare.) And then figure out just who you would get to work in your version of the public schools. I look forward to your honest feedback if you truly ask these questions.

Bob Walsh
Bob Walsh
15 years ago

JSheehan, Again, we will just have to disagree, because your comments do not mesh with my experience. I have worked at NEARI since 1992 (and was in private, non-unionized business for almost a decade before that),and find NEARI to be one of the most democratic institutions in the world. Each local (we have 73) elects its own president, and together those presidents, plus additional representatives from our larger locals, plus our statewide elected officers, meet seven times a year to govern the organization. In addition, we have a Delegate Assembly where the ratio of representation is approximately one representative for every twenty members. I agree that not all members agree with all union positions, but no democratic organization in the world can claim full agreement. We run a separate charitable organization (NEARI Children’s Fund) which allows teachers and support professionals to identify kids in need (warm coat, eye glasses, dentist appointment, dress for the prom) and get them help. The same program also made sure that over 2000 kids in need had holiday gifts last year, including over 400 kids in one school in Providence (whose teachers we do not represent) because of the extreme poverty in that school. While you won’t see it on the news, many of our members spent the day at Warwick Mall today, providing free books to kids who need them and sponsoring an all day program of reading to kids (in celebration of Dr. Suess’ birthday.) I guarantee you, having worked in the private sector, for every “bad” union story you come up with, I can find 10 worse examples from the non-unionized world. Before unionization, teachers who were pregnant were forced to leave work when they began “to show”, and political terminations (both due to point of view and due to changes in… Read more »

Bobby Oliveira
Bobby Oliveira
15 years ago

Tim,
You’re criteria are fine except for one thing: you can’t measure any of them objectively. Fortunately or unfortunately, time of service is a measurable device. If you can somehow satisfactorily measure the other components, let’s make a switch. Until then, let’s use something concrete.

Tim2
Tim2
15 years ago

Bobby –
You are endorsing the same broken one-dimensional system that has led to the waste of talent, tolerance of sub-par performance, and political posturing.
You seem to be implying that our administrators cannot be objective. Put them under review as well but have everyone marching towards the same positive outcome. Tenure alone is a flawed way to expect any progress.
Remember the definition of insanity – doing things the same way and expecting different results.

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