What’s Wrong with RI Education
For anybody who has not already done so, wading through the comment-section discussion appended to my recent post on teachers and education is well worthwhile. Having followed it in progress, myself, I’ve observed a point that apparently needs stressing before such conversations proceed: Unions are not the only problem that requires fixing in Rhode Island’s public education system. Still, it draws too-bold lines of responsibility to state, as the NEA’s Bob Walsh does in the comment thread, that unions “don’t hire or fire/retire [their] members, just represent them between those two points in time.”
Teaching is, by its nature, a rewarding career. Adding in the vacations, breaks, and holidays that it has traditionally promised as perks makes up for much of the difficulty of the work. While most of us will agree that, beyond these attractions, teaching ought to be a very well paid profession, through their undue political muscle as well as their organization of such invidious negotiation tactics as “work to rule,” Rhode Island teachers’ unions have brought the pay, benefits, and security of the job to such a disproportionate level (in relation to other careers) that corruptive consequences have been sure to arise in both the teacher-education industry as well as the hiring process.
At the other end of the teacher’s career, it’s somewhat disingenuous to claim that retirement ends her or his relationship with the union. Teachers never really retire from union representation. And between hire and retire, unions play a role in the problem that mikeinRI, a teacher himself, articulates:
Perhaps the biggest weakness in our schools… are the principals. Not because they don’t try or are incapable, but because their hands are tied by contracts and administrators. We need to restore some power to the principals, to allow them to lead schools in a particular direction, to be advocates for reform, and to reward those teachers who are willing to move forward and work for reform. Those [who] don’t want to, won’t. But the consequences will be financial ones.
Enough is wrong with Rhode Island’s public education system that we could spend endless hours arguing around each other about where best to focus reform efforts, but unless teachers’ unions begin to rethink their role and their self-presentation, they will face a growing clamor for their cessation, punctuated every time any district’s contract is up — even every time somebody’s friend, family, or neighbor finds it necessary to leave the state and every time non-union workers find themselves sighing at their dim prospects for a true retirement at any age.
“” Rhode Island teachers’ unions have brought the pay, benefits, and security of the job to such a disproportionate level (in relation to other careers) that corruptive consequences have been sure to arise in both the teacher-education industry as well as the hiring process.”
And see, until you can realize that this is false– factually, intellectually, and morally, then we will need to be even stronger than we are.
But . . . aren’t there some school departments in RI that are quite successful in terms of student achievement?
And aren’t all of these districts pretty much captives of the same unions?
If the unions are the critical problem that impede school success, shouldn’t we expect to see abysmal performance in every district?
What’s false, Pat — that teacher remuneration is disproportionate, or that disproportionate remuneration will repercuss in the processes of training and hiring those teachers?
The point of this post was that, while unions aren’t the only problem with RI’s educational system, they are too integral to that system to draw bold lines around their responsibility. They aren’t the “critical problem”; they’re a critical problem.
Homogeneity of unions and heterogeneity of school effectiveness don’t disprove the thesis. Different districts have different students, different parents, different resources and competencies when it comes to administration. Moreover, across a relatively even pay range, the natural qualities of the school will help to attract or deter teachers of varying quality.
Districts will naturally vary in their outcomes, so the fact that they are like in their union representation, if anything, suggests that unions don’t serve to even out the comparisons. It may take longer for the situation tob become intolerable in some districts (look at Portsmouth), but that doesn’t mean that unions don’t contribute substantially to the acheivement of such milestones.
Is it any wonder that our schools are performing abysmally when you listen to the total nonsense from the likes of union hacks Crowley and Walsh? Remember, these are the dopes the union membership, the teachers, chose as their “leaders.” That alone should speak volumes about the teachers.
To dispute the excessive cost with the pitiful results is an affront to moral, ethical or intellectual sensibilities.
We have been dumbing down our public education since the unions took over. It is laughable to hear anyone say that our schools are performing well.
I suppose when you continue to find lower bars to compare our schools to, you can say they look good. That is the only way these union hustlers operate.
Let’s make this clear:
Until you deal with the 3 real issues that face RI schools, mentioning unions is a waste of time.
As long as you put your concentartion here instead of where it belongs, it can be argued that you are not interested in fixing our education problems.
I suggest you review No Child Left Behind. Then I suggest you review every Dept. of Ed budget starting with the first one under the act, according the non-partisan office of Management and Budget that fiscal year Education was shortchanged by 11 Billion, and then reiew your comments about cost.
There is no evidence linking “dumbing down” and unions. Once again, you reveal yourself as what you are: not interested in improving schools but very interested in hating unions.
By the way, ever look at what other states have done, mostly red states in this case, to lower the bar to match NCLB mandates? Are you familiar with what happened in Houston? Again, your lack of knowledge and Don Carcieri like lazy treatment of the facts tells us what to think about you.
Lastly, for 18000th time, the RIGOP has been running the “unions are the devil” message in election after election. Looking at how well it’s done, I can see why you continue it.
P.S. I don’t get the really neat artist treatment, very well done Justin – good choice in artists and cool portraits, but for the curious, there is a pic of little ole me on the myspace page.
The overarching goal must be the highest possible educational quality, i.e., at least “world class” if “world leading” – as measured by actual outcomes, not monetary inputs.
With that objective in mind:
Influences that advance that mission should be supported and groomed for further imporevement;
Influences that are “neutral” should be either reformed so as to render them productive, or eliminated so as to end the unnecessary diversion of resources; and
Influences that detract from the mission should either be (immediately) reformed to become productive, and if such are unable or unwilling to do so, quickly eliminated so as to remove their deleterious impact.
My belief is that the very industrial age neo-Marxist mindset / wordview of the teachers union bosses, coupled with the tangible detriments of seniority and tenure, which are inherently incompatible with a high performance organization, relegates the teachers unions into the “inherently detrimental and so should be immediately eliminated” category.
This can be accomplished by legislation, so discussing purging teachers unions from Rhode Island is not an idle flight of fancy.
So a challenge: once a for all, let’s hear Bob / Pat JUSTIFY for all of us how, on a NET basis, the presence of teachers unions advances the educational mission in RI.
Conversely, let them explain to us how the educational mission in RI would, on a NET basis, be harmed by the removal of the teachers unions from our state.
Justify it? Because if we let people like you, Tom W. just keep experimenting with kids we’d be at 3rd world country levels.
Leave it up to you to attempt to answer a serious inquiry with a half-assed moronic quip. I’d expect no more from Bob Walsh’s shoe-shine boy.
Check out my letter to the editor http://www.projo.com about the possible management study of the Chariho Regional School District.I omitted my good friend George Abbott on the committee who supports the study.The letter was sent to The Westerly Sun also, both were published yesterday.I do not think you can access The Sun version unless you are a sunscriber?
I also did a modified one for the RISC group which I am NOT a member.That is the Rhode Island State Wide Coalition.
We need to have OUTSIDE management studies of our school districts.School districts are NOT the same academically and other factors.For instance since the Chariho Regional School Committee is NOT responsible to the district town councils for their budget approvals only directly to the voters.In a single member school district the council has that power and exercise it on behalf of the voters.In Westerly for example the budget stands unless a petition asks for a change.In the Chariho towns,Charlestown,Richmond,and Hopkinton,the town councils have no institutional leverage to get the Chariho School Committee to change that amount other than the “bully pulpit”.
My letter in the “Pro-Jo” only appeared in “South County” edition.Both papers edited my original letter.
One school committee member who opposes the management study reportedly has his wife and son on the district payroll.I omitted that fact from my letter.
TomW – You actually started out with a decent premise, but then veered off into your more typical rhetoric with all its anti-union trappings. Someday, it would be interesting if you explained how your worldview ended up where it is, especially in light of the work you have done in the past defending workers. It seems that you often walk that fine line between making the “time out” category and engaging in real debate (time out is how I decided to handle posting on AR – answer the real questions and engage in real dialogue with anyone who truly wants to knock these issues around, and ignore those who seem most interested in just taking shots.) You asked real questions in the middle of you post. 1) How does the presence of teachers unions advance the educational mission in Rhode Island? NEARI traces its roots back to 1845, but I assume you are really asking about the post- collective bargaining era and how that has advanced the educational mission in RI. In no particular order: 1) Unions help to attract and retain qualified professionals into the teaching profession by: a.) improving wages and benefits and making them competitive with professions requiring similar backgrounds and educational attainment; b.) improving working conditions; c.) depoliticizing transfer, layoff, promotion and termination decisions; d.) formalizing the rules of employment so teachers can focus on students; e.) supporting legislation that improved working conditions for all workers . 2) Unions help to foster student achievement by: a.) reducing class sizes; b.) mandating professional development opportunities for teachers; c.) as above, attracting and retaining qualified professionals to teach; d.) supporting legislation and regulations that address the outside needs of students (especially those in need) to allow them to be better learners in the classroom (health care, housing, school… Read more »
Time out Greg… time out. Now, what kind of polish should I use……
schools no longer exist for students..they exist for teachers and unions
Again, Pat, you misunderstand your role and mine. You are Bob’s toady. I am NOT yours. So you may very politely bite my ass.
Thanks, Justin, for recognizing that there is a lot more to improving educational quality in RI than the union question. I think seeing that RI’s low educational performance is a multi-dimensional problem, and getting people with different perspectives to work together, is an important first step if there’s going to be real change. At the same time, I agree with you that “unless teachers’ unions begin to rethink their role and their self-presentation, they will face a growing clamor for their cessation…”. Bobby O’s taunting about election results notwithstanding, a shakeup is coming as people on the left and right start to see that the powers-that-be are not acting in their interests, or the interests of their children. I think, and hope, that the House vote on the education budget this year (12 dems and 13 reps voting together against the majority leaders’ position) is the beginning of a cross-party movement for a more serious look at both funding and performance. In another thread, Mr. Walsh assured us that the NEA members do have an interest in making sure all teachers are well-qualified and doing a good job. I won’t contradict him, but the public doesn’t see it that way, and I don’t think NEA/AFT can afford to be so complacent. In Providence, I am seeing more and more people who are unwilling to abandon the public schools for private schools, but who are also unwilling to tolerate the school system’s acceptance of unprofessional and incompetent teachers and absurd practices such as “bumping”. PEEC has been working (rather ineffectually so far) to bring awareness to the problems with the contract. These aren’t anti-union conservatives, but mostly minority parents who are traditionally democratic in their voting. If groups like PEEC, the Education Partnership and others can get smarter and less ideological,… Read more »
A couple of things:
1. Those weren’t 12 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting together due to a common belief that the education system is misserved. Let me break it down for you: 13 Republicans who hate the Speaker, 6 Democrats who hate the Speaker and 7 Democrats who are very Liberal and wished to double the education budget if not more.
2. We’ve been hearing about this “shakeup” in every election cycle since 1804. Sorry if it tends to underimpress.
3. There is no real “clamor” now and all the folks who professed “clamor” on the sidelines. How is it going to grow?? Parents deal with the first 3 issues on a daily basis long before they even consider unions.
4. In order for there to be a “cross party movement” there has to be another party. Thankfully, Don Carcieri and those who worship him have removed that obstacle.
5. The PEEC, exactly as you describe, and the Education Partnership, aka OCG, aka The RISC, aka the other group headed by the same people calling itself RISC, aka whatever GOP group you like, can never work together since the PEEC is real and the others are a joke. THose GOP groups have to be partisan via thier leadership. The PEEC knows that they truly have nothing in common.
Thomas, having said all that, you might be a perfect person to ask the following to: Can you identify the 3 things we need to deal with in order to fix education long before we talk about unions?
(There is no real wrong answers. That shows you how far unions are really down on the list if there is a problem with them at all)
“Can you identify the 3 things we need to deal with in order to fix education long before we talk about unions?”
1. Parental Apathy
2. Administrations that allow/support/encourage moving students up to the next grade when they aren’t ready.
3. The teacher’s inability to enforce any sort of discipline in the classroom.
I must say, this thread and the one that preceded it have provided some interesting reading about different people’s perspectives on the root causes of RI’s education problem. However, when discussing the question of whether certain union behaviors and contract clauses are among these root causes, we might want to start with some facts. RI’s per pupil spending, as a percentage of our per capita income, is the second highest in the country. Rhode Island also has the nation’s second highest number of teachers per student. We have paid our teachers very well. Rhode Island’s average teacher salary, as a percentage of its average private-sector worker’s salary, is the highest in the country, and has been since at least 1990. Census data show that salaries and benefits account for 90% of per pupil spending in Rhode Island. That’s the highest percentage in the country — 5.3% more than Mass and 7.3% more than the national average. To put this in perspective, if Rhode Island spent only as much as Massachusetts on salaries and benefits, it would free up $91.4 million for spending on books, instructional materials and school buildings. At 20.1% , we also classify more students as “learning disabled” than any other state in the country (the national average is 13.8%). This is extremely expensive: while we spend about $29 million per year on books and instructional materials, we spend over $100 million on therapists and psychologists. Unfortunately, despite our heavy spending, Rhode Island students still substantially underperform their peers in other states. On the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests (the only ones taken by students in every state), Rhode Island eighth graders average reading score was 261 (#31 in the country) versus 274 in Massachusetts (#1). Our average eighth grade math score was 272 (#38),… Read more »
Those are a very nice 3, especially #1.
1. Only 7 members of the House really thought that a 3% increase was appropriate, and all of the other votes were based on personal pique? It’s a sadder place than I realized. Were the votes that went along with the leadership also based on the politics of personality, or were they somehow based on principle?
2. This comment suggests a remarkable degree of complacency and satisfaction with the status quo. Or perhaps I misready you. Anyway, if the defenders of the status-quo don’t see it coming, all the better.
3. There is no clamor now? How much time do you spend talkng to public school parents? (Also, your comment seems to assume I’m attacking unions. I wasn’t.)
4. I take it your an unreconstituted defender of the current Democratic leadership in RI? I think that between the DINOism and the self-dealing among the party leadership, they’ve worn out large portions of their support. But let’s talk again after the ’08 GA race.
5. Strategic alliances across ideological lines do happen. Im not a fan of the Ed. Partnership OR PEEC, but I’ll be glad to help either or both get rid of bumping.
As to your (loaded) question about how to fix education before dealing with unions, how about:
1. Replace the GA leadership with people who actually understand and care about education.
2. Predictiable, fair and adequate state funding of education (with much less reliance on property taxes)
3. Reform of the education bureacracy.
I’d agree with Greg about parental apathy, because parental involvement with education, both at home and in the schools, gives a huge boost to performance. However I see that “apathy” as being a function, to a significant extent, of parental poverty and lack of education.
I’m very interested in the statistics you offer, particularly the conclusion that poverty rates don’t affect (and may decrease) RI’s relative performance rankings.
I have noticed that in the “return on investment” table, the Chamber of Commerce reports that, even after they control for poverty, the states with the highest levels of child poverty remain the worst performers. That shouldn’t happen, unless a) they didn’t really control effectively for poverty or b) the states with the highest levels of child poverty are, for other reasons than poverty itself, bad performers. RI ranks pretty high in child poverty, so it makes a big difference and, unfortunately, the Chamber is not very explicit about their methodology.
Another concern is the potential for an ecological fallacy based on the fact that state-level data are being used. A state with high poverty levels may spend a lot on education, but if the money is not directed to children in districts with high poverty, it won’t have any effect there, and controlling for poverty at the state level won’t be meaningful. For instance, RI’s highest cost-per-student is highest in New Shorham, where I suspect poverty is quite low. More generally, our high-poverty cities are not substantially above the mean for expenditures per pupil.
Everything depends on knowing how these statistics are generated. If you could provide URLs for the studies you cite, I would be grateful. I would like to see if any of those reports give better statements of their methods than the Chamber report.
Dear Thomas (Virginia),
1. There is no Santa Claus.
2. Based on election results, people are somewhat satisfied with the status quo.
3. I spend a lot of time with public school parents. The “clamor” is about one of my big 3 issues.
4. If they have, and I somewhat doubt it based on summertime events, it’s not showing up anywhere.
5. My suggestion is form your own group. At least that way, we all know it’s clean from the beginning.
6. I don’t necessarily agree with those 3, but that’s your perception and therefore also makes them a fine 3 to begin with.
7. I think your last point is your most significant.
John, awesome post. Nothing like facts and statistics when attempting to evaluate Rhode Island’s public services, including the education system.
>>TomW – You actually started out with a decent premise, but then veered off into your more typical rhetoric with all its anti-union trappings. Someday, it would be interesting if you explained how your worldview ended up where it is, especially in light of the work you have done in the past defending workers. In the interest of brevity (for this subset alone could turn into a long discussion): though I don’t have children so don’t have a direct “dog in this hunt,” over the years I’ve become quite passionate about education. Property taxes are one aspect of it, to be sure, but primarily out of concern for this country’s future economic competitiveness and, by extension, standard of living. Books such as “The Worm in the Apple” and publications by various think tanks (such as the Hoover and Manhattan Institutes) pointedly expose the flaws of U.S. public education and the critical need for the total restructuring of same. Post-industrial age education must emphasize literacy both in language and mathematics, along with critical-thinking skills. The days of auto workers with 8th grade educations supporting a middle-class lifestyle or over – it was nice while it lasted – but neither unions or elected officials or business leaders can alter this dynamic. UAW wages and benefits are still quite generous, but the “price” for that has been paid by all of the former-UAW members who no longer have jobs, which were sacrificed in order to maintain the above-market rate pay and benefits for those who remain. The performance of U.S. public education has been continuing to decline for some forty years now (I read somewhere that SAT scores peaked circa 1964). Worse still, U.S. performance lags that of competing nations – something like 25th out of 30, according to the OECD. The more… Read more »
I agree with SusanD that facts and statistics are very useful. They help us get past the ideological wars and get down to real problems and solutions. Without trying to contradict John’s stats, here are some more that, I think, help shed additional light on what is going on: The average teacher salary in RI for 04-05 was $53,473 (I know Frank will say it’s higher, but I don’t think he’s given us figures and a source yet, so I’ll stick with the RIPEC figure). That put us 8th in the nation, right after Mass. In order to reasonably compare states, you need to control for cost of living. ($50k goes a lot further in Kansas than in RI). Using the MERIC-COLI to do so, RI ‘s indexed teacher salary is $41,841, which puts us 34th in rank (national average is $43,647). John says, “…, as a percentage of its average private-sector worker’s salary, is the highest in the country, and has been since at least 1990.” Looking at Bureau of labor stats for 2005, John is correct. RI teacher salaries are 1.44 times the average private salary, which is higher than any other state. However, we have to ask whether this ratio is generated by very high teachers salaries, or something else. The BLS average private industry salary for RI for 2005 was $37,067. That put is at 22 in rank. The national average was $37,374, so we were slightly below the average, but slightly above the median. However, if you index this figure as well, RI’s becomes $29,004, which puts RI private salaries at 47th in rank, and substantially below the average of $36,338. (The ratio of indexed teacher salaries to indexed private salaries remains 1.44) So, here’s another way of looking at the data John gives us:… Read more »
Again, you have made the classic mistake of presenting facts without perspective.
Sheep are easy to impress. Throw some facts at them and they all go “baaaah”. However, facts without context don’t win elections.
One of the reasons our per spending is so high is due to the fact that RI teachers are much better at obtaining grants than their Massachusetts counterparts. Another reason is our committment to special education which you pointed out but didn’t make the full connection.
By the way, do you really believe that No Child Left Behind treats Rhode Island and Massachusetts the same way? Are the funding mechanisms in RI and MA the same? The answers are no and no. In fact, most people would never compare these two.
Adjusted for economic levels of who actually takes the test, the scores you site are almost statistically insignificant. The Manhattan study is useless on its face (you must be kidding if you quote anything that bunch of clowns puts out), you misread the Rand study, and did you check what Standard and Poor used for a screen? You might want to.
Having said all that, you did care enough to look all of it up even if there was some misrepresentation. You also are not happy. However, once again, you ruined it all through union hating.
The key element of your post was about special education. That was the one place where you were right on target and discovered one of my big 3.
Next time, leave the union hating element out and what you say about special education will have more impact.
>>Next time, leave the union hating element out and what you say about special education will have more impact.
By all means, we must never ever ever scrutinize the unions, their activities, or their impact on public education. Collectivization and collective bargaining are inherently and unquestionably good – this is our religion and we must never question, much less deviate from, our religious dogma. Death to the infidels against collectivism!
>>However, if you index this figure as well, RI’s becomes $29,004, which puts RI private salaries at 47th in rank, and substantially below the average of $36,338. (The ratio of indexed teacher salaries to indexed private salaries remains 1.44)
The premise that we must factor in cost of living one the one hand is valid, but on the other is not. In the private sector few companies say “gee, just because you live in RI we’re going to pay you more.”
More importantly, salaries are but one item in the teacher compensation menu.
We don’t know if those figures include all of the add-ons such as longevity pay, certification pay, etc.
Further, the value of benefits net “co-shares” must be factored in – on anet basis, how do RI’s teacher benefits compare with those nationally?
And perhaps most financially significantly, there is RI’s extraordinarily generous pension benefit. How does that compare with national averages?
Unless and until we analyze the totality of teacher compensation here and elsewhere, just comparing salaries is a fool’s errand.
You said: “Unless and until we analyze the totality of teacher compensation here and elsewhere, just comparing salaries is a fool’s errand.”
I agree that the full picture includes both salary and benefits, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look at the component parts separately, as long as we remember it’s part of a bigger picture.
In this case, however, John posted about salaries, so I just followed up on the same subject.
>>I agree that the full picture includes both salary and benefits, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look at the component parts separately, as long as we remember it’s part of a bigger picture.
Fair enough. But my concern is that many (and probably the vast majority) of citizens don’t recognize the “bigger picture” … something the unions realize and exploit by negotiating many add-ons in contracts, knowing that the press will dutifully only report the base salary figures.
Similarly, that the unions “negotiate” PR victories for school committees can tell the press e.g., that they negotiated hard and now the teachers have a health care co-pay – which the press will dutifully and unquestioningly report without reporting that the “cost” was shifted to another line item in the contract, so that the teachers on a net basis are still getting a raise and fully paid health care.
Both Toms have a good point. The data I used does not include non-salary benefits. Were those benefits included, I quite strongly suspect that it would make the relative lot of a teacher in RI look much, much better.
I also accept the point about adjusting data for differences in the cost of living.
Of course, this raises one final and quite troubling point: why is it that RI’s average cost-of-living-adjusted average private sector salary is so low (and here I’ll assume that non-salary benefit levels are the same proportion of salary across every state, which may not be true). In theory, differences in real wages reflect some combination of (a)differences in average worker productivity (output per hour worked) and/or (b) differences in corporate profit and tax rates across states. In the case of RI, while our corporate tax rates are high, a higher proportion of businesses in RI are taxed at personal rather than corporate rates than in most states. Hence, the cause of our low wages is more likely to lie in our relatively lower productivity.
Of course, some will immediately point out that this reflects our mix of businesses — output per hour worked in retail and restaurants being lower than, say, biotech. But that only begs the question of what has caused RI’s mix of industries to tilt toward low labor productivity operations. Which, of course, brings us back to our eductation system, and the quality of the work force it produces (as well as the extent to which our generous social programs are attracting an influx of low productivity workers, and our high taxes and poor schools are keeping high productivity industries from investing here). All food for thought.