What Profiteth a Community

It may be that the education discussion needs a broader context, because there’s a substantial way in which Thomas’s argument is beside the point:

As to the point I was actually raising, yes, it matters what pocket the money comes from. Andrew’s comment raises exactly this issue. My view is that basing education funding on property taxes makes the amount of funding available depend on the property values in the community. I don’t think the funding for my child’s education (or yours) should depend so much on which town their parents live in. If that means that our wealthier communities subsidize our less wealthy communities, I don’t have a problem with that. (And yes, I do live in Providence).
As for what those other communities would “get back in return”, I’d like to suggest that a well-educated work-force in Providence, Woonsockett, etc. would benefit the entire state. RI is much too small to think parochially about this. The future of our cities is the future of the state.

What good is our investment in schools when the business and government structure is such that educated young folks looking for opportunities have to go elsewhere? It profits us much less if our education funding translates merely into fewer people receiving public assistance, because fewer and fewer people are paying the bills.
Frankly, my priorities are ensuring that I can keep my own children out of poverty, managing to keep my home, and making it at least possible that my children, when educated, won’t have to go great distances in order to make a living some day. I know it’s habitual in Rhode Island to think of public policy as a compulsive shopper with a new credit card thinks of the mall, but we need realistic budgeting before we figure out how to maximize the returns on our public investments.

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Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

While I’m honored to see my comment elevated to the “front page”, I’m naturally somewhat less than thrilled to see it called “beside the point”. 🙂 Isn’t there a real chicken-and-egg problem here? Justin’s right that, if we don’t have decent jobs in RI, our well-educated children will flee for greener pastures. On the other hand, what potential employers want to start a business in a place where the available workforce is poorly educated? Will managers want to move to a state where the choices for their kids are poor public schools or expensive private ones? I think not. My view is that the solution to RI’s economic problems requires addressing educational achievement. I can’t disagree with the need for “realistic budgeting”. I agree there are savings to be had. I definitely agree that we are paying high salaries to some terrible teachers (I emphasize SOME) and we have unreasonable rules that make it too hard to get rid of deadwood. Seniority rules and “bumping” mean that teacher assignments are a matter of teacher preference, not rational allocation of resources. But it seems to me that, for a number of people, the goal is “spend less”, and nothing more. Mssrs, Carcieri and Fox’s approach, as well as that of the late Mr. Crowley has been, “let’s cut the budget and force the schools to be more efficient”. That’s a unrealistic plan, because there’s no mechanism to make sure that the cuts happen where they should. My guess is that the kids will lose before anything else goes. Nor do I think that cutting teacher’s salaries is the right thing to do. Our average salaries are slightly below MA and significantly below CT. As I’ve noted in other comments, adjusted for cost-of-living, they are 37th in the nation. If we want… Read more »

Anthony
Anthony
13 years ago

One interesting item about the Projo’s coverage of the NAEP results is that it focused mainly on RI’s neighbors. If you take a look at the complete study, you’ll find that RI’s students performed worse than kids in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and a host of other states, most of which pay their teachers a fraction of what RI public school teachers make.
I’ve seen conflicting reports on where RI ranks in terms of teacher salaries. Thomas would put RI at 37th.
Yet if you take the the AFT union’s published figures (which says RI pays its teachers more than MA and is 4th overall in the nation, behind only CT, CA, and NY) and perform a comparison using standard cost-of-living calculators, RI still ranks close to the top, while its students still underperform.
The bottom line is that the market should determine what teachers get paid. If there is a teacher shortage, raise the salaries. If there are 50 applications for every open position, just maybe the salaries are too high.

Andrew
13 years ago

Thomas, 1. Some of us on the right agree with the statement of… I don’t think the funding for my child’s education (or yours) should depend so much on which town their parents live in. If that means that our wealthier communities subsidize our less wealthy communities, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s the reason that we support cross-district choice, vouchers, or charters as a primary means of education reform. 2. Why “funding formula” is not high (or at all) on our list of reform ideas is because we believe that telling certain communities that, no matter how badly or inefficiently they spend their education dollars, they will always have an infinite pool of money they can take more from, from citizens outside their communities without the power to hold them accountable for the decisions they make, does not encourage and may even retard reform. To be blunt, we don’t believe that urban bureaucrats are smarter than everyone else. (And I suspect you wouldn’t disagree with this particular formulation of the problem, at least). 3. At some point, the people in the suburbs and the exurbs need to know how far the urban districts are willing to move the goalposts in their claim that they need more more more. The current line of reasoning is that 1) the cities are more important than the other communities, so they need more money, and 2) the cities have bigger problems than the other communities, so they need more money than the other communities. How much more? As much as they can grab! 4. To answer another point from your original comments… As for what those other communities would “get back in return”, I’d like to suggest that a well-educated work-force in Providence, Woonsocket, etc. would benefit the entire state. RI… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Anthony,
The NEA put RI at 8th. RIPEC used their numbers for their last report. The AFT report (with 2005 figures) puts RI at 5th.
I did run a standard cost-of-living adjustment (MERC-COLI) on the NEA numbers, which put RI between 35th and 37th for a cost-of-living indexed salaries. (I’m missing the merc-coli for 2 states)
I just ran the same indexing on the AFT numbers. RI comes out between 23rd and 25th, which is still not “close to the top”.
Of course, different indexes will produce different results. Which one did you use? Is there a better COLI index?

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

Let’s not get too hung up on salary comparisons.
Salaries are BUT ONE element of teachers’ compensation in RI.
We must also compare the pensions (i..e., the scope of the available pension benefit). Do other states have no minimum retirement age for those hired before 1995? What is the average minimum retirement age? What is the average formula for determining the “benefit” – is it like RI’s 70-80% of the highest consecutive three years (rather than based on career average)? Does it have an automatic 3% annual increase?
And health care. Is the national average plan coverage comparable to that given to RI teachers? Are the “co-share” amounts comparable.
The teachers unions in RI have successfully lulled the media and the public into focusing merely on base salary amounts, without considering the multitude of add-ons to salary (e.g., degree credits, longevity) and the a la carte menu of compensation and its total value (salary plus add-ons; pensions; health care; retiree health care).
All this, and it’s a nine-month job, not a twelve-month job.

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Tom W.,
I would not like this to degenerate into another numbers-war and didn’t mean to start one. Justin’s post raised the issue of the relation between education and economic development, which is critical. The salary issue was a small part of my comment, but I wanted to respond to Anthony’s statement that RI’s COL-adjusted salaries are near the top.
I’m going to guess that a number of people here would not mind either the salaries or the benefits we pay, if we got results like Mass. does. So, what is Mass doing to get those results? What are we doing to emulate them? What barriers do we have that they don’t? (Contract provisions, lack of cross-district choice, level of fragmentation of the system, levels and concentration of poverty, might be some examples.) How can those barriers be overcome?
I’ll note to Andrew that Providence does have intra-city choice, both as part of the attendance policy and through NCLB, though perhaps Boston’s is more extensive. (I’d like to respond to the rest of your comments too, but the day job is getting in the way right now)
I’m not trying to make a point; I’m asking sincere questions. Our neighbor to the north seems to be doing a great job. What can we do to copy them?

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

Thomas –
I just wanted to make the point about focusing only on salaries, for that falls right into NEA / AFT’s playbook.
As for compensation, I’ve said before that teachers should have “world class pay in return for world class performance.” Great teachers make all the difference, and you can’t expect to get great teachers on the cheap.
The problem is that the unions consider teachers to be fungible units (other than seniority), so great teachers aren’t adequately rewarded, and their loss goes to subsidize and over pay mediocre and poor teachers.
As for MA, on a relative basis it certainly is performing better (I wonder how MA students compare against other countries)? And certainly RI should look for “best practices” there and elsewhere.
Prop 2.5 would be a good start! 😉
Cross-district choice is like “you can buy any car you like, so long as it’s a GM brand.” Having a choice among different brands of crap is not much of a choice, and when there are no slots in other districts it’s no choice at all.
Absent choice including private alternatives, all we’ve got is symbolic but meaningless choice.

Frederick
Frederick
13 years ago

You wouldn’t say that Barrington or East Greenwich teachers are far superior to those in say Pawtucket or Providence because their test scores are always at the top, would you??

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Tom W.
I understand your first point.
I fully agree with your second and third paragraphs. (Hmm… I wonder if Frank is reading this thread?)
Let me ask a couple of serious questions.
1. I have never seen any convincing evidence that charter or private schools out-perform public schools, at least if you control for self-selection and the educational attainment of parents who are able to afford the best private schools. The most recent evidence out of the US Dept of Ed (which is lead by a charter advocate) does not support that charters are better. Do you have evidence otherwise?
2. I have never understood how vouchers are supposed to improve public schools. I’m pretty-much a realist on questions of incentives. I don’t understand how vouchers are supposed to motivate public school administrators, principals or (and this is who really matters) teachers. Can you explain this?
In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll confess (what some might suspect) that I’m predisposed in favor of public schools and against vouchers. I believe public schools are what has made American both a great melting pot and a land of opportunity. I worry a great deal that vouchers will lead to educational segregation by religion and class, and that will lead to a weaker nation. (I’m really a closet conservative, you know). I also worry that they tend to leave the worst-off behind, while those with motivated parents escape. In addition, I suspect that some advocates of vouchers are not really thinking about educational attainment but about their belief the schools should teach moral positions that they don’t get in public schools. However, I’ll set any “secret-agenda” concerns aside in the light of solid empircal evidence produced by scientifically acceptable methods.
These are sincere questions. I hope for responses in kind.

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Frederick,
I will not presume to speak for Tom W. (to whom I believe your question was addressed) but your point is not wasted on me.
I’d bet good money that you could fill Providence’s Central High with the best teachers in the state, and send the worst teachers to Barrington high, and Barrington would still produce higher test scores.
Maybe, if you filled all the K-12 schools in Providence with the best teachers, you would close the gap, but there’s a good chance that the effect of educated parents and peer effects would keep Barrington on top.
Anybody who doesn’t recognize the effects of parental educational attainment, parental involvement (made easier by leisure time and by parental education) and the effect of high-achieving peers, just isn’t being realistic.
If you’re hoping to get equal performance out of the two groups, you’re just going to have to put more resources into it.

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

>>You wouldn’t say that Barrington or East Greenwich teachers are far superior to those in say Pawtucket or Providence because their test scores are always at the top, would you?? I’ve said before that with public schools the teachers are all drawn from the same pool (RIC and other colleges of education), and coupled with the union contract template, the differences in performance appear to be mostly attributable to the demographics coming in the door. The teachers coast atop the whatever demographic wave happens to be coursing through the school in which they teach. >>I have never seen any convincing evidence that charter or private schools out-perform public schools … Catholic schools have long outperformed public schools. And in ANY realm competition improves all players, while monopolies and oligopolies inevitably lead to lower quality and higher prices. This is economics 101 and common sense and historical experience. >>I have never understood how vouchers are supposed to improve public schools. I’m pretty-much a realist on questions of incentives. I don’t understand how vouchers are supposed to motivate public school administrators, principals or (and this is who really matters) teachers. Can you explain this? The same reason that Detroit is starting to improve the quality of its automobiles. When there are higher quality alternatives they inevitably start taking market share. If the lower quality producer doesn’t improve its quality it faces eventual extinction … which has an amazing impact of realigning priorities in moribund institutions and organizations. >>I believe public schools are what has made American both a great melting pot and a land of opportunity. I worry a great deal that vouchers will lead to educational segregation by religion and class, and that will lead to a weaker nation … I suspect that some advocates of vouchers are not really thinking… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Tom W: “Catholic schools have long outperformed public schools. ” Evidence or cite thereto, please? (I assume such evidence will control for self-selection) Tom W: “And in ANY realm competition improves all players, while monopolies and oligopolies inevitably lead to lower quality and higher prices. This is economics 101 and common sense and historical experience.” Sure, sure, but my question remains: what is the incentive for public school teachers to compete? My sense is that their rewards are not tied in any way to retaining students. Providence middle schools have a class size cap of 26. I don’t know any teacher who would not be happier with 20 students. That’s not laziness, either. You can be a more effective teacher with 20. 15 would be even better. Why would the teacher want more students? Competition increases peformance only where there is an incentive to compete. Tom W: “Well, we already have segregation by class. It’s just that within public schools it comes via de facto by geography ” True enough, to a point. But my kid has experienced a very diverse learning enviornment. It’s a much more diverse situation than he would encounter in Barrington, or at most private schools. We like it, because that’s the world he’ll live in and he’ll be smarter about how to live in it. Tom W: “those that can escape urban systems do, ” Many do, but not all. I could and I don’t. Deliberately so. I have many friends who think the same way. I don’t think you should chuckle at the combination of melting pot and diversity. A child who goes to school with children from other cultures (ie who experiences diversity) will eventually come to appreciate them more. That brings cultures together, and that’s the melting pot. Note that in the… Read more »

Frederick
Frederick
13 years ago

Tom W.
So the poor test results are due to demographics or lousy teachers?
And a Brown, Harvard or Yale grad would do a better job teaching than a RIC grad?
And if the pay is so great and the benefits so grand, why aren’t are IVY League grads in the teaching profession?
Too blue collar for them?

Justin Katz
13 years ago

I apologize for my bluntness, Frederick, but this is a silly thing to say:

And if the pay is so great and the benefits so grand, why aren’t are IVY
League grads in the teaching profession?

First of all (and I don’t want to get into the argument, here), graduation from Ivy League schools is treated as much more special of a thing than it actually is.
Second of all, as far as I know, every Ivy has an Education department, so presumably there are teachers out there with degrees from them.
Third of all, the incentive structure is such that many teachers probably acquire their graduate degrees (and Harvard, I believe, only has specialized education programs at the graduate level) while working, so one’s experience with Ivy League-graduate teachers probably increases as one approaches such a school.
Fourth, there is currently a teacher surplus, and the union rules don’t generally make it an easy matter for districts to usher out mediocre teachers to make room for good ones.
Fifth, I guarantee you that if the hoops to become a teacher were removed — if, for one thing, the expansive prerequisites were largely eliminated and, for another, unionization were not required — the number of high-end applicants for teachers’ deals would increase rapidly.

Frederick
Frederick
13 years ago

Justin,
I won’t argue with your point out being an IVY league grad: “as much more special of a thing than it actually is”, my point was in rebuttal to Tom W implying the pool of present teachers is poor because so many are RIC grads.
For the sake of argument though, assuming the superiority of an IVY league graduate: in states where union membership is not required would you say there are more IVY league grad teachers as union members or as non-union members?
Secondly, the teachers’ unions certainly didn’t create the hoops to becoming OR even REMAINING a teacher with regards to certification/licensure. However, it is my understanding that unions do object to allowing licensure on the “fast track” with simply a college major in a particular subject area with little regard to pedagogy.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

For the sake of argument though, assuming the superiority of an IVY league graduate: in states where union membership is not required would you say there are more IVY league grad teachers as union members or as non-union members?

I don’t know. In the region with which I’m familiar, your question can be restated using “public” and “private” rather than “union” and “non-union,” and I’ve known some top-notch folks who’ve taught in private schools when they tired of the work that they’d been doing.
I wouldn’t doubt that folks with Ivy League teaching degrees might lean toward union membership (and whatever the origins of the restrictions, the opposition to fast-track certification ought to be considered telling).
Your question seemed to insinuate, to me, that those who did not enter higher education specifically interested in the teaching field would gravitate there were the benefits as disproportionate as some of us claim them to be. Clearly, there are artificial barriers to their doing so.

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

Tom W: “Catholic schools have long outperformed public schools. ” Thomas: “Evidence or cite thereto, please? (I assume such evidence will control for self-selection)” Response (Tom W): http://www.city-journal.org/html/6_3_a2.html Tom W: “And in ANY realm competition improves all players, while monopolies and oligopolies inevitably lead to lower quality and higher prices. This is economics 101 and common sense and historical experience.” Thomas: “Sure, sure, but my question remains: what is the incentive for public school teachers to compete? My sense is that their rewards are not tied in any way to retaining students. Providence middle schools have a class size cap of 26. I don’t know any teacher who would not be happier with 20 students. That’s not laziness, either. You can be a more effective teacher with 20. 15 would be even better. Why would the teacher want more students? Competition increases peformance only where there is an incentive to compete.” Response (Tom W): First you’re assuming that the teachers would remain employed and class sizes would drop. This isn’t necessarily so, not by a long shot. Class sizes could stay the same and teachers laid-off or terminated (unfortunately, under the current unionized regime, based on seniority rather than performance (just ask Middletown’s recently laid-off “teacher of the year)! Intuitively smaller class sizes result in better results, but class sizes in public schools have been dropping for decades (both numerically and effectively with the addition of teachers aides) – with no corresponding increase in results. Tom W: “Well, we already have segregation by class. It’s just that within public schools it comes via de facto by geography ” Thomas: “True enough, to a point. But my kid has experienced a very diverse learning enviornment. It’s a much more diverse situation than he would encounter in Barrington, or at most private… Read more »

Andrew
13 years ago

Thomas, 1. I say completely without snark that you must have missed David Mittel’s Projo column from last Thursday where he discussed NCLB school choice. Now back to the snark. NCLB in RI is the bureaucrat’s ideal of choice: everyone is free to choose the school they are in right now and no other. 2. One mistake you’re making in assuming that redistributive tax policy is the most important factor in reforming education is forgetting that taxes pay for more than schools. Under a system of bureaucratic redistribution, there’s nothing to stop politically connected communities from spending their municipal revenue on things besides schools, because they know they can always grab the money they need from other places to pay for their schools. Take Providence out of the mix for a second. Do you really trust the school committee and town council in West Warwick to do the right thing with a pile of money taken from people they’re not accountable to? 3. Evidence on various choice programs is sporadic, but that’s because there are very few programs that have been tried over a large area for a long period of time. But to say that conclusive theoretical evidence is necessary is to accept that decline is the natural order of things (which, alas, is the dominant liberal philosophy right now) and that people must forever accept paying more to receive less. Budgets have increased and education performance has declined for a couple decades. What exactly is evidence that this is an inevitable decline that’s the best outcome that can be hoped for? 4. I agree that parental involvement is important. That’s why some of us support programs like cross-district choice/vouchers/charters, which increase the role parents can play in shaping their children’s education. 5. In a public choice or voucher… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

>>Part of the assumption about cross-district choice programs is that they includes provisions where a portion of state aid follows students to the school they choose to go to. That’s the only “funding formula” that will fix public education in Rhode Island.
But if there are no physical facilities in which to house the students who wish to come in, then it is all but an academic exercise (no pun intended).
While cross (public school)district choice with state aid that follows the child would be an improvement, I go back to my comment about having a choice of cars, so long as it’s a GM brand – having a choice between a piece of sh** Chevy and a slightly better but still piece of sh** Buick or Cadillac is not much of a choice at all.
The ultimate solution is (shall we say) “comprehensive choice” so that parents can also select among private schools (the Hondas, Toyotas and Lexuses of education).
>>But to really make this system work, RI would need to make changes that gave principals more autonomy, and made the school the fundamental unit of education in Rhode Island, instead of the district.
I agree. But I’ve concluded that such choice is only possible with outside pressure, i.e., competition from the aforementioned choice.
Banishing the teachers unions from our state would also be a great leap forward – right now they are the single biggest impediment / roadblock to beneficial change within the public education realm.

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