A Problem of Scope
John McDaid rightly tweaks me for my overly hasty reaction to Berkshire Advisors’ audit of the Portsmouth school district. The report is thorough, thoughtful, and likely enlightening for employees of the district… within its scope.
In large part, my complaint still stands. Indeed, John begins a related post on his own blog thus:
There is nothing wrong with the Portsmouth schools that a few tweaks and more money can’t fix. That was the message last night from the consulting firm Berkshire Advisors after their months-long performance audit of the school department.
As helpful as the individual suggestions may be, a comparative analysis of Portsmouth versus Barrington, Smithfield, Tiverton, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Middletown, South Kingstown, and Exeter-West Greenwich is inherently limited in scope. So, for instance, we do get the insight that the teachers’ contracts require the district to spend too much of its purchased teacher-time on preparation and departmental administration, but this intriguing statement is left floating:
Many parents are concerned about the lack of opportunities for gifted and talented and high achieving children. In fact, in focus groups some parents reported moving their children who are gifted and talented to private schools while continuing to enroll their children with special needs in the Portsmouth schools.
I suspect that a survey of Portsmouth residents with children in private school would provide some very interesting feedback in this area. To what degree, for example, do Rhode Island schools lose their most promising students — whose participation teachers would most definitely value in “inclusion classrooms” — because parents perceive public schools to be mainly a drag on their opportunities?
How, for another example, does the school department’s provision of “high quality education to Portsmouth students with limited resources” compare, not with some nearby districts, but with private schools within the town’s own borders? How does the quality compare? How the resources?
Those who follow public happenings in Rhode Island may be inclined to see the report in quite another context: the tendency of officials and representatives to stop their inquiries just short of the line at which the tough questions and tougher decisions begin to come into view.