Tasked with Tiptoeing Around the Solution
Yet another task force, this time addressing education in Rhode Island, has convened and tossed some suggestions out into the public breeze:
Expand the school day. Offer preschool to all students. Allow students to earn a high school diploma by taking night classes or enrolling online. …
The task force also recognized that the state, which faces a massive budget deficit and is tied with Michigan for the highest unemployment rate in the nation, can no longer afford to throw money at the problem of low-achieving urban schools.
“In these difficult economic times, we can’t rely on the public sector to create the system we need,” Simmons said in an interview last week. “The education system needs to be bailed out by both the public and the private sectors.”
As a result, the group’s recommendations rely heavily on partnerships with higher education, the business community, nonprofit organizations and the faith-based community. …
The task force doesn’t put a price tag on an early-childhood program. It does say that pre-K should be offered in a variety of existing settings, including daycare, Head Start and public schools. The state Department of Education is already planning a pilot pre-K program.
With both the preschool and night school proposals, the panel is suggesting substantial expansion of the student base of urban schools, even as it acknowledges that changes must be accomplished within a static (or decreasing) education budget. Considering that the greatest cost per student is for instruction, what the panel’s proposal requires either that teachers do more work for the same pay or that the workload is spread out in a teacher pool that, in aggregate, makes less money. Two steps would accomplish this goal, while increasing the efficiency and (I’d assert) the quality of the regular ol’ public school system:
- Create a voucher system that enables more parents to send their children to the schools of their choice. Political realities would likely prevent such vouchers from covering the cost of even less-expensive private schools entirely, so this step would have the added benefit of drawing more money into the total for childhood education, as parents and charities react to the incentive to pay more out of pocket to fund private school tuition.
- Introduce into state law, in such a way as to supersede local contracts, increased discretion for school administrators when it comes to hiring and firing. As public schools lose some of their funding based on children withdrawn from their student bodies, and to compete with each other and private institutions, principals will need greater leeway to excise teachers who burden the system and bring in those with a promise for progress.