February 21, 2006

Tom Coyne's Very Specific Education Reform Proposals

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a Projo letter to the editor, Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association in Rhode Island, criticized a Tom Coyne op-ed on education in Rhode Island for not offering solutions...

Tom Coyne ("Answer in Rhode Island is not more spending," Commentary, Feb. 12) made numerous assumptions about my views on education spending, entitlement programs, and taxation in Rhode Island, and then proceeded to argue against those assumptions. He offers many criticisms, and few solutions, to the challenges facing Rhode Island.
At the RI Policy Analysis website, Coyne has responded with a specific set of proposals...
  • 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.
  • Use these funds for (a) more in-class room materials; (b) merit pay for the best teachers; and (c) shoring up the teachers crumbling pension system.
  • Institute a common state teachers contract with a longer school year and longer school day.
  • Restore management rights to school principals so they can pursue innovations that are appropriate for the students they serve.
  • Reform our current system for classifying children as "learning disabled" as recommended in the late Rep. Paul Sherlocks report to the General Assembly.
  • Make it easier for experienced mid-career people to teach in areas where they are needed, like math and science.
  • Lift the ban on charter schools.
  • Strengthen Rhode Islands academic standards, and require that students demonstrate proficiency as a graduation requirement.

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Initially may sound to you as being alarmist, or hyperbole, but the teachers unions are the single greatest non-terrorist threat to the economic well-being of the United States.

The U.S. can no longer compete as a manufacturer ... the days of an 8th grade education factory job providing a "living wage" are over. If the U.S. cannot compete on an intellectual capital basis, any hope for maintaining our average standard of living (much less improving it) is doomed.

It is generally recognized that the performance of unionized environments is (at best) mediocre. The performance (or better, the lack of performance) of RI's public schools attests to this. And because of this, the children of RI will suffer a lower standard of living than the should.

THIS SITUATION WILL REMAIN UNCHANGED AS LONG AS THE TEACHERS UNIONS ARE PERMITTED TO DARKEN RHODE ISLAND'S SCHOOLS!

It is not generally known that the teachers unions exist here only because the General Assembly has given them permission (this occurred during the 1960's).

THAT PERMISSION CAN BE WITHDRAWN!

If the RIGOP was smart they'd make the Democrats attempt to defend the indefensible. That is, the RIGOP should come out supporting the repeal of the statutes granting permission for public school teachers to unionize.

The Democrats would be confronted with a Hobson's Choice. Rally to defend the teachers unions (which they will have to do, for it is one of their largest providers of funds and campaign volunteers) ... or throw the teachers unions over the transom.

And how will the Democrats defend the teachers unions? Argue that their presence has improved the quality of public education? The public knows better! Argue defending teachers' strikes. Yeah, the public will be sympathetic to that one!

So voters would have a clear and bright-line choice: vote for Democrats and the perpetuation of teachers strikes, work to rule, mediocre education and ever-declining standards of living in RI, or ...

Vote Republican for an end to teachers strikes (etc. etc.), more opportunity for all, and a brighter future for "the children" and all other Rhode Islanders.

Posted by: Tom W at February 21, 2006 10:20 PM

Does anyone seriously think that our schools are any different from GM or Ford, or any other union dominated industry in the US that has been rendered obsolete.
The schools simply force municipalities to raise taxes, while continuing to churn out a shoddy, defective and overpriced product. By all right they should be bankrupt, but for the structural blackmail allowed for by teachers unions. Notice how Bob Walsh decries any mention of comptetion or merit pay. These are successful capitalist models and he oversees a communist, socialist organization.
Teachers unions should be declared illegal. They have inserted themselves between the purpose of the municipalities and the needs of the taxpayers, and their sole purpose is to steal our money for themselves. They are forcing us to by their Fords and the Chevys and not the Honda's and Toyotas that we want.
For that matter, all public employee unions should be declared illegal. After all, what do these employees need protection from, the scary taxpayers??

Posted by: Jim at February 22, 2006 1:33 AM

Speaking of which, here is an interesting and timely piece:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/Commentary/com-2_22_06_JS.html

Posted by: Jim at February 22, 2006 1:48 AM

Interesting commentary about the teachers unions. Directly abolishing them would be politically infeasible. Did you know that 25% of the delegates at the democratic national convention are associated with teachers unions?

A voucher system would solve the problems outlined above. Introduce competition to schools and there would be enough variety to include those with longer school days, specialized curricula, merit pay for teachers, teachers pulled from professional ranks, better learning materials in classrooms, innovative approaches to teaching etc.

Unions would not have to be abolished. Look at the difference between a Whole Foods Market and a conventional supermarket. Whole Foods is not unionized, whereas most conventionals are. The consumer has a choice. Increasing numbers are choosing Whole Foods, interestingly enough. It will be no different once non-unionized alternatives are introduced to education.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 22, 2006 4:48 AM

Thanks to Tom Coyne for again raising important issues about the miserable state of public education.

I agree that public education in America will never be any good as long as it is controlled by the teachers' unions. Our economic competitive advantage as a country will continue to dissipate due to a weak education system.

The teachers' unions have shown in East Greenwich that they will use our kids as pawns just to minimize their co-pay on health insurance premiums. There is no middle ground with these scoundrels.

There are many postings on national, state and local (East Greenwich) public education issues to be found at the bottom of this posting:

http://www.anchorrising.com/barnacles/002215.html

It is a crisis because a lousy educational system dooms the less fortunate in America by limiting their access to the American Dream.

And people like Bob Walsh don't give a damn as long as they get their dues money and can use the power that comes from those funds to control the political process.

Nothing less than the elimination of teachers' union will yield a satisfactory solution for our children.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at February 22, 2006 5:11 AM

Bountyhunter -

It becomes a "chicken and egg" issue. While vouchers would promote competition, and provide a natural counterforce to unionized schools, vouchers are politically infeasible while the teachers unions exist. Note how they just got Florida's voucher program overturned via a Democrat-friendly state supreme court.

We don't need to worry about banning teachers unions on a national level (and you are right, they are one of the major owners of the Democratic Party, nationally and in RI).

State / local government employees don't have a "constitutional right" to unionize, nor are they covered by the federal National Labor Relations Act.

Teachers in Rhode Island (and other state / local, for that matter) currently can only unionize because the General Assembly has given them permission to, by statute. That statute can be repealed.

A political challenge? Yes. Possibly - I believe eminently so ... if the RIGOP grew some cajones.

Think about this - other than teachers themselves, other unionized government workers, and the Democrat politicians who leech off of their dues, who wouldn't like to see the teachers unions eliminated?

Parents would certainly love to see an end to teachers strikes, work to rule, and incompetent teachers who can't be fired.

Seniors would love to see property taxes stop their ever-accelerating upward trajectory.

Businesses too would love to see modertation in tax increases, as well as a better trained workforce.

Within a year or two a new accounting rule takes effect, and the state and municipalities will have to provide estimates of the value of unfunded liabilities they have on the books (i.e., the upcoming cost of public-sector union pensions and retiree health care).

When taxpayers start seeing those numbers the brown stuff is really going to hit the fan.

Ultimately the teachers unions and all of their supporters / affiliates are a minority in RI. They have been successful because they are single-issue focused, organized, and have managed to maintain the myth among Rhode Islanders that the Democratic Party is the party of "working families" ... though in reality it is now the party of public sector unions and the welfare lobby.

The RIGOP could bust this myth and become the REAL party of "working families" ... for a majority of voters are potentially RIGOP supporters, they just don't know it (and the RIGOP isn't telling them).

A platform calling for the abolition of teachers unions in RI would generate huge public discussion and debate; accurately portray the RIGOP as the party of reform; put the entire Democratic Party into defense mode (and force them to try to defend the indefensible) ... and create a real bright-line difference between the parties that would resonate with voters. IT might also generate national attention and bring national money to the RIGOP.

Right now the RIGOP doesn't stand for anything with voters, other than being, perhaps, somewhat more moderate than Democrats, or different ... or because of RIGOP passivity in countering Democratic Party portrayals, the "party of the rich."

Perhaps next Christmas Santa will leave a pair of cajones under the RIGOP's tree!

Posted by: Tom W at February 22, 2006 10:13 AM

Tom-

I really like your thinking and passion on this. I need to do some research on courts shooting down vouchers in order to respond intelligently to your point. I hope FLA is anomalous.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 22, 2006 12:39 PM

Tom-

I really like your thinking and passion on this. I need to do some research on courts shooting down vouchers in order to respond intelligently to your point. I hope FLA is anomalous.

Posted by: bountyhunter at February 22, 2006 12:39 PM

I really like the first two points of this proposal. A single state-wide health insurance plan for teachers gives us an opportunity to negotiate a better, cost-efficient health plan for all.

Out of district transportation through RIPTA is an interesting idea too. Id like to see what RIPTA would offer and at what cost. Student safety concerns would also need to be addressed.

Using the savings for in-class room materials and shoring up the teachers pension system are good ways to allocate these funds. There are a couple of other needed programs within the school systems currently without funding or receiving limited funding. Id like to see some additional funding go for transitioning special education students from school to adult life for instance.

The one point that I strongly disagree with is a single state-wide common teachers contract. In Westerly our needs are different from the needs of the Cranston School District for instance. Its like comparing apples to oranges. The way we negotiate contracts and allocate funds is unique to the needs of our town. As a potential School Committee member, I want to retain the ability to negotiate contracts with the teachers union for the Westerly School District as its own entity. I am also concerned that a common contract throughout the state might actually raise contract costs in Westerly.

Tom Coynes proposals at the very least opens up a healthy debate that could lead to substantial tax-payers savings and more efficiently run schools.

Posted by: Greg Nedwetzky at February 22, 2006 1:00 PM

Vouchers work. If the taxpayers say they want vouchers let's give them vouchers. Its their money.

Monopoly is bad. Competition is good.

The bigger problem in RI is the outrageous cost associated with the duplication of efforts in the 39 school districts. The taxpayers are being crushed by a system that is out of control, has no competitive moderation, and feeds the shameless gluttony of the NEA and their teacher's unions.

Trust me. The kids win when the parents control the spending. Ask the parents of the kids at the independent schools.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at February 22, 2006 2:48 PM

You know that Tom Coyne is definitely on the right track if the NEA is taking time to attack him!

NEA Bob Walsh's babble (In my Rhode Island...) Yeah, in your Rhode Island, teachers would be making $100000/yr, have 4 hour school days, and could never be fired. The guy is so far out of the real world.

As far as I'm concerned, what the NEA does to American kids is just one tick up the sleaze chain from NAMBLA. Kids are an absolute afterthought to them. They aren't the primary or even secondary concern. All their good for is for the "it's for the children" excuse come budget time, when it's really "it's all about us." Kudos to Tom for taking them to task head on.

Posted by: Will at February 23, 2006 3:01 AM

Since this is not my normal home, I'll only make two points here:

1.) Whenever the statewide contract is proposed, my Rep. did it last cycle, it is the Barrington's and East Greenwich's that cry foul. In some cases even suggesting to float "campaign cash" into other communities to make sure it doesn't happen.

2.) There is no voucher plan currently in existence anywhere that works. Before you go charging up that hill, making sure that school choice, under NCLB, is viable should be your first priority.

Posted by: bobby oliveira at February 23, 2006 6:55 PM

>>1.) Whenever the statewide contract is proposed, my Rep. did it last cycle, it is the Barrington's and East Greenwich's that cry foul. In some cases even suggesting to float "campaign cash" into other communities to make sure it doesn't happen.

One can't blame the folks for wanting to avoid the pathologies that would come from "absorbing" the Providence / Central Falls systems. A major reason that suburbs are popular is that parents seek to protect their children from the "strengths of diversity." I don't intend this as a discriminatory remark - though will probably be accused as such - just that no parent in their right mind would want their kids rubbing elbows with the gang / drug / welfare cultures that permeate large city school systems - no matter the ethnic or racial makeup of a particular city.

>>2.) There is no voucher plan currently in existence anywhere that works. Before you go charging up that hill, making sure that school choice, under NCLB, is viable should be your first priority.

Vouchers haven't been given a fair chance.

"School choice" under NCLB is limited between and among "public" schools, and so is like having the meaningless "choice" between driving a piece of crap Chevy Vega or a piece of crap Ford Pinto.

Vouchers will allow parents - ESPECIALLY responsible minority parents in inner cities - to also give their children the opportunity to receive a "Toyota" or "Honda" education.

Posted by: Tom W at February 23, 2006 11:09 PM

bobby oliveira,
You should familiarize yourself with Milwuakee's voucher program. Indeed, voucher programs DO work. Perhaps not for the socialist teachers unions, but for the students and their parents, they sure do.

Posted by: Jim at February 24, 2006 10:36 AM

Jim, Bobby, Tom & Others,

If you've got some references on the performance of voucher programs that you swear by, e-mail their titles and, if possible, links, and I'll make this subject into a post of its own in the near future.

Posted by: Andrew at February 24, 2006 11:19 AM

My responses to Mr. Coyne's "plan":

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 these funds for (a) more in-class room materials; (b) merit pay for the best teachers; and (c) shoring up the teachers crumbling pension system.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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 Sherlocks report to the General Assembly.

5) 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.

6) 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.

7) 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 Islands academic standards, and require that students demonstrate proficiency as a graduation requirement.

8) Good idea - fund the programs to back it up.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at February 24, 2006 4:29 PM

Dear Jim, Tom, and Others,

It would seem that the first thing we need to do is come up with some benchmarks for what "working" is supposed to mean. Each of us can consider a program working while it drives others insane because it fails in objectives they feel should have more prominence.

For those who may not know, I was on the staff that produced Mass Ed Reform and certainly understand Mayor Lambert's method of thinking then and now. As far as where I get my stats, reviews, and policy analysis from, as many of you know, it is the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank arm of the Democratic Leadership Council, who had a big hand in the orinigal NCLB deal.

Lastly, I support Charter schools but you can't fund them until you are willing to fully fund "regular" public schools.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at February 27, 2006 1:37 PM