March 27, 2006

Urban Arrogance & Fixing Education

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last week, the Providence Journal, Pawtucket Times, Westerly Sun, and Newport Daily News (story links) all reported on a recent evaluation of the quality of education in Rhode Island conducted in the form of the New England Common Assessment Program. Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo summarizes the results...

Statewide, about half of the 72,000 third-through eighth-grade students tested last fall were proficient in math and about 60 percent were proficient in reading. Fifth and eighth graders also took a writing test; 51 percent were proficient.

But in the urban districts -- Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket -- just 28 percent of students were proficient in math; 35 percent in reading; and 33 percent in writing.

Results from Cranston, East Providence, Johnston, Newport, North Providence, Warwick and West Warwick, so-called urban-ring communities, were far higher; 50 percent in math; 62 percent in reading; and 55 percent in writing.

And students in suburban and rural communities scored the highest rates: 65 percent in math; 72 percent in reading; and 61 percent in writing.

The political direction where this is heading is foreshadowed in Douglas Hadden's Pawtucket Times story on reaction from Pawtucket...
"I would bet the urban districts are performing quite a bit" below non-urban school systems. "That wouldn't come as a surprise really," said School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro, who teaches at Mount St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket. "Socio-economics is one of the biggest indicators, besides the educator in the classroom, for student achievement....

Tenreiro state the urban core results showed the need for more state financial support.

"I think we have to look at the education funding formula and make one that's adequate and equitable for all students. I'm not saying money is the whole answer, but we do have to provide a lot of support services to kids that walk in the doorway."

Making education funding "adequate and equitable" is code for raising taxes and/or cutting services in non-urban communities so that their resources can be transferred to the failing urban school districts that already receive a disproportionate share of state aid. Mr. Tenreiro's remarks exhibit the distressing tendency of urban officials to demand that everyone give the cities what the cities want, based on the belief that urban problems are more important than everyone else's, and that smaller communities will always have enough for dealing with their piddling little small-town problems from whatever is leftover.

Unfortunately, like government bureaus everywhere, urban school districts tend to lose their focus and view increasing their budgets as an end to itself. Before demanding that they be provided with even larger subsidies, urban school districts have a responsibility to show that they have meaningfully considered all available options for improving the quality of education available to their students -- even options that foster educational improvement without increasing the amount of money under traditional bureaucratic control -- including school choice, charter schools, and -- dare it be said -- voucher systems.

Additional coverage of the results of the New England Common Assessment Program is available from...