April 22, 2006

Ruth Simmons Gets It Wrong

Carroll Andrew Morse

Earlier this week, Brown University President Ruth Simmons discussed education in a lecture before the Urban League of Rhode Island. Here is a part of her remarks, as reported by Tom Mooney in the Projo...

"How often do you talk to people who just can't bear the thought that their tax dollars are going to help children across town? It's appalling and we must call it what it is. The notion that we can request the resources in society for the privileged few and leave everybody else behind is a notion that must be called to account."
President Simmons is far too quick to assume that sinister motives must lie behind a public unwillingness to send their money "across town". America's experience with public education over the past 40 years has made people, quite reasonably, wary of surrendering ever increasing amounts of money to the control of rigid, underperforming bureaucracies.

There are better ways to deliver education than through the current system dominated by local-government monopolies, but the alternatives are blocked by people who cannot bear the thought of trying them. How often do you talk to people who can't bear the thought that tax dollars will be spent in the form of vouchers? How about people who can't bear the thought that that parents, and not bureaucrats, will decide where to spend tax dollars through a public school choice program? And how often do you talk to people who can't bear the thought that tax dollars might help create a network of charter schools?

The answer to all of these questions, if you are talking to the school committees and interest groups that control public education, is quite often.

Don't confuse a lack of support for a rigid, government-knows-what's-best-for-you (when it clearly doesn't) system of education with a lack of support for public education in general. And before accusing people of being unwilling to pay for education, allow them a full range of funding options to choose from. That is, if you can bear the thought of it.

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In South Kingstown, the annual cost to educate a student is an amazing $14,700. The student to teacher ratio is 9 to 1; the student to staff ratio is 6 to 1. With these numbers, SK students should be excelling on all fronts. They are not; far from it.

I would not resent the $14,700 if it really was "benefiting the children" (the perennial battle cry of the NEA). But if we are only going to get mediocre results out of our school systems, can we at least stop paying top dollar for them?

Posted by: SusanD at April 22, 2006 8:08 PM

Amen, Susan

What I don't understand is that Pell Grants and GI Bills are given away to students much in the same way as vouchers would be given to parents and no one (including the US Supreme Court) seems to have a problem whether that money goes to public, private, secular, or non-secular schools.

Providence Mayoral candidate Dave Talan has made school choice a centerpiece to his campaign and is touting this exact message.

I would be curious to see what Mr. Walsh has to say on this issue. Hopefully he's out there to respond on as he has done on a number of other posts in the past.

Posted by: johnb at April 22, 2006 10:42 PM

OK, Simmons provided me with my chuckle for the day. There is nothing better hearing the leadership of Brown University criticizing the assignment educational "resources in society for the privileged few". Isn't that the basic description of Brown?

But I think Simmons is absolutely right and that we should all listen to what she says. In fact, I think that since Brown's educational experts know how to fix the system, they should not only TELL us how to do it, but SHOW us. Unlike those Brown profs, I'm kind of dense sometimes so I often need to see how to do things.

So here's my suggestion: since the folks at Brown apparently know how to solve the nation's education system, they should do it. We'll start off with some light lifting. Consider it a warm up before the marathon.

Just fix Providence's school system.

You know Providence--it's a small city located in Rhode Island. No, no Tennessee. You're thinking of Nashville where Gordon Gee first thought Brown was when he took the job. No, that's where Vanderbilt is located.

Ahh yes Ruth, you've got it now--correct answer, it IS the place where you find yourself you walk down from College Hill.

I figure that since there are only about 27,000 kids in public schools in Providence (comprising a tiny, tiny fraction of the students in America), the Brown experts will be able to turn around the educational system in Providence without breaking much of a sweat.

Surely, Brown, an institution with so many educational experts and a billion dollar plus endowment could turn around a teeny school system consisting of about 27,000 students. All you have to do is just send some of that endowment "across town" from the east side of Providence to the south side of Providence. Heck, don't even send it across town, just send it a couple of blocks down the street to Hope High. Ruth, you can even walk the money over there!

Don't want to tap into the endowment? I can understand why you don't want to spend Brown's hard-earned money on education "across town"? Really, I'd be reluctant to spend my hard-earned money, too. So here's another idea: Voluntarily repeal the tax exempt status of any Brown property sitting on prime Providence real estate that was developed in the last 20 years and give the proceeds directly to Providence schools! Or every year just give 10% of your annual fund to Providence schools.

Now that we've worked out funding, your education experts can show us all how spending money will help improve educational systems.

Ruth, step one is now finished and we're making such good progress. Now for the second step and final step.

After you bring the money to Hope High, please come back to me when Providence schools are rated in the top 15% or so.

When you come back, I will gladly give the government of more my tax money to send "across town" for education and will encouage everyone else to do the same.




Are you there?

Posted by: Anthony at April 24, 2006 3:47 PM

All you need to know about Ruth Simmons is the following:

During the entire "Independent" Indian Smoke Review Board extravaganza, she never took notes nor requested that minutes be produced.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at April 25, 2006 10:57 PM