July 5, 2006

Framing the Education Debate

Carroll Andrew Morse

In case you missed it over the long weekend, Sunday's Projo had a very good column on school choice by Julia Steiny. Read Steiny's column together with the recent Pawtucket Times article by David Casey describing the education reform plan put forth by an alliance of Rhode Island labor groups (the full report is available on the website of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals) and you will have read the two positions that will likely frame the education debate in Rhode Island over the next several years.

The labor groups argue that, from a public policy standpoint, individuals have no meaningful ability to overcome the forces of economic determinism...

If we really want to improve our schools, the first step is to improve the lives of our poorest citizens, and offer their children the chance to have the literacy experiences that middle-class children take for granted....

If the state of Rhode Island really wants to find the will to improve the educational outcomes for poor children in Rhode island, the places to begin are in the places where we can alleviate some of the bad effects of poverty on children.

Ultimately, the position staked out in the labor report is that changes in the way that Rhode Island's public bureaucracies deliver an education are not worth considering, because individuals in any system cannot alter, in a significant way, their educational destiny as determined by their economic status. Therefore, education can only be improved by economically re-engineering society through increases in non-educational social-service spending and a higher minium wage and other such programs.

Julia Steiny argues the opposite -- that education should be the main priority of education reform. Instead of making it government policy to tell students that they are destined to fail, in any system, because of their economic status, Steiny believes in changing the system to give students from lower economic strata the same range of educational options (including the option to escape from a failing school district) usually available only to students from the middle class and above...

The time seems right for Rhode Island to try what's known as cross-district choice. Our school population grew through the late 1990s, but enrollment is now leveling off as the last surge of the baby-boom echo finishes high school. Throughout the state, many elementary and middle schools have excess capacity, which is to say more seats than they currently need. They could volunteer to accept students from their Rhode Island neighbors, creating a wealth of choices parents don't have now.
Steiny uses Boston as an example of a school district that has improved the quality of education it provides by increasing the options available to all parents...
Boston has three different kinds of charter or charter-like schools. The city also has cross-district agreements with several neighboring school systems, allowing city kids to attend suburban schools. And within the district itself, Boston offers a growing menu of viable and ever-improving choices.

Though rife with plenty of remaining challenges, many education-watchers consider Boston to be the best urban school system in the country.

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You forgot to mention that the NEA Report doesn't ask an obvious question: just why is it that Rhode Island has so many children living in poverty?

Posted by: John at July 5, 2006 10:03 PM

Sorry for posting this off-topic. I can't figure out how to start a new topic. Instuctions are welcome!

Nobody's Laffeyng Now!

As the article below details Steve has AGAIN sold out the people of
Cranston by adding 15 more employees to an already bloated and overpaid
(the highest compensated fire department in the United States) fire
department. They still get paid for 911-not in New York but,
inexplicabaly, here in Cranston. Great job Steve-you really deserve a
Watch what he does not what he says!


City agrees to hire 15 more firefighters

01:00 AM EDT on Thursday, July 6, 2006
Journal Staff Writer

CRANSTON -- The city has settled a months-old dispute with the
firefighters union by agreeing to hire 15 firefighters this summer,
filling most of the Fire Department's roughly two dozen vacant

The union had filed a grievance contending that the low staffing level
violated its collective-bargaining agreement. Mayor Stephen P. Laffey's
administration insisted the department was overstaffed to begin with.

The settlement, reached early last month while the matter was under
arbitration, calls for raising the number of firefighters to about 190.
And under a separate deal that has yet to be finalized, the city would
pay the new hirees less during their training and put the savings
toward the purchase of a new truck.

Despite some bitter disagreements in the past, the two deals prove the
city can negotiate with the firefighters union, said Paul G. Grimes,
the mayor's director of administration. The city is currently trying to
reach a multi-year labor agreement with the union, Local 1363 of the
International Association of Fire Fighters, to replace the one that
expired Friday.

"We can find common ground," Grimes said.

The firefighters sought the increased staffing because they are
sometimes forced to work extra, consecutive shifts when no one
volunteers to fill them, said Paul L. Valletta Jr., the union

A performance audit that Laffey ordered in 2004 concluded that the
department might have dozens more firefighters than it needs. His
administration has said it is cheaper to pay fewer firefighters more in
overtime rather than make costly health and pension commitments to
additional personnel.

The new recruits are slated to start a 16-week training period around
Aug. 1, Grimes said.

The second agreement, yet to be ratified by the union or the City
Council, would allow the city to buy a truck to refill firefighters'
air tanks at a fire scene.

The truck became a priority after cyanide was found in the bloodstreams
of several Providence firefighters in March. A subsequent report by a
task force there concluded that firefighters should wear air packs more
often, to prevent them from inhaling the deadly gas.

Often firefighters don't use air packs in order to preserve the limited
amount of pressurized air they have at a fire scene. So the Laffey
administration agreed to buy a $200,000 truck that can refill the

About half the cost of the new truck will be offset by union
concessions, Grimes said. The union agreed to give up $69,000 in pay
that would have gone to the recruits during their training period, by
reducing their weekly salary from $900 to $700, cutting their uniform
allowance and not paying them for five holidays, Grimes said. The rest
of the savings, about $31,000, will come from cuts in uniform
allowances for current firefighters, Grimes said.

Meanwhile, several more negotiating sessions to discuss the labor
contract are scheduled for the coming weeks. Both sides said they are
hopeful that they can reach agreement before Laffey leaves office at
the end of the year (He is running for U.S. Senate).

"I know a lot of people are probably thinking there's absolutely no
way, but I don't say that. Both sides know business is business, and
that's what were doing," Valletta said. "We're not letting anything
from the past stand in the way of negotiations, and we've actually had
some decent negotiating sessions."

Posted by: Mike at July 6, 2006 9:46 AM

Hey Mike,

If you want to start a new topic, start your own blog. Don't try to hijack this one.

Posted by: oz at July 6, 2006 10:07 AM

Oz is essentially correct. The Anchor Rising contributors (the people listed on the left of the main page) start all "discussions" by posting on a given topic. Generally speaking, it would make sense that comments made about a given post deal with the subject matter of said post, no?

So, as a commenter, you can't start your own thread: we don't have a bulletin board. Alternatively, you can do what you did and comment off-topic, though then you put yourself at the risk of having the comment removed (though we are pretty laid back about that sort of thing) or being ridiculed for going off on a tangent. You could also hold your water until a relevant post comes up. Or you can follow oz's suggestion and start your own blog, which isn't that hard to do via Blogger or any of the other free blog hosting sites. Then you blog away to your hearts content about all that is anti-Laffey.

Of course, there's no guarantee that you'll get any traffic....

Posted by: Marc Comtois at July 6, 2006 2:00 PM

"So, as a commenter, you can't start your own thread: we don't have a bulletin board"

Sorry, I thought this forum operated like a newsgroup. It won't happen again.
I feel I have a lot to add-not just anti-Laffey but anti-Michaud, Whitehouse, Fogarty, Roberts and Lynch too!

Posted by: Mike at July 6, 2006 7:15 PM

Like I said, please feel free to comment, but it's more worthwhile to stay on topic. Also: Don't worry, those you mentioned will get some play here eventually!

Posted by: Marc Comtois at July 7, 2006 8:05 AM

Two things: First, Mike, if it isn't clear from the above emails, it's really easy to start your own blog. www.blogger.com is just one of many services that allows you to start a blog for free. I started a blog a little less than a month ago and have had quite a bit of success with it. You'll have to do work to get people to contribute to your blog but it's a lot of fun.

Second and related to Carroll's post: I'm a little confused as to why people think that educational improvement must be an "either-or." Yes, improving schools alone will probably not truly eradicate the problem of poor children receiving lower quality education. After all, 40 years ago Coleman and his group identified the most important attribute needed to succeed in school is socio-economic capital. However, over the last 40 years educational researchers and practitioners alike have identified characteristics of schools, even in the poorest most depressed areas that contribute to greater success for all students. Larry Lezotte and Ron Edmonds were some of the first to publish on this in a line of research known as effective schools research. Policymakers should really become smart and stop speaking in either-ors.

Andrew Pass

Posted by: Andrew Pass at July 8, 2006 10:35 AM