August 30, 2006

Rhode Island's Poor Regional and National Performance in Education

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo reports on yet another study showing Rhode Island not doing so well, the College Board's yearly analysis of SAT Scores.

Here are the New England states ranked by math scores...

  • Massachusetts 524
  • New Hampshire 524
  • Vermont 519
  • National Average 518
  • Connecticut 516
  • Rhode Island 502
  • Maine 501
...and by reading scores...
  • New Hampshire 520
  • Massachusetts 513
  • Vermont 513
  • Connecticut 512
  • National Average 503
  • Maine 501
  • Rhode Island 495


I have to take a step back from using SAT scores as an indicator of Rhode Island's educational performance relative to the nation. Take a comparison of Rhode Island to Illinois as an example. At first, the Illinois numbers look fantastic (609 math, 591 reading). But then look at how many students took the test in each state: 8,130 in Rhode Island versus 12,694 in Illinois, even though Illinois has about 12 times the population of Rhode Island (Chicago by itself is almost 3 times as large as RI).

I suspect that the cause is that there are still regions of the country (like Illinois) where the American College Test (ACT) is more common than the SAT, and that in those regions the only students who take the SATs are those planning to attend some hi-falutin' Ivy League or west coast university, skewing the SAT median upward.

However, the regional comparison is still valid, as all 6 New England states have a high percentage of students taking SATs.

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Just goes to show that all that money we pay our valued teachers is WELL WORTH IT!

Oh, of course, they're underpaid and underappreciated.

Posted by: Greg at August 30, 2006 1:28 PM

Bob Walsh, are you going to weigh in?

Let me guess: you need MORE from the taxpayers?

Posted by: roadrunner at August 30, 2006 3:00 PM

We apparently have a perfect opportunity in Cumberland to fire a bunch of union teachers who are out on an illegal strike and replace them with new hires.

Of course, the union will head to court. I say, see you there. In the meantime, we're going to give our kids a good education, within a budget we can afford.

I have no doubt the majority of voters would support this move. Just ask the NY Transit Workers Union.

Too bad none of our elected officials have the guts to take this step.

Posted by: john at August 30, 2006 3:17 PM

>>Too bad none of our elected officials have the guts to take this step.

Doing in Cumberland (or anywhere in RI) what Reagan did with the air traffic controllers would have an amazingly beneficial impact throughout the state.

Alas, there are no RI Reagan's anywhere in sight ...

Posted by: Tom W at August 30, 2006 3:57 PM

Dear John and Tom W,

After you get done tilting at those windmills, are you going to paint them too??

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at August 30, 2006 4:27 PM

Since we are on the “day of lists” theme,,,,,

According to Kids Count (2004 - most recent report), RI has the 4th highest percentage of single parent families (ranking us at 47), just above South Carolina (48), Mississippi (49) & Louisiana (50).

Those are our statistical peers. Here are the rankings of our geographical peers (and presumably demographic peers).
VT #9
NH #9
CT #12
MA #20
ME #34

Here’s another disturbing comparison. Teen births to teens that are already mothers (high ranking means low numbers of births).
NH #1
ME #2
VT #3
MA #3
CT #6
RI #12

RI’s ranking was recently updated and jumped from 33 to the reported 12. Normally we score much lower -1999-#38, 2000-#33, 2001-#32, 2002-#36.

Again, the chicken or the egg?

Does education provide the resources to earn your way out of poverty - or provide alternatives that inspire better decisions when it comes to family structure?

Or does a redistribution of wealth, theoretically increasing “income,” empower those in poverty to succeed?

Although there are many that would not consider the above statistics a negative.

Posted by: Bill F at August 30, 2006 4:56 PM

National average Math SAT: 518
Rhode Island average Math SAT: 494
Barrington average math SAT: 580
East Greenwich average math SAT: 575
Central Falls average math SAT: 383

Working on the issues related to poverty will help teachers help students. It is as simple as that. And yes, it costs money, and to the extent you wish schools to be a partner in addressing the impact of poverty on students, it will require more money for schools. If you care about kids, or the future of our country (hopefully both), you will agree.

Posted by: Bob Walsh at August 30, 2006 4:59 PM


I'd GLADLY give you more money. Can you show us some RESULTS that would warrant more money? Right now we have kids that are graduating from Rhode Island schools that can't read, can't write, can't make change, and are essentially unemployable.

I know the secret plan is to create an entire generation so stupid that they NEED the creation of the "Nanny State" so socialism will flourish and you and your ilk will get the utopian America you were pining for at Woodstock, but do you really think you're going to get it AND tax us to death?

Posted by: Greg at August 30, 2006 5:12 PM

Wow, with scores like these, RI must have some of the lowest paid teachers in the country.......

For once, I agree with Greg. Until teachers are held accountable for the performance of their students, throwing money at the problem is not a solution.

Posted by: Anthony at August 30, 2006 7:50 PM

Dear Anthony,

Unfortunately, there's no direct correlation between teacher performance and student performance. It would be a nice simple world if there was.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at August 30, 2006 8:06 PM

>>Unfortunately, there's no direct correlation between teacher performance and student performance. It would be a nice simple world if there was.

Then, obviously, there's no direct correlation between teacher pay and student performance.

So the NEA's propaganda about needing "good pay to attract good teachers" is just ... propaganda!

Posted by: Tom W at August 30, 2006 8:35 PM

i wouldnt give 2 cents for an opinion of bob walsh. he has only one agenda. more money and if it means that more kids and schools fail , then who cares. mr walsh, that is your legacy to ri and dont think i am the only one that thinks that way. and by the way, i am a successful professional with advanced degrees.

Posted by: johnpaycheck at August 30, 2006 8:39 PM

"no correlation", ?

OK. So, there mustn't be any correlation between teacher pay and student performance. Right? Private school teachers get far less in overall compensation and private school students perform much better.

Throughout RI, the largest percentage of the increases in School Department budgets come from increases in Teacher pay and benefits. According to Bob, we're getting NO RETURN on that "investment".

It's time to make a good quality education available to all children. It's time for school choice!

Posted by: roadrunner at August 30, 2006 8:56 PM

So what is the difference between public and private schools and the way they pay teachers? It's not the amount. In one, pay is an incentive; in the other it is an entitlement.

Posted by: Bill F at August 30, 2006 9:03 PM

Dear Roadrunner, Tom W and others,

Private schools choose who they take. It makes a huge difference.

You want a correlation that does work? Amount of time spent by parents reinforcing learned lessons in class and success.

If you want to measure something, come up with a scale that measures the entire system's ability to make sure parents understand that they have the most direct stake. Private school parents, like mine were, are paying directly so they take more interest and this has an effect on scores.

Even a poverty stricken kid will do much better if there's adult involvement to the level that the adult can be proficient.

In other words, can't build a great house (high scores) on a lousy foundation (poverty, lack of belief in education in the home, parents without time or committment, lack of basic language skills -all languages, not just english-, overall system not properly funded, lack of discipline in the classroom, et cetera)

One last thought on private schools: those far right religous indoctrination centers way underperform based on who they start with. If they followed more of the Catholic School model (yes, I went to St. Phil's, Portsmouth Abbey, Bishop Connolly) and stopped teaching silly things like Creationism (even Catholic Schools teach proper science including stem cells) perhaps they would be better off.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at August 30, 2006 10:15 PM

Bob W,

1. If poverty is the determining factor, isn’t it utterly insane to isolate groups of poverty-afflicted families away from better educational resources by trapping them in a geographic monopoly system like our government now does? Before waiting for some combination of living wage and universal health care legislation to maybe fix things down the road, wouldn’t a public choice program allowing Central Falls students to go to school in Lincoln or Cumberland be worth a try?

2. Don't the continuing problems in Providence/Pawtucket/Centrall Falls also suggest the possibility that one-party urban political machines are incompetent(*) when it comes to meeting the challenges of running a school system? Wouldn’t some combination of public choice/vouchers/charters be a reasonable way to test this proposition?

(*)In current political parlance, “incompetent” has become the word used when government fails to deliver success now! now! now! That applies to the state of education in America as well as it does anywhere.


Whether the positions that Mr. Walsh takes are popular or unpopular doesn’t translate into whether they are right or wrong. And I think it’s safe to assume that someone willing to participate openly in a forum like this must believe in the importance of ideas to politics to some degree.

Posted by: Andrew at August 30, 2006 10:30 PM

Notice how Bob Walsh avoids mentioning the three studies (by RAND, the Manhattan Institute, and Standard and Poor's) that all adjusted for differences in state demographic inputs, and found that after this was done RI performed even worse on NAEP tests?

Notice how Bob also avoids noting how, on the most recent SATs, RI's affuent communities once again grossly underperformed their peers in Massachusetts?

Statistically, RI students perform worse than you would predict based on demographic factors. This means RI teachers provide NEGATIVE value added, for which we pay them (in salaries and benefits) more relative to the private sector average than any other state in the country.

Bob W. can't handle the truth. But I'll bet this isn't what worries him. No, what gives Bob nightmares is the day a majority of his union members realize that his support for RI's out-of-control welfare programs has made severe cuts in their retirement benefits unavoidable. And that day is coming soon.

Posted by: John at August 31, 2006 7:37 AM

Dear John,

Did you attend the Tom Coyne school of statistics?

Are you seriously trying to compare the private schools available to someone from Barrington and those available to someone from Marble Head?

Are you forgetting that the NEA doesn't teach in either?

Did you actually quote a "study" from the Manhattan Institute? What a joke. Standard and Poor's, on education, is almost as bad.

Save the blind union hating for your buddies at work or the folks in your social circle. It doesn't solve problems and every time you do it, it will be pointed out.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at August 31, 2006 10:19 AM

the teachers should be fired for an illegal strike. the inmates are running the asylum. this is why i cant support the teachers. its all about the money and not properly teaching the students.

Posted by: CC at August 31, 2006 10:34 AM


Here, in broad brush, is the problem people have with your general line of reasoning. You begin by saying teaching performance is too difficult to evaluate, so as a society, we shouldn’t work on measures targeted there, because there’s too much individual nuance that you believe is impossible to address.

But then you propose as a solution increasing the scope and complexity of the problem (we’re not just going to fix education, we’re going to fix all economic inequality in society) while simultaneously proposing a much starker view of individual nuance -- i.e. we’re going to reduce everybody in society to a single poverty index -- than anyone who favors merit pay or public choice would apply to the problem of education by itself.

Can you understand where some people see an untenable contradiction here?

Posted by: Andrew at August 31, 2006 10:42 AM


To clarify: the SAT scores are for the public high schools in the respective towns. All of which have teachers unions. The point stands: public high schools in RI's most affluent communities underperform their peers in Massachusetts.

Oh, and the last time I checked, the majority of people in the world find Standard and Poor's a more credible source than Bobby Oliveira.

Posted by: john at August 31, 2006 11:36 AM

Dear Andrew,

Let me try to be more clear:

1.) I support choice. However, in a system with this number of districts, choice will not work for us.

2.) I support charter schools provided, and it's a big provided, that you fully fund public schools first.

3.) Vouchers don't work so they are not worthy of discussing.

I actually believe, as did the folks who put together the family assist project grants did, that determining the at-risk factors and working from there is the first step to merit pay if you'd like to try it. Any merit pay program that does not account to those steps becomes a combination of unfair and unworkable.

As a salesperson, I believe people do better in a competitive environment, hence, why I like Charter schools. However, from a public policy standpoint, it must be an equal playing field. This is why Standard and Poor's, for education information, gets rejected dur to their history of imbalance.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at September 2, 2006 8:10 PM