September 10, 2007

Hold on, hold on. Keep the money coming!

Justin Katz

The following segment of Rhode Island Association of School Principals Executive Director John Golden's op-ed in yesterday's Providence Journal struck me as noteworthy — taken in context of his declaration that public education ought to be left to educators — and his appearance on Dan Yorke's show today deepened the concerns that the passage originally raised:

Rhode Island principals and teachers are engaged in a reform effort that is unprecedented in this state and — this is the impressive part — American school reform. In Rhode Island, there have been sweeping changes in how we approach student literacy, how we structure secondary schools, how we award diplomas, how we create school cultures that meet student needs, and how we intervene when students perform below standard. The impact of these changes can already be seen in our schools, but the full affect will not be felt for years.

And there's the rub. For the reasons cited above, it appears that neither the General Assembly nor Governor Carcieri is willing to wait to see the current reform initiatives through to fruition. By flat-funding education for 2007-08, the legislature is in effect starving the reform effort and ensuring that the people needed to make change happen — literacy coaches, performance-based-graduation-requirements coordinators, and curriculum leaders — will be lost to tight budgets. For his part, the governor has alternated between celebrating the gains made and expressing frustration that the pace of change is not fast enough.

Of course, experts ought to be prominent in public decisions. The testimony of military leaders (for example) ought to carry substantial weight as Americans decide whether a particular war effort is worth continuing. Just so, education specialists certainly ought to be heeded when it comes to public decisions about our educational system. That necessity, however, only highlights the fact that the public ought to have the final call.

On Yorke's show, for example, Golden argued that schools in states that emphasize mandatory standardized testing may tend to lower standards in order to make it look as if more students are passing. But Rhode Island's supposed alternative is a more comprehensive evaluation system — involving such folks as "performance-based-graduation-requirements coordinators" — that allows for more subjective, student-specific criteria. Wouldn't that be susceptible to inflation, as well? I'd suggest that the public's intuition is correct in preferring standards with an external standard that they can understand and trust.

Similarly, Golden's plea for continued funding emphasizes the necessity of specialty teachers, but he doesn't appear able to show improvements commensurate with the larger workforce. What strikes me with this is that kids start fresh, so the fruits of new paradigms might reasonably be expected to be increasingly visible with each successive class. (Perhaps such efforts on the part of educators as entering children into regional and national competitions of one sort or another might make improvements more visible.) The reality is that Rhode Islanders are looking at a state with fleeing and faltering middle and upper classes. A plea for money must take into account money's scarcity.

And there — I'd suggest — is the rub. Mr. Golden, and those of his profession, ought to marry each public appeal for money with a public appeal to teachers and other educators to step back a bit and let the benefits of efforts of which they (at least) must be aware become more widely known. If the Goldens of the industry aren't able to show explicit and tangible advances, and if those implementing the reforms continue to behave as if they are mainly motivated to get as much as they possibly can each year — rather than placing their hopes increasingly in the future — why should the public trust that more time will bring more than a another request for more time and (of course) money?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Man o man! How did this country ever manage to produce the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, etc. etc. etc. with one-room schoolhouses staffed by a single teacher with 30+ kids of varying ages and grades?

And how did those children deal with the stress of having to pass examinations, rather than "prepare portfolios"?

Thank God that in this enlightened era we have experts like Mr. Golden to tell us how to operate high performing schools. All we need is mo' money mo' money mo' money!

Yeah, we don't need any more Thomas Edisons; the Chinese will take care of that. We'll need more burger flippers and servers to take care of the Chinese tourists.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at September 10, 2007 8:12 PM

this guy must be kidding.. just give me 10 more years,,,,,,,,

Posted by: johnpaycheck at September 10, 2007 9:25 PM

Mr. Golden said today that he would basically never fire a bad teacher, he would only work with him/her to improve. This guy is squarely on the side of the unfortunately egalitarian (good teachers = bad teachers and all deserve equal pay) teachers' unions, not our children, with such a philosophy. And of course with the just-give-us-another-five-years pitch.

Our schools didn't go down the chute overnight. The League of Principals is a little late getting into gear. Inasmuch as they appear to have been co-opted by the teachers' unions, it would, in fact, be better for our schools if they went back to standing on the sidelines.

Posted by: SusanD at September 10, 2007 10:24 PM


Yes, that comment about working with (or "growing" with, or whatever word he used) ineffective teachers bothered me, as well, and it ties into my point in this post: if budgets are tight and there are super-important reforms to coax through their inchoate phase, isn't at least worth acknowledging the possibility that the school system can't — you know, temporarily, of course — afford to put so much effort into carrying teachers.

I should note that there absolutely should be room for teachers to err and to improve, but the conspicuous reluctance to even pretend that administrators would ever benefit from an easier route toward switching out their weaker players is yet another item that instills no confidence that the public ought to trust those educators who supposedly know what's needed so much better than we do.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 10, 2007 10:33 PM

Dan Yorke brought up some good points. Not every teacher is exceptional. As with any group, there are some bad ones and they should be fired.

Yorke's most important point was that somehow it has been forgotten that taxpayers are really the "boss". Teachers are being paid by US to educate OUR children.

I'm tired of hearing the chorus of public education "experts" tell us to leave the issue to "professionals" but just keep forking over the dough.

I wouldn't fork money over to a car salesman without knowing what I was getting, nor would I blindly pay a doctor's bill without checking to see if the billed services were actually provided.

But we're supposed to blindly trust public educators?

There is a waiting list of people waiting to become RI public school teachers. In other areas of the country where teachers are underpaid, there are teacher shortages. If that doesn't show that RI teachers are overpaid, I don't know what does.

Posted by: Anthony at September 11, 2007 1:41 PM

name one teacher that quit there job before retirement. there are none.. they just milk it and kknow thet cant get fired.

Posted by: johnpaycheck at September 11, 2007 6:54 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.