September 7, 2008

Rhode Island's Poorly Performing Education System: Sorting out Who is Responsible

Monique Chartier

The Rhode Island chapter of the 2007 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, issued by the National Council on Teacher Quality, pinpoints one of the major culprits responsible for the unacceptable state of Rhode Island's education system: Rhode Island's state government. [In my view, the two other culprits are School Committees and City/Town Councils.] And with apologies to Speaker Murphy who frowns on finger pointing, inasmuch as the lion's share of power vests with the General Assembly given the peculiarities of the Rhode Island Constitution, the lion's share of the responsibility in this as in many other matters also rests with that body.

From the Yearbook introduction:

The State Teacher Policy Yearbook examines what is arguably the single most powerful authority over the teaching profession: state government. State authority over the profession—whether through regulation approved by state boards of education or professional standards boards or by laws passed by legislatures— is far reaching. These policies have an impact on who decides to enter teaching, who stays—and everything in between.

The Yearbook provides an unprecedented analysis of the full range of each state's teacher policies, measured against a realistic blueprint for reform. It identifies six key areas in urgent need of policy attention, along with specific policy goals within these areas.

In the six key areas, Rhode Island government receives five "D's" and one "F". [Should any of these areas have been positively reformed since this evaluation was completed, I would be pleased to update this post.]

Failures/omissions in the following areas were particularly surprising because they strike me as very basic procedures:

- Page 19: Rhode Island does not require new secondary teachers to pass a subject matter test.

- Page 47: Rhode Island fails to make "instructional effectiveness" and "evidence of student learning" principle factors in teacher evaluations.

- Page 55: Rhode Island has failed to establish a policy "regarding the frequency of teacher evaluations or the consequences of negative evaluations".

The second and third items above have been particularly damaging because they have enabled school committees to negotiate and then execute contracts that have contained raises (often double digit when steps increases are added in) without regard to student or teacher performance.

Thus did Rhode Island's education system reach the current unacceptable state of affairs. [Source: American Legislative Exchange Council]

- Pupil to Teacher ratio: First nationally

- Funding: Thirteenth highest nationally

- Rank of Academic Achievement: Forty First nationally

Governor Carcieri has signaled early that cities and towns should not look for an increase in state aid from the next budget. While this decision was prompted by budget considerations, it is clear from our ALEC rankings that as we look to address the weaknesses of our educational system, simply infusing mo' money would not do the trick in any event and we must examine other factors. The thoughtful analysis of Rhode Island's chapter in the State Teacher Policy Yearbook points to the areas upon which we can begin to focus.

[Thanks to commenter George Elbow who reminded us that "it's for the children", so sent me looking for ways that we really could make it "for the children".]

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Great job Monique.

I can't wait to hear the response (excuses) from Baghdad Bob Walsh and (his) Mini-me Pat Crowley.

We already know that, like all the others, they'll claim that these studies are flawed. Can't wait to hear what they come up for these two, for they can't cite the same "flaw" over and over, that'd be too obvious.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at September 7, 2008 10:19 PM

Actually, I suspect they'll just ignore this. That's their strategy now: rely on the asymmetry of media access. Buy some time.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 7, 2008 10:55 PM

Nice job Monique.

As I pointed out last year referencing the National Council On Teacher Quality (NCTQ) report, The State of RI Department of Education (RIDE) provided the detailed information to the NCTQ for their analyst and the NCTQ actually sent the draft report back to RIDE for review and to counter any findings from the analyst before publishing.

RIDE made no changes according to NCTQ.

Posted by: Ken at September 8, 2008 1:19 AM

For the umpteenth time...make it for the children and FIRE all of these non- performing, benefit sucking teachers. They have no interest at all in being a teacher anymore, it's all about getting the holy grail of a job where they can receive benefits and not have to work. Our children are suffering, can't anyone see that!!

Posted by: Bill at September 8, 2008 11:44 AM

For bette or worse, information about the high cost and poor performance of RI's public schools has been publicized for what now -- at least five years, I'd guess. And what has changed?

Ditto for information about our infrastructure, welfare programs, business climate, taxes, tops in the nation spending on fire protection, abuse of special education, etc.

But what has changed? And why hasn't it?

As far as I'm concerned, the past five years have made it depressingly clear that the public sector unions and their poverty industry allies (including their "clients") control enough votes in the GA to make real change in the "RI System" impossible to achieve, in the absence of a truly deep and destructive crisis that we have yet to experience. Not that RI is alone -- NJ, NY, MI, and CA are also heading down this path, perhaps at an even faster pace than RI. Still, RI is up there on the list, as evidenced by the the flows of businesses and residents into and out of the Ocean State, and the resulting impact on our economy, property values, tax collections, state and town budgets, etc.

That leads me to conclude that only by hastening the arrival of this crisis will people ever be able to achieve meaningful, sustainable change in the RI System.

If you think I'm wrong, I'd love to hear the counterargument.

Posted by: John at September 8, 2008 1:24 PM

>That leads me to conclude that only by hastening the arrival of this crisis will people ever be able to achieve meaningful, sustainable change in the RI System. If you think I'm wrong, I'd love to hear the counterargument.

I WISH that you were wrong, but I FEAR that you are absolutely right.

Even if the Democrat-run General Assembly made the very substantial tax and statutory changes TODAY that would be required to make Rhode Island economically competitive (i.e., attractive to employers), it would take years for our national reputation for political corruption and hostility to business to improve.

In other words, even after we've reformed it'll be a years long, if not decades long, road to recovery.

But the General Assembly hasn't yet implemented the necessary reforms, and doesn't appear to be on the cusp of doing so.

So our years / decades to recovery haven't even begun.

And we don't have that much time anyway, for the national recession / outgoing tide is showing that RI is standing in the water with no bathing suit ...

Even as our infrastructure continues to collapse (it is already among the worst in the country) and the unfunded pension / OPEB are about to blow the state's finances completely out of the water.

Rhode Island is in for some ugly, ugly years, thanks to the corruption and incompetence of the Democrat General Assembly.

Posted by: Tom W at September 8, 2008 2:32 PM

>Not that RI is alone -- NJ, NY, MI, and CA are also heading down this path, perhaps at an even faster pace than RI.

BTW, note that these are also states marked by strong public sector union influence (if not control) of the Democrat Party coupled with longstanding Democrat control of political power / weak to nonexistent Republican Party.

Democrat control is hazardous to one's economic health (at least if you're not one of the people feeding off of the public teat).

Posted by: Tom W at September 8, 2008 2:37 PM

at this point, i wish charlie fogarty was elected governor...sure, it would be an insult to carcieri, but can you imagine where we would be if fogarty was elected. there would be chaos. it would be worse than risdic. and there would be nobody to blame

Posted by: johnpaycheck at September 8, 2008 6:15 PM

George Elbow,

The post containing our last exchange slipped off the front page. I was wondering if you read the last entry

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at September 8, 2008 9:23 PM

Whoaa. Not so fast, Monique.

Are you suggesting that there should be some form of performance measurement and accountability, with consequences too?

Surely you jest?

Our Union Teachers are Professionals! And professionals are not, and should not be, held accountable. After all, didn’t they tell you, they police themselves?

What next from you Monique? Will you suggest that the next time Justin builds a house it should be built to some minimal level of building codes and that it should pass an inspection? I suppose if the roof leaks you’ll expect him to either fix it or not get paid?? Where do you draw the line on your insanity?

Very simply, “professionals” who are NOT held accountable, who’s performance is NOT measured, who get paid the same as every other “professional” in the organization regardless of output, are NOT true professionals.

Hence, they should NOT expect to be treated or paid like professionals.

Certainly, such faux-professionals should NOT be paid the private sector equivalent of $100,000+ per year after just nine years on the job, as is the case with RI's Union Teachers.

Indeed, it is time for School Committees across the state to stand up, grow a back-bone and start saying “NO” to Bob Walsh and his flock of non-professional Union hacks, along with saying "No" to those in the GA that enable Bob and his flock.

It is time to “Do it for the Children” and just say “NO”.

PS to Tom S - yes I saw your last post. Keep at it ...but don't be afraid to accept the obvious. At some point, as the old saying goes, "Pencils down, turn in your test". Endless analysis of the obvious plays into Bob Walsh's objective of delay, delay, delay ...delay the day of reckoning.

Posted by: George Elbow at September 8, 2008 10:13 PM


I'm glad I saw my comment explaining the actions (however misguided) that I have taken to try improve public education in RI. Since you have, I trust you understand why I think that your comments, suggesting that a serious commitment to accurate analysis of data leads to inaction or makes one a “union apologist”, are complete nonsense.

Monique's post contains a lot of information that has been widely available for quite a while, so I wouldn't expect Bob W. or Pat C. to rush to the microphones about it today. I know I cited the info. Regarding evaluations and the lack of subject matter testing last spring when I testified before the Senate Education and House HEW committees on bills that would have required the RI Dept. of Ed to promulgate regulations requiring a more rigorous evaluation process and reduced the importance of seniority in teacher assignments. I don't recall seeing you there.

RIDE could probably do these things on their own without a law, but for some reason they don’t try to. One thing that confuses me greatly is that everyone here seems to be willing to jump on the unions and the legislators that you feel enable the unions, yet when it comes to evaluations, teacher qualifications, and so on, nobody ever, ever mentions the school departments, RIDE, and especially the Board of Regents, which is, according to their website, is “the chief policy-setting body overseeing elementary and secondary education in Rhode Island”. I’d be grateful to anyone who can explain why that is.

Anyway, George, I don’t want to make this personal, but since you have challenged me to act, and I have answered your challenge, would you please tell us all what YOU have done personally to advance the cause of good public education in RI?

I have a friend who likes to say to me, when I’m complaining and/or spinning my wheels, “you’ve got to stop working the problem and start working the solution”. I think he’s very wise.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at September 8, 2008 11:32 PM


The major culprit responsible for the unacceptable state of Rhode Island's education system: Rhode Island's Democrat-controlled state legislature and the NEA.

Posted by: U. Buster at September 9, 2008 8:16 PM

No question Dems have controlled the General Assembly for decades, U. Buster. But the NEA only has power because the G.A. has bent their real power to the NEA's will.

"I testified before the Senate Education and House HEW committees on bills that would have required the RI Dept. of Ed to promulgate regulations requiring a more rigorous evaluation process and reduced the importance of seniority in teacher assignments."

Bravo, Thomas S. Contacting our gov't reps and testifying in front of them. That's what we all need to be doing. By way of saluting you, I'm setting aside the temptation to ask why, if you do indeed see a problem with our education system, you tried to poke holes in Justin's analysis.


George E - next thing you know, they'll be bailing out bad mortgages and the companies that handed them out. ... naw, that would be really insane.

(Thank you for the nice comments.)

Posted by: Monique at September 9, 2008 8:49 PM

Tom S.

Bob W. and Pat C. will NOT be rushing to comment on this issue / thread, as it has to do Education and poorly performing schools, both of which they have ZERO interest in.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, those two clowns are interested in only three things, which are higher Salaries, more Benefits and less Work for their flock of dues paying Union hacks.

With respect to challenging you to act, I was responding to your comments and your self-acknowledged actions. I was suggesting that you redirect your efforts & actions from analysis paralysis to actions of conclusions and recomendations.

But perhaps I was wasting my time, as it appears that even in the face of NEA efforts to thwart your common sense suggestions, you continue to toil in the data ostensibly in the hope of finding a reason for poor performance that is greater than the damage that is wrought by the status quo, resource draining "Do it for the Children" Teachers' Union.

With respect to my actions, worry not. You are not alone in your efforts to influence change within and without the official holders of power. I share your frustration with the apathetic majority, which the Unions count on.

With respect to your comments about not holding RIDE, the Regents, School Committees, etc. accountable versus the Unions and their enablers in the General Assembly, I must say, with all due respect, that such a comment implies a level of naivete that is mind boggling for someone of your apparent intelligence.

Have you sat down and read a Teachers' Union contract recently? Have you seen what happens when a School Committee tries to make common sense changes? Do the words "work to rule", strike, grievance mean anything to you?

Come on Tom. You know damn well that the 800 pound gorrilla in the room with respect to improved school performance at an affordable price is the Teachers' Union. Stop worrying about offending the likes of Bob W. and his gov't dependent pals. No offense Tom, but they are walking all over you as you tip-toe around the real issue.

Posted by: George Elbow at September 9, 2008 9:59 PM

Monique says, "By way of saluting you, I'm setting aside the temptation to ask why, if you do indeed see a problem with our education system, you tried to poke holes in Justin's analysis.


I don't mind the question, as the answer comes easily. First, though, I actually don't think I was "poking holes in Justin's analysis". His first post wasn't really analysis, it was just the presentation of the SAT averages by state. I'm not sure Justin even made claims about what it means. But several people pointed out that you just can't draw any clear conclusions from such a ranking, given the sample-selection problem involved. They were exactly correct.

To answer your question in the simplest possible terms, I want to get the answers right, or at least as right as possible. I think you should want to get them right too. I know some people think it's enough to say "RI schools are really bad and we don't care about the specifics", but if you expect to influence policy makers, that's not enough. As soon as you stand up and say "Look, RI is 47th in SAT scores", somebody who knows what she's talking about is going to point out that the cross-state comparison of average SAT scores is invalid, and you'll look foolish. Relying on misleading evidence makes your position weaker, so why do it?

Let me be clear: While I don't think RI is 47th, once you consider the participation rates and student population, but I do agree that we're underperforming and need to do much, much, better. I agree that some of the union positions are a problem, but I don't buy the argument that our ONLY problem is unions, and think it's a huge mistake for folks here to exempt RIDE and the BOG from criticism. Is anybody here interested in looking at what they have, and have not done?

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at September 10, 2008 11:45 PM


The answer to YOUR question is simple too. RIDE and BOG has done what the Unions, and their nut-bag, anti-education, anti-student, pro-pay & benefits contracts allow them to do.

Posted by: George Elbow at September 11, 2008 8:20 PM


You berated me for doing nothing to improve public education. Then I told you what I had done, and asked you what you have done. The answer seems to have been "nothing at all".

RIDE leadership and the BOG are appointed by the governor. Seems to me you're all about making excuses for their inaction, and not at all about finding ways to get things done.

Given the above, I hope you'll understand that I won't be responding to your comments anymore, at least until you can give us something other than your complaints.

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at September 11, 2008 10:06 PM


I didn't "berate" you.

I disagreed with your disagreement regarding the validity of concluding, in part based on SAT scores, that RI Public school performance is piss poor, at best.

I disagreed with your apparent need to ignore the obvious as evidenced by poor SAT scores (even in relation to those states that have similar participation rates as RI), crappy NECAP scores and a large percentage of students (i.e. customers) who, even at a cost premium, have opted out of the crappy system.

Without a doubt, the single greatest influence on our poor performing Public Education system is the Teachers' Union.

Last time I checked, it wasn't the BOG or RIDE that was going on strike, working to rule, filing grievances, demanding 7 hour "work" days, etc.

Now pay attention, Tom. I have given you something more than complaints. I've given you the simple answer to improving school performance in a cost effective manner, which is to stop being a Union apologist, stop worrying about offending Bob W., stop noodling over "data" and simply start saying "NO" to the Teachers' Union.

It's that simple Tom. Try it some time.

Posted by: George Elbow at September 12, 2008 8:40 PM

As usual, let's continue to demonize ALL teachers, belittle the work that they do, forget the professional degrees that they paid for and earned, and generally disrespect anyone who devotes their life to educating our children despite the lack of support from the public, government and so many parents. And EVERYONE should have health care benefits. Pushing to remove decent health care from the last few people still adequately covered will finally make it possible for the health care industry to drive in that final nail. Use your zealous energy to get something for everyone instead of blaming people who are trying to hang on to something you haven't got.

Posted by: CMeeker at February 6, 2009 9:13 PM
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