The National Education Association met over the weekend, and as the Wall Street Journal notes, the Democratic 2020 candidates “made their pilgrimage” to the gathering to promise what the NEA wants—more money.
It might have been nice if they had debated what to do about the issues raised in a recent Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy report on the public school system in Providence, Rhose Island. The schools are a horror story. The editors describe the situation:
“Very little visible student learning was going on in the majority of classrooms and schools we visited—most especially in the middle and high schools,” the report says. “Our review teams encountered many teachers and students who do not feel safe in school. There is widespread agreement that bullying, demeaning, and even physical violence are occurring within the school walls at very high levels.”
No surprise, then, that only 5% of Providence eighth graders on average scored proficient in math in the 2015 through 2017 school years. That compares to 21.3% in Newark, N.J., where students have similar socioeconomic backgrounds. Low-income students in Worcester, Mass., not far away, were twice as proficient as those in Providence.
According to one student, a student had urinated on the desk of his favorite teacher. There was no disciplinary action in response. Students chatted on cell phones, stared into space, and some even watched videos.
Ask yourself: Are these problems that could be fixed with more money? (Just for the record, the Providence school system spent $18,000 per student in 2017—that is around 50% higher than the national average.)
These problems are self-inflicted, the predictable results of two policies: discouraging discipline in schools and a collective bargaining process that makes it almost impossible to fire bad teachers. The Journal explains:
One culprit are policies that discourage student discipline. Rhode Island Democrats in 2016 passed legislation backed by the American Civil Liberties Union that limits school suspensions, which progressives claim discriminate against minorities. Teachers are reluctant to punish students, and violence and misconduct make it harder to retain good teachers.
The reviewers also note that collective-bargaining agreements limit the ability of school principals to fire lousy teachers. “In the case of an abusive teacher, s/he is placed on unpaid administrative leave but then ‘lawyers up’ through the union and ultimately returns to the classroom,” one principal noted.
Another principal was forced to accept a teacher with a history of falling asleep in class and lying about grades. “We fought her placement but the union prevailed,” the principal said. Teachers who skip school face few repercussions.
So the union before which candidates made their obeisances is really part of the problem.
Discipline was discouraged during the Obama administration because the administration saw the discrepancy between the percentage of minority and other students who were suspended as evidence of racism.
A disproportionate number of black kids grow up in a single-parent household in which a struggling mother is often not able to provide the discipline.
In blaming racism, the administration failed kids who could most benefit from kindly discipline and orderliness.
Meanwhile, charter schools are showing good results:
By contrast, Providence charter schools have been “successful,” the reviewers note. But the city council can’t decide “whether to expand charter schools or to pause their growth.” “If we went the charter route, we would circumvent a lot of issues,” one council member said. “But I don’t see the Providence Teachers Union going anywhere.”
Read the entire editorial.