The Schools Our Children Deserve -- 06/20/00

Today's Wall Street Journal had a story ("Silicon Valley Puts Its Teachers Through School of Hard Knocks") that told how a teacher was having a discussion with the parent of a first-grade student about that student's "rambunctious and sometimes disruptive behavior" when the parent refers to a book called The Schools Our Children Deserve, a critique of traditional education. "You need to read this book" the parent says. The teacher (according to the article) "... remains polite but is fuming inside. She had read the book when studying for her master's degree in teaching."

The main thrust of the article is the problems faced by schools and teachers in the Silicon Valley area where teachers are working for relative peanuts compared to the dot com geeks, where personal worth seems to be determined by income and stock options, and where parental arrogance can go beyond all bounds.

That kind of parental arrogance isn't confined to Silicon Valley. I know of a group of junior high teachers who were handed a questionnaire on the last day of school by the mother of a failing student. She demanded that the teachers complete the form and return it to her within a few days. The questions tended to be of the type "In what ways have your lesson plans failed to engage my son's interest?" and "What should you have done in order to meet my son's needs?" and so forth. (No, I am not making this up.) The student in question does not complete assignments and is disruptive and disrespective in all classes (and is failing every subject). In a recent meeting with teachers, when some of the teachers indicated that he may be showing some signs of involvement with pot, the mother replied that yes, she knew that he had "experimented" with smoking marijuana, but that had nothing to do with the fact that every one of his teachers was failing to meet his needs.

Now I don't claim that every teacher is perfect. I know that my kids have had some wonderful teachers, but they have also had some incompetent time-servers. But how can teachers get any teaching done when they have to deal with disruptive students in every class with no meaningful assistance from the school administration and with arrogant parents like that one?

But don't blame everything on parents. Some school systems are, indeed, incapable and incompetant as systems. Take the Providence schools... They are truly in horrible shape. They want many millions of extra dollars in state aid and they want it now. And yes, the schools do need more money, the physical infrastructure is crumbling, they lack books and materials, etc. But... to give them even one extra dime would just be throwing money away. (In fact, Providence would be an excellent example of a place where a vouchers program might be the best -- perhaps the only -- way of ever providing decent educational opportunities.) The Providence school system is run as a political patronage jobs program and a way of awarding contracts to major political campaign contributors. Including the cost of benefits, school crossing guards make forty-five dollars an hour! Providence has a residency clause. All employees, including all teachers, must be Providence residents. In other words, they don't don't care about training or ability, merely about address. My feeling is that until they at least eliminate that rule they don't deserve any additional state aid; in fact, I think they should forfit the excessive amounts they are now getting. Yes, of course you know I am politically incorrect. (Do you want to know which school systems in the state are the absolute rock-bottem worst? Just check to see which ones have a residency requirement for employees.)

Actually, in the case of Providence, perhaps we should place a lot of the blame on the parents... after all, they are among the voters who continue to support an old-fashioned one party patronage driven political machine.

By the way, Rhode Island has now legalized bribery. Until now state officials were prohibited from accepting anything from a lobbyist. [I spent a number of years working for an aerospace defense contrator; we were forbidden by federal rules from even giving a cup of coffee to any federal employee. It's a simple rule. Give nothing. Accept nothing.] Recently the State "Ethics" Commission (and yes, the word certainly does belong in quotes) decided that the zero gift rule was working a hardship. On whom? Yes, one might ask that. So they have now decided that state office holders may accept up to $450 dollars a year in "gifts" from a lobbyist. Note the singular in lobbyist. If a particular group or company has, lets say, two lobbyists working for them, then each of those lobbyists can give $450 a year to that office holder. You can see the potential for multiplication here... The head of the "Ethics" Commission's brother is one of the biggest lobbyists in the state; he saw no need to recuse himself due to conflict of interest. The commission held hearings where testimony was overwhelmingly against this change. (In fact, I believe only one person testified in favor of it and he provided only lukewarm support.) The result of this was the approval the $450 limit on bribes; originally they had wanted to make it a much higher figure. Oh, have I mentioned that this commission once had members with a variety of occupational backgrounds; these days they are mostly lawyers.

Welcome to Rhode Island.

And how was your day?

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