On Education

I have always recalled the wise words of my mother telling me “If everyone jumped off the bridge, would you?” It has resonated throughout my life and has probably sits at the foundation of my thought process. Just because nearly everyone is convinced that the Common Core is the future, there must be those out there to question it.

I must admit that I was serving on the Warren School Committee when the movement began, largely sparked by the infamous report, A Nation At Risk. At the time, I found the need to be somewhat persuasive in that who doesn’t want performing schools?

Not being involved with the education field directly for years since engaging in the practice of law after my dissertation adviser died during my PhD program in Comparative Education at Columbia, and without having children, I was astonished by where education has gone when I sat down to review the current trend in education, Common Core and corresponding State Standards.

My approach was from the standpoint of a consumer. Who wouldn’t want the best in terms of education delivery? Who wouldn’t want students prepared to be “world class”?

As I grew more and more investigative, however, I have grown skeptical of the process. Of course, like everyone, I still would want a world class student for my tax dollars, but I am clearly not in favor of doing this at all costs.

Additionally, more than the education components, I am fearful of the corporate take-over of public education.

As many know, I am not a big fan of public labor unions in that I have long argued that they have exerted far too much influence over legislation and have created situations that do not foster a level bargaining field. Still, with that said, I have never faulted the rank and file teacher, having been one and understanding that teaching is a noble profession.

All that said, I am beside myself to think that the current trend has so influenced the profession, at the behest of the public and politicians and at the expense of the trained professional teacher and the students, all under the eye of the labor unions. I oddly find myself in a place where I must cast my lot with those in opposition of Common Core.

When involved in education, I was a strong supporter of getting the best for the tax dollar, and I still stand committed to this position. I was an early crusader for greater responsibility in education. I now feel that this effort that I worked to spearhead, has been hijacked by corporate interests and taken in an unexpected direction.

While at Columbia I became aware of some of the work of Diane Ravitch, and, quite frankly, at that time was unimpressed. After reading parts of her recent work, especially Reign of Error, I, like her, feel that this movement which she helped initiate, was carried beyond its objective. In short, I find myself in agreement with her that education is on a runaway train and it will take a voice of reason to stop it short of the cliff.

What is most troubling to me is the corporate role in education. I still believe that a teacher instills knowledge and is not on an assembly line creating robots. Education is far more complex than a mere teaching of testing skills. I can say that I have never waived from this position.

It has long been said that the road to hell is paved with good intention. Such is the case here.

The setting of standards and enforcing them in a draconian fashion has no real place in education. There should be testing to ensure that knowledge has been transferred, but it should not be seen as a game where the results tell the story.

I believe in individualism in education. I feel that this concept is at the basis of American society. We are quite productive as a nation related to conceptual thinking and invention. We are a nation of innovators, not because we all live up to standards, but that we have been taught skills that enable us to envision what is possible.

There is surely an argument that having a panoply of tools and knowing how to utilize them is at the core, to which I agree, but I do not see this focus on standards as being of any use to a student who is not given the full array of opportunity.

This, coupled with the corporate culture’s viewing of education as a cash cow, has propelled me into my position that the reform movement has gone awry. I am, much like Ravitch, worried that we have moved in the wrong direction set by noble objectives. We must stop and gauge where we stand.

Having been both a teacher and an attorney, I have been able to see an interesting point of view. Law exists in a staid state, rarely being moved away from its core. Decisions are made to be final and there is very little alteration possible. Education, however, is always changing. Unlike law, its theory appears constantly in flux.

This may serve to explain much. Teachers, having to tailor learning to the individual, are constantly seeking a method that can be applied to meet the needs. It is most difficult to find a universal approach to serve this discipline. After all, how can a teacher be expected to service the needs of each individual learner with a standardized system. It just doesn’t make sense.

It is my opinion that the need to educate individuals is lost in the need for accountability. I do not take the position that a child should not get a basic education. We all agree that a student needs to read, write and perform mathematical functions. We see the need for an understanding of history and science. But to emphasize these functions to an abnormal degree is an education nightmare.

In this scenario, I see the federal government and corporate interests as being the villains, the students being the victims, the taxpayers as being the dupes, and the educators as being cast as the scapegoat. The play is a tragedy.

The federal government, in taking a state function and creating a federal agency, has, in typical federal style, made a bad situation worse. In offering federal dollars in large amounts to solve “the problem”, corporate mouths began to salivate. Where there are large sums to be spent, there will always be corporate solutions.

Much like an encyclopedia salesperson, the first rule in selling them is to instill fear and guilt. How can your child be able to compete in the world without it? This unscrupulous method, in a modernized format, is exactly what the purveyors of corporate education are doing. They are playing on public fears and its ignorance of education and the role of educators to reap profit.

Although I am a strong advocate of supply and demand capitalism that does not translate into a free for all in the marketplace. I do not advocate the sale of tainted meat or unsafe drugs. Similarly, I cannot advocate for the privatization of public schools, a position I see as the ultimate goal of the Common Core movement.

Those who are advocates of running a government role like a business should be reminded of the words of Vincent Cianci who countered this position with a pithy and wise question in response to this situation being posed to him. Paraphrasing him, when asked why he didn’t run government like a business, the Mayor asked, “When was the last time a private business bought an elephant?” His point, that government, while appearing as a business, required modification if it were to be so accountable.

Similarly, public schools are charged with a mission to educate an increasingly diverse population. To run it like a business is ludicrous. Therein lies the conflict with the federal and state government intervention.

Since the federal government is prohibited by the US Constitution from interference in state roles, in this case, education, it needed to bribe its way in. Rhode Island, as per its state constitution, specifically gives the state the duty to educate. The ninth, tenth, and eleventh amendments prohibit the federal government from taking a role.

Unfortunately, with the power to tax, specifically the income tax, the federal government has grown more and more encroaching in areas to which the founders had forbidden its entrance. By taking in more income tax than necessary to operate the federal government, it is then enabled to offer “grant” money to the states, obviously conditioned on federal compliance. In short, they have provided funds conditioned on the state’s relinquishing control.

In doing that, it has then proclaimed its role in education. As the leading force, it then could offer funds to corporate America to promote programs that may not be in the best interest of education, but certainly in the best interests of corporations.

The hidden agenda is truly troubling. The Common Core is not a movement to improve education. It is an opportunity to sell compliance at the expense of a child’s education, and therefore, it is deplorable.

There is a need for teacher accountability, without a doubt, but unreasonable standards make this more of a game than an attempt to rectify the situation.

Without a doubt, there are situations that make correcting teachers and holding them accountable a near impossibility. I recall being on the School Committee and being confronted with a situation that clearly demonstrates this point.

Confronted with a teacher on the secondary level who was clearly underperforming, and with an administrator who failed to attempt to document the incompetence, there was no way of disciplining the teacher. The solution was to move the teacher to another school since she also had an elementary school certification.

To this day, I shudder at the thought that I had placed second grade students at such risk to relieve a problem on the secondary level. A greater level of cooperation between the unions and the administration would have been a far better option, but the growing contempt over wage negotiations made such impossible.

The teacher was certified, but it was evident that the teacher was not effective. There was no reasonable alternative other than to make the transfer and hope for the best. Is this any way to run a system?

But, like every occupation, there are good and bad. Some carpenters are artists while others are hacks. How many people have their roofs replaced only to find a leak in the next storm? Teaching is no different. The difference is that they are being paid in part by several entities, all with a differing opinion as to how satisfactory is the job being done.

Standardized teaching and results based play to this audience. Performance based on student testing seems to be the obvious, albeit wrong, measure of achievement. This is where my earlier example of purchasing an elephant is applicable.

Teachers are trained professionals and are entrusted with our youth. As professionals, they are trained in their field. They are prepared to educate. With the deterioration of family in our society, the teacher has not only been charged with education, it must now serve as social worker, suicide counselor, and many other roles that do not necessarily relate to education. Couple this with an increase in litigation and there is a recipe for disaster.

It is for these and other reasons which cannot be articulated here based on time limitations, I stand against Common Core.

SUMMARY

Asked whether I support Common Core, the answer is “No, I do not”. My opponents Fung and Raimondo both have expressed publicly their support. We are day and night on this issue.

I will work to limit its implementation, reworking it based on input from professional educators (especially those in the trenches at all levels), and would even consider scrapping it entirely based on the findings.

There are solid arguments against the continued use of Common Core, especially in light of the corporate interests who have manipulated the process.

As to its replacement, I leave that to a determination after a complete review. I do not believe that I alone have the answer, but I vow to create one with the cooperation of the education community.

Advertisements

CHANNEL 6 PULLS OUT THE RUG – NO CANDIDATE TO CANDIDATE QUESTIONS AT DEBATE

I have been silent for most of this campaign on issues related to media coverage in that I can see how it has come a long way from the years of excluding independent and third party candidates from participation. I can remember all too well the days of being held back without cause or reason.

I cannot remain silent on this issue. I was invited to a Channel 6 debate. Included in the format was a segment that allowed for direct candidate to candidate questioning. I agreed to this format, apparently either devised by the station’s management or in conjunction with the other candidates in that I was not consulted on it.

This morning arrived notice that the format was changed and the direct candidate to candidate questioning was being eliminated.

Now I understand that the station creates its own format, but I am suggesting that there is no valid reason for this move. The station contends it is due to an abundance of questions from viewers. I contend that if the candidates have avoided forums, public appearances, radio debates, and more, why should they be allowed to avoid direct confrontation from their opponents?

The abundance of questions from viewers could be reduced to writing and emailed to candidates after the debate for answers. To use this as an excuse for not having a full debate seems quite lame.

I may be arguing a subtle point, but I think the face to face confrontation is preferable to an audience than a question that will get a standard answer from a scripted candidate.

I feel I must call on the public to call Channel 6 or email the station to tell them that this change in format is denying them the ability to see the candidates act on their feet in response to questions.

Channel 6 describes it as a “minor change” in the format. I do not believe the public agrees.

Candidates have followed each other on the campaign trail and can recite their opponents’ standard answers practically verbatim. There is a need for the candidate to candidate segment to get to the questions that are not being asked.

I urge you to write to Christopher S. Tzianbos, Vice President and General Manager at ABC 6.

His email is: Ctzianabos@abc6.com

The phone number for ABC 6 is 453-8001.

Statewide Teacher Contract

Since I discussed the idea of having a statewide teacher contact, many have asked for a more detailed statement as to my reasoning and the components of such a proposal.

This idea would need legislative action. I had asked my Representative, Jan Malik, to introduce such legislation in the past. He did. It died without action.

This idea is to create a statewide contract for teachers’ wages and benefits. The unions, AFT and NEA, would negotiate directly with the state to arrive at the terms of the agreement.

The rationale behind this is that local school boards are usually the first step on a political ladder. Many who run for office are of the ilk that are former school teachers or their relatives and those who are sincerely dedicated to the best interests of the students.

The unions, when negotiating contracts, send in negotiators. These negotiators, having negotiated several contracts across the state, are no match for the lambs sitting on the school board. While school board members are nice people, they are no match for skilled negotiators. School boards members, for the most part, will probably negotiate a multi-million dollar contract once in their life. Union negotiators do several each year.

Think about it. A buzz saw facing off against someone who’s biggest purchase last year was a washing machine. While it would make sense to hire experienced negotiators, most school committee members do not wish to shirk from the duty they were elected to perform or they see the hiring of a negotiator an unwarranted expense in times of tight budgets.

As a result, we have a tilted battle from the onset. The saddest part of it is that these less than seasoned elected officials with little experience with negotiating multi-million dollar contracts, actually have control of one-half or more of the property taxes of most communities.

Aside from the obvious disadvantage, there is a divergence in interest. I have long held that school committees engaged in contract negotiations should have their priorities as students first, taxpayers second, labor third, while the unions should have their priorities as students first, labor second, taxpayers third. Both sides will naturally state that it is the student first, but once you get off the public relations line, the truth is that the intended clash is between labor interests and taxpayer interests which rightly sits as the second priority of both.

This is not to say that educators are not concerned with the students. We are not discussing teachers. We are discussing the union who represents teacher issues. Never confuse the two. Both have distinct functions in the system.

Union negotiators have a job focused on getting the best contract for the members, as they should. School board members need to focus on getting the best contract for the taxpayers. Both sides should recognize they have the student as the common first element of the equation.

A statewide state negotiated contract, as I had proposed, would not eliminate school committees, instead it would free them from the burden of financial negotiations and allow them to concentrate on the improvement of education policy matters for their system, what I see as the true role of a local committee.

By funding education on the state level, the general fund could be utilized, shifting taxes to an income tax and relieving property taxes. This too has a benefit. Under the current system which utilizes property taxation to fund schools, the elderly, the poor, and those on fixed incomes are severely penalized. By putting it largely on the income tax, it would impact on those earning wages, and, incidentally, the very people who are most likely to have school age children.

This is not a tax saving plan, but one designed to most logically fund education. There will be no savings in that the burden of education will merely shift from property taxes to income taxes.

A side benefit is that in moving away from a property tax base for education, it will encourage business location in that they will not be paying local property taxes, instead shifting their costs to the wage earners they will employ.

This plan has its potential failures. The negotiations will be put into the hands of the Assembly where many former teachers and union members dominate. If this system were implemented without adequate checks and balances, the outcome could be devastating.

However, if the plan includes a mandate that the contract be two years in form, signed on or before the filing deadline for candidacy for elected office, and in election years, this would allow for a check and balance on the actions of the Legislature.

The Legislature would have a free hand to sign a contract. Going too far in labor’s direction is possible, but they would have to face the voters that very November. Going too far against labor’s direction puts them at odds with labor’s strong electing presence. Sounds balanced, doesn’t it? Sounds like a win-win for the people of Rhode Island.

Additionally, in this approach, there is only a possibility of a statewide teacher strike. All students will be out of school or none of them will be. The Governor, under the Rhode Island Constitution, has the power to call the Assembly into session, and the Assembly, in November, would be convened to address the strike, but what strike would there be if the contact had been negotiated by June of the election year? In short, unless the Assembly and the unions fail to agree, there is no strike.

There would need to be some adjustment of ancillary laws, but this would not be difficult. There would need to be a judicial mechanism for responsible parties to be judged by the courts, e.g. union leadership being liable for prosecution as a party in an illegal strike instead of the teachers. There would be a need for provisions that the contract could only be re-opened on the vote of 4/5 of the Legislature. There would be a need to have an actual written contract to protect the unions against retroactive legislation, especially after the reorganization of the legislature in light of the November election after the approval of the contract.

Under my proposal, there needs to be a look-back when setting the wages. By this I mean that an arbitrary period be chosen and used as a benchmark. Once set, the benchmark could be used to calculate the differences between current contracts and the statewide one. While this sounds complicated, it really isn’t.

By taking a year, say, for example, 2011, and calculating the variances between district contracts, that will set the mark for the variances between communities in the master state contract. For example, if the average were X for all teachers in 2011, and say one community paid 3% higher than X, then in the statewide contract, the educators in that community would get 3% more than the statewide X. This would keep parity without impairing the economic expectations of the teachers in those communities who have relied on their current contract in planning their futures.

This plan is not without problems in need of resolution. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle will be the reconciliation of the system in that some communities allow for Social Security in addition to the teacher pension where others do not, but this issue is not insurmountable.

As is its norm, the General Assembly has requested and received a study report on the feasibility of a statewide contract. The report was ambiguous in that it said it could potentially provide a savings or it could potentially derive a savings, dependent on how the system was implemented. Gee, we needed a study to conclude this.

But, the bottom line of the study was issue related to the payment of Social Security. If this is the only major barrier, then I find that such is merely an excuse for not wanting to go down this road. Yes, there would be savings if the state contract did not include Social Security payments. No, there would be a greater expenditure if the teachers were all in Social Security. But what about the middle? Couldn’t this be negotiated away? You could at least consider possibilities of having those on remain on and those on being without that benefit. If this is not possible under federal law, you could continue to have the communities where they gave this benefit, continue to pay it until the teacher no longer works in that system. My point is that there are ways around most problems if we seriously think about them.

Union leadership does not favor this plan in that it makes them work harder for their dues. As such they have already been spreading the word that such a plan will injure the rank and file teacher and this idea is somehow anti-teacher.

Is it? I ask how it would harm the individual educator by having a different contracting authority, other than the obvious of the union having a distinct advantage in bargaining with inexperienced school boards.

The benefit of allowing the local boards to focus on matters truly related to student performance and such would be a godsend to most dedicated teachers.

This is not an effort to balance a budget on the backs of teachers. It is far from it. It is an effort to better organize and operate a system that is required by our constitution. It is in the best interest of all the public and not at the expense of the working teachers.

Consolidation is in the best interest of state policy in a place as small as Rhode Island. To continue to operate in an inefficient manner defies logic. It is for this reason I propose this plan.

Since funding is a separate and distinct part of education, I urge the reader to peruse my various papers related to education found in the document section of Bob Healey’s Campaign Journal.

PRESS GUIDELINES ADOPTED BY HEALEY FOR GOVERNOR 2014

In an effort to provide a better understanding between the campaign and the media, the following will serve as a guide.

The Healey for Governor campaign is about transparency and the education of independent candidates through the use of a teaching guide of sorts called Bob Healey’s Campaign Journal.

The over-transparency has raised concerns in that correspondence is being treated as a public document. To avoid this reoccurring, along with other potential problems, this is what is considered policy of the campaign:

  1. Unless specifically qualified in the correspondence of any kind, documents shall be considered public, subject only to government and personal confidentiality laws. To avoid a document being considered public, it should be headed with a reasonable understandable preface, eg. CONFIDENTIAL, PRIVATE COMMUNICATION, EMBARGOED UNTIL (DATE), NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE, or any similar language in the heading or in the greeting of the document. Any document so headed, shall be considered private communication and shall be treated as such.
  1. That any response other than from the candidate is not a statement of the Healey for Governor campaign and should not be so attributed
  1. Any conversation, document, or other statement issued by Robert J. Healey, Jr. is to be considered fair game and in the public domain, subject only to a prior request and an acceptance by the media person, to go off the record. All shall be considered on the record unless this kabuki dance takes place. Background documents are not confidential unless so labled.
  1. Comments on social media by supporters are fair game provided they are not attributed to the campaign itself.
  1. Any photograph issued by the campaign shall be immediately set into the public domain and may be used without first acquiring permission from the campaign.
  1. All published materials, excepting comments from others, found on the Bob Healey’s Campaign Journal are a product of Robert J. Healey, Jr. and can be directly cited as being issued by him.
  1. If there is a doubt as to the authenticity, contacting Healey at 837-9847 will provide a safe harbor in that the questionable material can be verified directly by the candidate.
  1. The campaign recognizes that the role of media is not easy given space, time and other constraints and it is the campaign’s role to provide requested information on a timely basis. As such, the candidate himself will make all attempts to be available for comment and/or provide requested materials, given the reasonable parameters of the campaign schedule.

While the media is in no way bound by the unilaterally prepared guide, it has been adopted by the Healey campaign as our internal rules for media relations. The campaign is desirous of a mutual, feisty, and professional relationship with the media, avoiding problems in a proactive manner.