OSPRI President Bill Felkner had an op-ed published in The Providence Journal Sunday. He makes an important point about the school crisis in Central Falls: while the actions of the education commissioner and the superintendent—in standing up to a teacher union that refused to do extra work to help failing students—are laudable, ultimately, true school reform will not happen until decisions are placed in the hands of parents. Here are the highlights from the article:
Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has done a commendable job of pushing Rhode Island toward a more responsible system. Last year, she ended employee “bumping” — letting teachers with seniority “bump” less senior teachers out of their classrooms and take their jobs. The brilliance of the commissioner’s move is that if or when the Central Falls teachers are terminated they won’t then be able to bump their way back into a school near you.
The commissioner’s reforms, along with the success of the mayoral-academy idea advocated by Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, suggest that a critical mass of parents is unhappy with Rhode Island’s education system. However, these are still just the first steps toward true reform.
Gist is wresting power from the unions and implementing reforms through the state Department of Education, such as the no-bumping rule. In Cumberland, meanwhile, McKee is taking power away from the school committee and enhancing the role of the mayor.
In both instances, the intent is laudable, but what happens if an anti-reform mayor is elected in Cumberland, or a new commissioner takes office at the state level, one less inclined to do battle with the unions?
Either way, control is just being shifted from one governmental entity to another — from the school committees to the mayor, or from public teacher unions to the education commissioner and the superintendents.
Ultimately, the balance of power must be shifted from government to the parents. This is the free-market approach to education reform: Instead of changes being centrally dictated by a mayor, superintendent or education commissioner, they are driven by the cumulative choices of individual parents. This ensures that purchasing power is in the hands of those with the most vested interest.