Arthur Schaper: Round, Rhode Island, GOP + School Choice

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


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A Simple Man: Stephen Round's 'I Quit' video posted to YouTube has defined the failings of public education.

Before reading about the lean estate of the Rhode Island Republican Party, I had learned about the mean estate of the high schools in Providence. All the teachers got laid off from one high school because they refused to negotiate after-school tutoring. Then one specific teacher from Providence, Stephen Round, took out his final frustrations on YouTube. This fifteen year veteran of Charles Fort Magnet Academy was earning $70,000 a year, plus generous benefits and a secure pension (if General Treasurer Gina Raimondo's reforms work out). He taught second graders. Announcing his final grievances to the camera, Round quit his job.

"Educrats" have taken over the classroom, Round proclaimed. Standardized testing (which eats away an average of one month out of the school year) has created a confined and demeaning education for the students. They no longer get to play, they no longer get to socialize, and because they have gotten so loud and rambunctious in the classroom (with all their pent up energy), they act up in class, and the teacher cannot teach. Round read the rounds on the stale horror of the classroom, the lunchroom, over every day in the school system.

While the Sandy Hook school massacre had immediate and emotional impact, the slow torture of our youth in the public school system today remains unnoticed over the long-term. In Los Angeles, CA, literacy and math coaches are dictating lesson plans to teachers, many of whom must also cope with larger classes and fewer resources. All the attention to standardized tests has taken all the fun out of learning. Teachers face this dreary, drudgerous nightmare because of "No Child Left Behind," the 2001 federal mandate which is leaving behind frustrated teachers, bankrupted schools, and feckless administrators with neither support nor sanity to run the mad-houses of public education. The cry of this Rhode Island teacher is echoed throughout the country. Former President George W. Bush is to blame, along with partner in "educrat malfeasance" Ted "Chappaquiddick" Kennedy, whose ill-conceived law has put more public schools under water than any other legislative overreach in the last thirty years.

As a former teacher, I share Round's calm yet calamitous complaints. I worked in an inner city school, with brand new buildings, but the same desiccated culture of disrespect and accommodation of failure. The department meetings were a joke. One "veteran" teacher shared about her frequent visits to district-financed psychiatrists: "It’s all free! You can tell them all your problems!" A month of therapy could not cure what ails teachers today. Because I assumed that the school and that coven of administrators were at fault, not the system, I took a job in a wealthier district. There, I confronted the wealthy parents with "wealthy" attitudes, and wealth-driven lawyers. Kids always win, the teacher loses. Frustrated and burned out, I walked off that job, too. Teaching has gotten worse, not better, especially for teachers, who are expected to be parent, psychologist, social worker, nutritionist, and even police officer, all in a six-hour day.

Our kids deserve better from our public schools, and so do our teachers.

Rhode Island's Stephen Round called it quits after fifteen years. In Los Angeles, the late Jaime "Stand and Deliver" Escalante quit after fourteen years, fed up with the infighting, back-biting, and lack of respect. New York "Teacher of the Year" John Taylor Gatto (and author of the Underground History of Education in the United States), lasted thirty years, going to work "angry every day." More teachers may have to walk off the job if state legislatures and school districts resist real reforms, like school choice and voluntary enrollment, both of which would grant more freedom and opportunity to families and school staff.

With my and many other teachers’ complaints, frustrations, and outright despair, I implore every leader in the state of Rhode Island to pass a "school choice" or "open enrollment" law, which will permit students not only to choose their public school, but will offer them a voucher to attend a private school. The statehouse and the local governments must free up charter schools to flourish, as well as allow parents more opportunities to homeschool their children, like giving them a tax credit if they choose not to enroll their students in public school. If there is a ray of hope in the dismal darkness of public education, look at Alabama, which just passed a statewide school choice initiative (although Indiana beat them to it). In California the state senate minority leader Bob Huff even introduced an "open enrollment" or "school choice" bill. (And Huff is a Republican, mind you!)

Stephen Round squarely defined the failings of public education. Rhode Island must approve open enrollment, and prove to the Establishment (Democrats) that choice is best when it comes to education for our youth. The Democratic Party in Rhode Island (as in California) panders to unions, unfortunately. Those organizations have lost their reform-minded edge and their proper focus: the kids. If the Rhode Island Democratic Party will not support school choice, then voters in the Ocean State (and the Golden State) must stop supporting them.


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