Things To Do At The State House, Early 2013 Edition

Pass Marriage Equality

Ok, so Marriage Equality is a half step away from becoming law. The General Assembly has gotten things rolling quickly for a change.

But Marriage Equality isn’t enough.

America’s Best Public Schools

On her FaceBook Page, Commissioner Deborah Gist posted a picture bragging—or promising—”Welcome to Rhode Island Home of America’s Best Public School.”

This was my response:

The best public schools in America are not about having students who do well on tests… The best schools are ones that allow teachers to teach with creativity, that allow students to learn at their own pace. They push students to go beyond where they are comfortable. The best schools may have the best facilities, where the roof doesn’t leak and the heat works, but that’s not the point. The point is that in the classroom, young people are listening, talking, excited, working, writing, creating and asking questions. And the question isn’t, “Is this going to be on the test?” The best schools in America don’t prepare students for the jobs of today, they prepare them for the work that has yet to be invented, which is to say they trust the teachers to teach the students how to learn. No teacher can force a student to learn or perform on a test, but every teacher can nudge the student along. The best schools in the country aren’t worried and fearful about being “left behind”. Can Rhode Island have the best schools in the country? Yes. Are these the policies that will take us there? I don’t know.

My opinion on what would work?

  • Use tests to help students, not evaluate teachers
  • Make superintendents and commissioners accountable for the results of their districts. There is a 3 year revolving door policy on district superintendents. Every three years someone new is put in charge, with a raft of new policies (same as the old, but different). Two and a half years later, they are ready to move to the next district where they can tout the progress they’ve made and blame the administration they’ve left of the mistakes that remain.
  • Allow principals to quarantine poor-performing teachers. They do exist, and they wreck learning for students today. Perhaps make them do duty as administrators.
  • Allow principals to reward the best teachers. There are so many of you out there. Keep it up.
  • Eliminate the fear factor in our schools. High testing is used to dominate, manipulate and control teachers. Teachers pass this fear to their students. How many of you fondly remember testing? What did you learn from those tests? Every few weeks I get a robocall from the school system saying, “Testing tomorrow is important. Make sure your child is on time and gets a good night sleep.”
  • Permit, but do not require, every school to have accelerated and remedial tracks. Our children are not being challenged to reach beyond “Grade Level Expectations.” Those who need help must get it. Those who need nudging must be inspired.
  • Restore arts, sports, theater and everything that makes school fun. Science and Math are great. Where are the science fairs? English is important. What about school plays? Rather than buying computers for schools, teach the students how to build them.

Reform Payday Lending

I’ve said this before. 260% interest on short term loans is usury. It is debilitating and addictive.  We’ve made Heroin illegal to buy and sell. It’s time to stop permitting large out of state companies to profit from our state’s poverty.

Either Investigate 38 Studios or Drop it

Looking into the mechanism of what didn’t work with the 38 Studios Disaster won’t help if it’s an internal look at the people who made the mistakes by the people who made the mistakes. It certainly won’t work if they aren’t held liable or accountable.

We know what didn’t work.

  • Back Room Deals
  • Razzle Dazzle by Sports Hero
  • Bet the farm on something unproven
  • Overpay for borrowing (we’re not allowed to pre-paydown the loan)
  • Don’t take responsibility when things fail and blow up
  • Lack of boldness in negotiating with bond holders
  • Assume that a big company from out of state is better than little companies in state
  • Assume that the Government can actually make good decisions about which businesses will work and which won’t
  • Offer tax incentives to the wealthy and big (hello CVS!)

What could work?

  • Tax incentives for businesses that create infrastructure
  • Penalties for businesses that default on their obligations to produce results
  • Stop bribing companies to come to Rhode Island (they’ll just leave when someone gives them a better deal)
  • Invest in our roads, internet, education
  • Create collaboratives between businesses and schools to produce workers for today’s jobs.
  • Invest in teaching students how to learn and master new skills — not just perform on the test (Yes, I know I’m repeating myself. This is key.)

Reform Election Finances

I spent $12,000 on my election. My opponent spent ten times that. Both figures are, in my opinion, too much for a job that would have paid me $14,500. Our state legislators are probably the worst paid employees in the government. I don’t blame them for hanging onto their “free” health care.

Here are a few suggestions…

  • No campaign contributions during the legislative session. (Thanks John Lombardi and Spenser Dickinson)
  • Eliminate the Master Lever (Thanks Ken Block). If you can’t get someone to mark your name, then you don’t deserve their vote.
  • Make casting a ballot mandatory and fine the folk who don’t vote. Use this funding to publicly finance elections. This is the system that works in Australia. We ought to try it here. (Note: Special exemptions for weird scenarios like Central Falls’ 300 elections this year.)

Got it? Now go!

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Mark Binder is an author, storyteller, nice guy, and occasional tilter at windmills.
If you enjoy his writing here, please support his work by purchasing some of his other work. Mark's latest is an awesome audio storybook for families called Transmit Joy.
Mark's books include the autobiography, It Ate My Sister, Every Hero Has a Story , Cinderella Spinderella, and Every Hero Has a Story. Please visit his storytelling website: and find his books and audio recordings at or on Amazon, iBooks and Google Play.

Mark has been an occasional candidate for public office. In his last election, he won 43% of the vote against the sitting Speaker of the RI House of Representatives, despite being outspent 10 to 1.

In 2012, he ran as the independent candidate for House District 4 against the Speaker of the House, receiving more than 40% of the vote while outspent by his opponent 20 to 1. He ran for Congress in 2004.

He is also Editor in Chief at Light Publications, a fiercely independent publishing house specializing in fiction and adventurous political thought.

Other books include: "The Brothers Schlemiel," "It Ate My Sister," "Genies, Giants and a Walrus," "Kings, Wolves, Princesses and Lions," and "The Bed Time Story Book." His favorite audio recording is called, "It was a dark and stormy night..." and is available on iTunes.

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