New York State Education Department (NYSED) Commissioner John King must feel emboldened: in Brooklyn this week Astroturfers turned out and mouthed the mantras for Common Core. They or similar "activists" reprised their canned speech performances on Wednesday in Lower Manhattan. So,it's no surprise that the news at the close of the week is that King is repeating his threats against Buffalo Public Schools, threatening a state takeover. This would be the first state takeover of a district in New York State since the state took over the Roosevelt school district. The Buffalo News reported, "he still lacks confidence the Buffalo school district is capable of turning around it’s struggling schools. What’s more, King said he may take more direct action to intervene if schools do not improve."
(Remember that it was toward this school system that New York governor Andrew Cuomo directed his infamous "death penalty" for "failing" schools comment this summer.)
King, at a disadvantage in upstate New York cities, as the media are not wholly compliant as the NYC media are, had to make his case through meeting with the Buffalo News staff. He repeated his threat to assume direct powers over the cities schools if the statistics do not improve as he expects, at a pace he insists upon. This summer he already assumed some powers by dictating that Lafayette and East High Schools partner with Erie 1 BOCES.
Buffalo News readers offered some comments that gave a greater insight into what's happening in Buffalo:
If King had first visited the schools met the students, teachers and administrators allowed for them to work out a plan to prepare students to take advantage of the opportunity it would have helped or tried first as a pilot program offered to all secondary school students with the skill-set to succeed in the programs offered at BOCES.and:
King has to come down from his ivory tower spend some time in the schools he remains troubled about since they are non-criteria have to accept any student sent many of them too old to complete a high school diploma within the legally required time span in NYS education regulations. Or try to provide a high school education to students that are not only limited in the English language but whose formal education ended at 6th grade or never had any formal education in their own language to begin to understand the challenges these schools face.
And since the Buffalo Public Schools seemed to have unlimited funds these days going on a hiring spree offering jobs to Teach For America recruits paying $5000 fee for each one of the 30 they plan to hire fresh out of college with only an undergraduate degree surely the district should have the financial wherewithal to provide the supports King is so troubled about at the schools he commented in this story.
I wish you could see the tests the NYS Department of Education has inflicted on the schools. You can't of course, because the company that the state has contracted with to prepare them considers them "proprietary." Teachers have to sign confidentiality agreements to not discuss the contents of the test even after the tests have been given. They are long, confusing and full of errors. In the state of Rhode Island, a common core math test was given to 50 accomplished adults - people who were successful professionals with college degrees - and 60% of them failed! In the word of one of the state legislators in Rhode Island who took the test, "My eyes have been opened." I hope more people get their eyes opened.
But the truly significant story is that which arises from analysis of the 2010 US census, the scandalously high level of poverty in New York State's big cities and in numerous instances, adjacent suburbs. For more, see below.
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With charter schools on the outs with in-coming New York City mayor Bill deBlasio, we can image that the various franchises, such as in Eva Moskowitz' Success Academies, Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone or other charter school chains will search out additional locales to yield over chunks of their school systems.
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One new trend upstate: Bolden Vargas, superintendent in Rochester, is pursuing the idea of letting colleges manage some of the city's "struggling schools." We would wonder how parental participation and fair contracts for school employees would fare under such a system. So far, the Rochester Teachers Association publicly seems alright with the proposal. But RTA president Adam Urbanski said that teacher and parent involvement would be critical for the plan to work.
Significantly high levels of poverty in New York State cities
Incidentally, according to a new report by the Rochester Area Community Foundation and ACT Rochester Rochester is the fifth poorest city in the United States among the 75 largest metropolitan areas. 46.6 percent of the city's children live under the poverty line. The same city is ranked third for concentrations of extreme poverty among the top 100 metropolitan areas. Buffalo ranks number six among among the top 75 metropolitan areas.
A new report by New York State Community Action Association (NYSCC) indicated that in Rochester the child poverty rate was 50.4 percent. In other New York State cities north of the Tappan Zee Bridge, aside from Albany, about 40-50% of children are in poverty, in declining order of city general population size rank: Buffalo, 46.6%, Syracuse, 49.0%, Schenectady, 39.3%, Utica, 44.2%, Troy, 47.8% and Binghamton, 49.2% of the children live below the poverty line. South of the Tappan Zee our most troubled areas fare relatively better: the Bronx's child poverty rate: 41.1%, Brooklyn, 33.0%, Yonkers, 22.9%, Mt. Vernon, 21.6%.
Gripping poverty across New York State is the story that we should really pay attention to. The United States poverty rate is 14.4%; the New York State rate is 15.1%. Before we can expect students in poor communities to perform at a level comparable to those in the tony towns of Westchester or Nassau Counties we should seriously tackle poverty and its impact on families and child development.
For discussion of the interaction of poverty and school performance, see for example, my blog entry this July, "More Stats Illustrate: U.S. Student Test Score Gap is Reflection of Class and Poverty," Stephen Krashen, Poverty is the problem that must be solved... Our Schools Are Not Broken or "High Stakes Test Protest Press Release Points to Poverty Factor in Education" on Change the Stakes' press release before a Tweed protest.
Book lovers, see Chapter 10, "How Poverty Affects Academic Achievement," of Diane Ravitch's instant classic on the current neo-liberal education corporatization trend, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.
Great job, Governor Cuomo --Ineffective on education, Ineffective on economic development. May you face serious political challenges in 2014, especially in the elections, lest you get a sudden awakening of conscience.