You’re The Top – You’re The Board of Regents

The New York State Education Department’s Board of Regents is in Rochester.
Their goal:
1. Expose the Board to all key areas of USNY via site visits and presentations/discussion with consideration towards supporting the Regents reform agenda and Pathways discussion (how, for example, can libraries and museums support their own missions while also supporting districts and schools in college and career readiness?).
2. Generate reaction to the Pathways discussion with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) in particular. This would be done both via site visits and final panel before the Board on Tuesday.

Exposure does not necessarily bring about understanding and consideration does not necessarily lead to conclusion.

The final panel before the Board is a 40 minute town hall discussion with parents and community members that will take place from 10:30 AM until Noon at Monroe Community College. Given the time and place it is unsure exactly from whom the Board of Regents expects to provide the reaction to the Pathways discussion.

The Board of Regents and its Commissioner must begin to take responsibility for the process of education in New York State. They must take a more active role in the application and implication of process in education. Legislation is the key to reform and it is their duty to promote legislation that will lead to the educational success of our children.

They can advocate for mandated early childhood education, lower class size at the elementary level, payment of Contract for Excellence money, expeditionary learning for all children, the end of social promotion, and many more processes and programs that will actually work to provide a successful education for all children in New York State.

The educational success of our children should be the major concern of the Board of Regents and they should spend more than 40 minutes a year with the major stakeholders in education, parents and community members, to accomplish that purpose.

Accountability is a top down process and the NYSED Board of Regents is at the top of the list.

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Another Attack Waged – Know Thine Enemy

An interesting discussion took place this weekend surrounding a petition sent around concerning homework. The petition wanted adults to sign off on the fact that educators were assigning too much homework to students which interfered with student health and engagement. The petition noted that experts have concluded that there is a limited link between homework and academic achievement.

Referenced in the petition was a team of education and homework experts. Homework experts, there are homework experts now? The petition goes on to say that by signing the petition your name will be added to “policy experts, veteran educators and medical professionals” who believe in “healthy homework”.

These experts believe that homework should “Advance a spirit of learning”, “Be student-directed” and should “Promote a balanced schedule”. It is the last bullet point that is most interesting.

According to expert opinion, a balanced homework schedule is one in which “Educators at all grade levels should avoid assigning or requiring homework on non-school nights, holidays and breaks, on nights of major school events, when a child is sick or absent, or when it conflicts with a child’s family or religious obligations.”

While the on-line discussion was interesting with more than a few valid points made, one point did not seem to surface, that the petition is an indictment of the lack of value Americans place on education and hard work.

If in fact this petition was prompted by experts, it seems as though a child’s education is less important to them than week-ends, holidays, breaks, and major school events. They do not seem to want parents to spend time helping their sick child with homework so that when he or she returns to school they won’t be behind in their learning. The same is true for family or religious obligations.

It seems these homework experts didn’t do their homework on the importance of homework. The fact is there is a link between homework and academic achievement. This is yet another ruse to support the educational failure of our children. Don’t believe the lie.

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Rights and Responsibilities

The Policy Committee was presented with two draft revisions of Policy 1510: District Policy Against Harassment of Students or Employees and Policy 5300: Code of Conduct.

Under Policy 5300.15 A – Student Responsibilities and Rights, Section 1 states: All district students have the responsibility to:
Work to the best of their own ability in all academic and extracurricular pursuits and strive toward their highest personal level of achievement.

The question becomes, how do you hold students accountable for their responsibility to do their best towards educating themselves?

As well, if we know that students must be responsible for their own education, what message are we sending when they are not held accountable for their responsibility?

In education, unless a child is at least three years below grade level that child cannot be classified as needing special services. Yet, a child can only be retained two years at the elementary level.

The assumption is that every child comes to school with an attitude of success in place and that failure is not an option.
Those who make educational policy do not seem to understand that in today’s society, failure may be the only option for many who have survived generational failure as part of the social services system. Failure has become their means of success which was not only actuated by their mis-education but perpetuated by an educational system that pushed them along without holding them accountable for their responsibility to succeed.

It is time for those making educational decisions for our children to open their eyes to the fact that it is the failing system of education that is perpetuating and growing the social ills of poverty and racism that plague our community and our nation.

When we do not hold children accountable for their responsibility to educate themselves we deny them the right to reach for and attain success in life.

It is our responsibility, as educators, to encourage children to strive toward their highest personal level of achievement. We cannot do that if we pass them along regardless of the level effort they put forth.

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LAISSEZ-FAIRE Has Created Lots Of Failure

LAISSEZ-FAIRE: A doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs beyond the minimum necessary for the maintenance of peace and property rights. A philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action.

It has been said by Board members time and time again that it is their responsibility to create policy for the district, not to manage it. However, according to Board By Laws – Powers and Duties of the Board of Education:
The powers and duties of the Board of Education are those set forth in the New York State Constitution, the laws of New York State, particularly the Education Law, the regulations of the State Commissioner of Education, and the Constitution and laws of the United States and related regulations.

And, New York; Education Law section 2503: Powers and duties of the Board of Education states:
3. [Boards] shall have in all respects the superintendence, management and control of the educational affairs of the district, and, therefore, shall have all the powers reasonably necessary to exercise powers granted expressly or by implication and to discharge duties imposed expressly or by implication by this chapter or other statutes.

This expressly or by implication places the accountability for the educational failure of our children squarely on the shoulders of the School Board. The fact is they continue to support whatever program or plan their appointed superintendent puts forth. In the case of Brizard’s Strategic Plan, Commissioner Powell stated, “We passed the K-8 decision as part of a Strategic Plan with no vetting on the merits or the cost of the K-8 scheme.”

This is not a single instance. Our Board has supported, with little resistance, their superintendents, giving little to no consideration to student needs or parent and community wants.

Before we begin to evaluate teachers and principals, it is necessary to evaluate our Board members and hold them accountable for the decisions they have made and are making.

We must start at the top in order to get to the bottom of things.

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Back To The Drawing Board

The discussion at the Finance Committee meeting was facilities modernization. There is an amendment to Resolution 713 to increase the debt amount for the Facilities Modernization Plan from $138 to $150 million.

In the 2013-14 School year the plan is to move #54 School into the Freddie Thomas building to share that space with the Montessori School. It has also been suggested that the Young Mothers Program be included in that building so that there will be two schools and one program being housed at the Freddie Thomas campus.

The discussion turned to the feasibility of restructuring schools to fit the K-8 model. Commissioner Powell, speaking for Superintendent Vargas, said that it is a terrible waste of district Capital Improvement and Facilities Modernization funds to take new buildings, those constructed within the last twenty years, that were built to accommodate a middle school population of students, and refit them to accommodate K-8. It appears that the K-8 plan is no longer in effect.

The solution, a task force has been assembled to create a facilities master plan. The goal is to align the construction design of the district with the district’s academic goals from Pre-K to 12. According to Jerome Underwood, Senior Director of Operations, “there is representation from Placement, Special Education, several people from Teaching & Learning, [an] elementary principal, a couple of high school principals to get various perspectives, of course my staff, technology staff, safety and security” on the task force. Commissioner White made it clear that Superintendent Vargas does not want Board members to be a part of this group.

It is also evident that the community will not be invited to participate in the development of this master plan. Once again, the most important stakeholders in the process will not be a part of the vision. And, since Board members are the elected officials chosen to represent the community, we are even further removed from the process when they are not welcome to participate.

Our children will not be academically successful until all stakeholders are included in the process of educating them.

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Expertly Speaking

Welcome to our new Interim Deputy Superintendent Harriet Monroe-Morgan who has come out of retirement from Rush-Henrietta to help Superintendent Vargas forward his vision for our district.

The Excellence in Student Achievement meeting concentrated on Teacher/Administrator evaluation or the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). This new regulation is titled 3012-b and requires a 60-20-20 evaluation process.

Sixty percent of the process is union negotiated and based on a points system. Twenty percent is local assessment, also being negotiated, and twenty percent is the State assessment which is non-negotiable.

A topic of concern was student attendance with regards to the State evaluation piece of the process. State officials have posited, that if student attendance is considered applicable, teachers will encourage low performing students to not come to class so that their scores will not be part of the evaluation process.

The reason the State deems it necessary to intervene in the evaluation process is because, as Commissioner White so aptly stated, “We have dropped the ball for many years. . . One of the reasons why people can make money [in education] is because we have a jacked-up system and we have not attended to our kids.”

This is an interesting statement since our system of education depends largely upon our School Board which has, for years, been told by members of this community that our system of education is in dire need of widespread, fundamental change.

Members of this community have united and worked diligently to provide the Board with solutions to the problems that our children face and have offered to work with the district, voluntarily, to bring about the change necessary to create a successful system of education for our children.

Unfortunately, our Board has sought out experts who know data while disregarding parents, teachers, and community members who know children. They have paid and continue to pay six figure salaries to individuals with no accountability for success while our children fail, paying with their educational lives.

The door to profiteering is open because our Board is closed to the needs of our children.

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United We Fail

If you had the opportunity to read the open letter to teachers from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan then you now know that he “consider(s) teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society.” He also understands that we “believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves.”

Because of this, Secretary Duncan “want(s) to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking.”

A must read response to Mr. Duncan’s letter comes from Rick and Bill Ayers titled, “How we can Show Teachers the Love” in the Bill Ayers blogspot.

No one is debating the fact that everyone in education must be held accountable for their part in the success or failure of children to be educated. However, to determine the proficiency of teachers within a system of education that is inherently inefficient and ineffective does more to exacerbate the problem than it does to solve it.

The fact that the superintendent and the RTA President are pleased Rochester is receiving national attention for agreeing to a teacher evaluation system for the sole purpose of receiving “race to the top” funding while supporting a $10 million program that has no evidence of success, is a testament to the deep seated systemic problems within education.

Superintendent Vargas and President Urbanski should collectively agree to reject “race to the top” funding while working together to create widespread, fundamental change within the system of education that concentrates, not on the money, but on the child.

Rejecting “race to the top” funding in favor of supporting the movement toward changing the system of education for our children would be something to be proud of, not kowtowing to a political bullying tactic to appease the business community.

It’s time to stop following the money and begin leading the children.

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