United We Can

STEM education is being given a great deal of attention today because the business mind knows that in order to compete we must have creative thinkers and those creative thinkers must know how to productively articulate their thoughts.

Everyone engaged in the movement to create a better system of education knows that this thing called “education” is a very complex organism whose influences reach into every facet of the entire social diaspora. The more properly educated one is, the more likely it is one will easily migrate across social strata becoming more intelligent as learning continues.

The organization(ism) education is so large that the only way it can be changed is if each of us take responsibility for changing a small part of it. Each group, like Location 19, can follow and report through their web page, issues of importance to their group (e.g. the closing of School #16). Each group could have their individual web page with the information for which they are taking responsibility along with upcoming issues to be addressed by the group noted. Should anyone want to take on the task, there could be one master web page that encompasses the sites of all the groups wishing to be listed. It should be a part of the District Web Page. A national group list-serve could be made available.

As a coalition of stakeholders in the movement to reform education so that it successfully educates every child to their inherent potential we must begin to use the technology we have at our disposal to keep each other informed and to, when necessary, support each other in the cause of our children.

We could learn how to incorporate the science of technology and the engineering of math into a network of intellectual property that cannot be dazzled by brilliance or baffled by anything. Knowing what our educational leaders are deciding is paramount to holding them accountable for the decisions they make.

In order to effect change we must be more committed than our opponents to effecting change.

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Ask And You Shall Receive – Accountability

It stands to reason, that if one our two or even three school are in need of improvement that the problems could possibly be the teachers, the administrators, or the building. However, with an entire district in need of improvement, the problem is the decision making of the leaders.

If Governor Cuomo’s Education Committee really wants to change the system of education for the better, the is a Senator on the committee that should advance to Congress, legislation that holds elected school boards accountable for their choice of leadership and their approval of the decisions of their chosen leadership.

If more than half of the district’s schools are failing, the Education Committee must look first at what programs have been statistical, financial, and programmatic failures. It is easy enough to attach that plan to a superintendent. If the superintendent is still the district leader, that superintendent is held accountable for creating a new plan or be replaced. If the School Board does not initiate accountability measures with the superintendent, or continue to support the failure of the superintendent, then the Board itself may face impeachment proceedings. Of course being a law it must say much more than this however, it must say at least this.

Any system can be a great system if everyone that has anything to do with the system is accountable for their part in the plan. A young man speaking at the New York hearings likened his call for team work amongst the stakeholders to a NASA mission, where everyone, right down to the person who mops the floor is important to the success of the mission.

Holding everyone accountable for their part in the mission will likely encourage all to think about what they say and do as it concerns others. If the School Board were held accountable, they would hold the superintendent accountable, who would hold principals accountable, right down to the contractors who plow the driveways and parking lots. Everyone would then do their best.

Holding ourselves accountable first makes it easier to hold others accountable.

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Let Us Speak Now . . .

The Governor’s Education Committee is on a fact finding mission to hear solutions from experts and others they can use to recommend relevant, sustainable, change in education creating educational success for our children. There have been two meetings and it was announced that there are ten scheduled across the State.

There were few differences between the Buffalo and New York hearings in terms of process. However, the Buffalo venue was larger and was never really filled to capacity. The New York, Bronx, venue was small and people were turned away due to space constraints. Several high school students spoke in New York none in Buffalo. The Buffalo experts and speakers tended toward asking for money while the New York contingencies advocated for more accountability for the money there is.

For both venues, people signed up online to speak that were not placed on the speaker’s list. Also, a sign up sheet was offered at the door leading people to believe that there was a chance they might speak when really there was none. Though both hearings drew their pool of experts from many of the stakeholder groups, the most passionate testimonies came from those outside the “expert” arena, the community and the students.

There was a concentration of testimony advocating for Early Childhood Education and smaller class sizes. An intelligent and articulate high school student said that the stakeholders in education should work together, as a team, to get the job done and the job is to prepare children for their future. Another articulate and intelligent student, a recent graduate, pointed out that if the governor really wanted to be the student’s advocate, he should require the student voice be present on the Commission.

Participants who were not able to speak were asked to send their testimonies to the website and were assured they would be read. NYEducationReformCommission@exec.ny.gov.

They can’t act on what they do not know and must be held accountable for what they do. All testimonies sent in will be available to the public on the Commission’s web page.

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Money Can’t Buy Us

To speak of poverty as a reason why our children are not properly educated is not entirely incorrect. However, it is not the lack of money in education that is the problem. There is plenty of money to educate every child in America and around the world. It is not what we lack, it is what we do with our plenty.

Money as the cure for all ills is simply the easiest way out of doing the real work that it will take to create a system of education that will actually serve the needs of all of our children so that all of our children will be properly educated.

Education doesn’t come from things, it comes from experiences. Our greatest thinkers, artists, and peace makers were financially impoverished. Mother Theresa did more with her life after taking a vow of poverty than her rich family did all of theirs.

It is utopian to believe that more money will solve the problems that the lack of educating children has produced. When children come to school without proper supplies it’s not money they lack it is understanding. These children have not been taught to believe in themselves but have come to believe that they are nothing because they are poor.

It is the belief that money can fix all life’s problems that has created a societal system in which an individual’s life is less important than the clothes worn or the car driven.

Humanity is what is missing in education. We are not teaching our children to be human. We are not teaching our children that there is more to life than money, that life is more important than money. Children today have things but they don’t have experiences, they don’t have relationships, they don’t have compassion, they don’t have empathy, caring, or love.

Education, especially public education, must begin to concentrate on the human aspect of life in order to save the human lives of our children.

Education shouldn’t be a dream and it shouldn’t rely on a dollar.

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Respect Is Not Purchased, It’s Given

Now that teachers will be evaluated on their effectiveness in the classroom, the question is, did the Union(s) demand that teachers be able to teach in the manner that best facilitates the success of the student. In other words, as a teacher, if the teacher feels that a field experience to the Rochester Museum and Science Center is necessary in order to facilitate the successful education of the students, will the district provide the means necessary for that teacher to take that field trip at no cost to the teacher or students provided there is a Lesson Plan explaining the necessity of the field experience as it pertains to the Core Curriculum Standards for the grade level and unit.

Did teacher unions negotiate for the autonomy of teachers in the classroom with regards to instructional delivery? Will schools and districts provide the necessary tools for teachers to reach all modalities and styles of learning of their students? Will teachers be set free from the rigid schedule and dialogue under which they are forced to teach ELA and Math?

Will teachers have any control over student participation in class and homework? There has been a great deal of controversy over rate of attendance, what about rate of participation. If a teacher can show that the student does not work to their level of ability, does not complete assignments, has made the appropriate parent contacts, will that student’s scores be discounted?

There are so many variables to student achievement that evaluating teacher performance without taking into account parent and student performance is ludicrous. Teacher evaluation is nothing new. What would be new is for teachers to be shown respect for their knowledge, education, experience, passion, insight, and dedication. It would be new for teachers to be given authority in their classroom and supported by their administrators.

Yes, teachers must be evaluated. However, teaching, like parenting, is not standardized because children are not standardized. To teach all you must reach all and all must take responsibility for their part in the process of education.

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NYS Reported District Accountability Status

In Overall Accountability Status (2011-12), the Rochester City School District is in year 9 of its DINI status for ELA. In Math, the district is in Improvement year 1, is in Good Standing in Science and is in Improvement year 5 for its Graduation Rate. There is no report for Social Studies. We are still a Title I-Part A Funded district.

Only American Indian or Alaska Native, White, and Multiracial student groups made Average Yearly Progress in ELA and Math with all students making AYP in Science at the Elementary/Middle level. At the Secondary level only the Asian or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander student group made AYP and only in Math.

The reported Graduation Rate for 2011-12 is 51% for all students, 50% for Black or African American, 47% for Hispanic or Latino, 63% for Asian or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, 58% for White (this met AYP goals), 23% for Students with Disabilities, 35% for Limited English Proficient, and 57% for the Economically Disadvantaged group.

Twenty-three schools or 36% of the total number of district schools are in Good Standing. Three schools are in improvement (year 1) Focused. Ten schools are in Improvement (year 1) Comprehensive, 1 school is in Improvement (year 2) Focused, seven school are in Improvement (year 2) Comprehensive. Four schools are in Corrective Action (year 1) Comprehensive, four schools are in Corrective Action (year 2) Comprehensive, three schools are in Restructuring (year 1) Comprehensive, one school is in Restructuring (year 2) and eight schools are in Restructuring (advanced) Comprehensive.

On the State Standardized ELA test, Grades 4 and 6 had the highest percentage of students that scored at or above Level 3, the expected level of success, with 29%. Grade 8 had the lowest percentage 17. On the Math test, grades 5 and 6 were highest with 33% and 34% respectively. Grade 8, with 20% was lowest. In the State Science test for 4th and 8th Grades, Grade 4 achieved 72% with Grade 8 passing 30%. At the Secondary level in both ELA and Math 55% of the students scored at or above Level 3.

346 Students dropped out. This represents 3% of the total student population for the Rochester City School District. In the two years prior to 2010-2011, the drop out rate was approximately twelve hundred students.

This is absolutely unacceptable.

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What’s Next

The next public hearing by the Governor’s Education Commission is Thursday, July 26 from 10am – 1pm at CUNY Hostos Community College, C-Cafeteria 450 Grand Concourse, C-Building, 3rd Floor, Bronx, NY 10451.

The rules are the same:
In order to sign up to testify, please send your full written testimony to NYEducationRefstormCommission@exec.ny.gov no later than 2 days before the hearing so that members of the Commission can review. Speakers are asked to summarize their testimony.

There is a great deal to be said for repetition. Doing things over and over again makes them automatic, without thought, you just do it. Experts have said that repetition is not a good way to learn. Our children are not given the opportunity to make learning automatic because throughout their education, repetition has been replaced by introduction, revisiting, and review.

Experience is the greatest teacher. Actually engaging oneself in a situation makes the scenario relevant and interesting, creating a lasting, long term memory of the event. Our children do not have the opportunity to enjoy positive experiences outside of the classroom for a myriad of reasons, too many students, not enough parental involvement, not enough money. Instead, our children can gain their personal experience through a SMARTBoard or iPad.

What is learning for the 21st Century? What should it look like? If we are not there to offer meaningful, experienced, expert, insight into what learning is and how it should be executed, then our children will be left to those who would treat them all the same by teaching them all the same way, making them think and respond in all the same way.

There was and is a great deal to be learned from the first hearing. A great deal more could and should be learned at the second. Change can only be accomplished if people are willing to move in a different direction.

In six days, six hours away, the Education Commission will listen to another group of people offer their views about how to fix education. Will we be there to support our position, our children?

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