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Bolgen VargasBolgen Vargas was seen as the savior.

The district’s spirit was broken back in the spring of 2011. Outgoing Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard had created chaos and ill will. There was a massive budget deficit and threats of hundreds of layoffs and program cuts.
Vargas was brought in to heal the wounds.

Astoundingly, no one raised a stink that a suburban guidance counselor was picked behind closed doors to head the third-largest district in the state. Though Vargas got the job because of his political connections, everyone agreed he’s a “good man” and a “nice guy.” Vargas seemed to be what the district needed at that moment.
As interim superintendent, he healed the wounds and redirected focus to education.

But when he got the permanent job, there were signs of trouble. Vargas couldn’t retain key people in his cabinet. He lost the support of administrators, who complained his expectations were always changing. He began to lose the support of teachers, who saw the climate in their schools and classrooms continue to deteriorate.

A good leader has to have followers.

Vargas made a series of decisions that angered his board, starting with his immediate hire of Patricia Malgieri as his right hand. (She was pro-mayoral control under former Mayor Bob Duffy.) There were other questionable moves, including the shuffling of principals, the inexplicable downfall of Northeast/Northwest, the dismantling of the Boys Academy and the special education “consultation” model.

It turned out, Vargas, who had never served as an administrator, wasn’t a great manager. His style was more autocratic than inclusive. That angered just about everyone who worked under him. The internal strife remained below the radar until Vargas filed a lawsuit against the board after they checked his power. It was clear the end of his tenure was near.

None of this should be a surprise to those who remember Vargas from his days on the school board.

Vargas had a model for his perfect superintendent: Clifford Janey. When Vargas was on the school board, he was a huge champion of the district’s former leader. Janey believed in a very strong superintendent and hands-off board. Assemblyman David Gantt got a law passed giving Janey and his successors more power. (Vargas had that law in mind when he sued his board.)

Until the bitter end of Janey’s tenure, Vargas was a Janey apologist and supporter, despite Janey’s horrible financial management skills and lack of transparency. Vargas helped orchestrate Janey’s resignation and large contract buyout. The deal was meant to allow Janey to save face, but the opposite happened. The board announced Janey’s resignation at a packed board meeting, prompting cheers from the crowd.

Vargas’ desire for Janey-like power and his dislike of scrutiny led to his quiet downfall. His internal problems stayed mostly under the radar, thanks to a school board that kept its exasperation to itself. The public never knew how bad things were behind the scenes.

The tragedy of Bolgen Vargas came to an end Tuesday at an awkward press conference, in which no one wanted to admit what was really going on. Vargas did learn one lesson from the Janey ordeal: Get out before they push you out in a much less graceful manner.

Which colleges give you more bang for the buck?

That’s what the White House’s College Scorecard attempts to do. It was released Saturday. You can find out how information such as how much money students are earning, on average, 10 years after graduates. Vox has a great breakdown of what this scorecard means and its limitations.

Graduates of our local four-year colleges have earnings above the national average, with Rochester Institute of Technology leading the pack at more than $56,000. More than three-quarters of RIT grads earn more than those with only a high school diploma. Of course, earnings are not the only factor when choosing a college. Tuition, graduation rates, academic programs and location are all important.

The tool also tells us how much debt each graduate accumulates. RIT students typically graduate with $27,000 in debt. Ninety percent of students are paying down that debt, well above the national average of 67 percent. Meanwhile, at Monroe Community College, students graduate with $12,000 in debt, and only 55 percent are paying it down. That jibes with studies showing borrowers with the smaller loans struggle the most, because they’re not earning as much money. Only about half of MCC graduates earn more than high school graduates.

Click here to use the College Scorecard.

College Scorecard

 

College Scorecard

 

College Scorecard

 

 

Recess

 

 

This memo came to me from an elementary school teacher fed up with a perceived lack of discipline. Disruptive students and violent students can be removed from class, but they’re quickly returned. The bad behavior continues. This teacher has been assaulted by some of her young students, but there are no consequences, at least not any that change behavior.

Discipline is often cited as the number one complaint among Rochester City School District teachers. This letter from a retiring teacher describes a desperate situation.

The teacher who sent me this memo believes yet another enforcement tool has been taken away. Teachers can no longer deny recess to misbehaving students.

The memo cites a new policy manual on student discipline. You can read it here. The manual does not list denying recess as an appropriate punishment.

The manual is very detailed. It lists punishments that include verbal reprimands, denial of extra-curricular activities, in-school-suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. (You have to be 17 or or older to be expelled.)

Schools are given a maximum punishment for each offense. If an out-of-school suspension is allowed for an offense, the principal can “sentence” the student to in-school-suspension.

The maximum punishments don’t appear to be out of whack with the offenses. That’s not what I think could end up being a thorny issue with this policy.

It’s very clear this policy strongly discourages out-of-school suspensions. Kids can’t learn if they’re not in class, so it’s logical to reduce the time away from school. Studies have shown minority and special education students get suspended far more than white students for similar offenses. High rates of suspensions are seen by many as a civil rights issue. The RCSD suspends thousands of children every year.

As a result of growing concern about suspensions, this policy makes it a giant pain in the you-know-what to suspend a child.

Here’s what has to happen for an in-school-suspension. As you can see, this is a very labor-intensive process.

 

iss1

 

What’s more, many elementary schools don’t have ISS rooms. This requires more work on the part of school staff:

iss2

 

Any elementary student who is suspended must get one hour of instruction a day. High school students get two hours. This applies whether they are suspended in school our out of school. They are supposed to be given “equivalent instruction.”

Suspending students with disabilities requires another layer of paperwork.

It’s very important to protect students’ right to an education, as well as due process. It’s also very important to ensure a culture of discipline and respect in schools. With this in mind, the policy raises a number of questions. Are principals feeling pressure from Central Office to not suspend students and are inappropriate disciplinary decisions being made as a result? Are principals following this manual and doing all of these steps every time a kid is suspended? Are principals not suspending kids because it’s too much work? Are schools without ISS rooms suspending students at a lower rate, and is this affecting the school environment negatively? Are students being given in-school suspensions over out-of-school suspensions for serious offenses? Are students getting equivalent instruction when they’re suspended?

I’m not sure what an effective discipline policy looks like. Judging from the initial complaints, this may not be it.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Take a look back at Greece Towne Mall. It’s expansion contributed to the death of Irondequoit Mall.

– The City of Rochester destroyed a community garden, saying the grass was too high.

– Here’s why the property tax cap could be 0 percent next year.

– Saratoga Springs police chief wants officer fired after he pepper-sprayed man who flipped him off.

– Don’t say “wrong place, wrong time” when talking about killings.

– Why is U.S. women’s soccer still fighting to exist?

Mr. Ms. and Mx.

lombardoAn email from a retiring Rochester City School District teacher sent to the superintendent and other top officials received a lot of attention.

Alice Lombardo sent me her email a few days before her April 10 retirement. The longtime educator wanted people to know why she was leaving. The email described a chaotic, stressful and dangerous work environment. The tone was desperate and frustrated.

I found her story credible, as I’ve heard similar stories from other teachers. I had also recently done a story on the district’s infamous rubber room. (That story also featured a retired teacher; they are free to speak out.)

Finding the truth of what goes on in schools can be very difficult without micro-managed access and staff worried about retaliation. I shared Lombardo’s message on social media, because that was probably the only way her story would get out. We don’t always need to do stories wrapped in a bow for the web or broadcast. There’s more than one way to tell a story and find the truth.

When I shared the email on my Facebook page, I expected a lot of people to be critical of her letter. I expected some people to question her credibility or bring up skeletons in her closets. I expected some people to say she shouldn’t be teaching, with an email that didn’t have anything charitable to say about her school. I expected someone to defend the school.

But none of that happened. With the exception of some comments questioning my own decision to share the letter, every comment supported Lombardo. Many teachers from other schools shared similar stories. The comments from people who knew her, especially colleagues and parents, were especially valuable.

After nine years in 6th grade, I have seen and been victim to some of the exact situations that teacher mentioned. It is REAL and it is abuse. Our district must change for the sake of the children and the teachers! – Andrea Phillips Fricano

My story is much like Alice Lombardo’s. I too worked for the RCSD (#9 and #17). Mine also is a long story which resulted in such stress that I had a stroke in 2013. – Gladys Velazquez

This is totally the reality of where I teach though. Do you know how many times this week alone students cursed at me or around me and refused to follow my directions? The fifth and sixth graders are totally out of control. My class is wonderful and does great but the older kids are awful. I was pushed today twice. – Third Grade Teacher, RCSD

Unfortunately I know all too well what she’s talking about and I also thought she was a great teacher very saddened by her experience. – Sha’Ronda Lynette Jackson

I’m so saddened by this. It does not surprise me that it has gotten this bad, but still sad nonetheless. You were MY sixth grade teacher in a city school full of disrespectful kids even back then in the 90s…Back when we ASKED to eat lunch in your classroom during your own break so that WE weren’t harassed daily. Back when we had to have our parents pick us up from school after the bus kids were dismissed so that we didn’t get beat up. So THANK YOU for always standing up for your students who need it and deserve it! – Meredith Tedesco

It hurts to read this and how degraded the system has become. I think back fondly on my time spent with you Mrs Lombardo and the amazing teachers at Frederick Douglas school and think to all of the fun we had learning in your class. You taught us to think for ourselves and out of the box. You instilled the confidence that led us to become the people we are today…There aren’t enough words to thank you. I am so very sorry this is the way you end your career as a teacher. Please know that you truly made a difference in our world! – Liberty Lally

Alice Lombardo, this breaks my heart. I never would’ve made it through middle school without you. You gave up your own time so we could all eat lunch with you in your classroom, where we all felt safe. You helped mold me into the respectful woman I am today. The world needs more teachers like you. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this. I love you dearly and you will ALWAYS be my favorite teacher. Much love to you. – Michelle Travers

Thank you for speaking out. I, too am retiring this June after 33 years.
The disrespect and lack of consequences for unsafe and disruptive behaviors is the main reason. There are many great kids who are respectful but their learning environment has b
ecome a toxic arena of disrespectful peers. They are suffering as well as the teachers on a daily basis. I use to LOVE teaching but now I dread going to work. It is abusive everyday. – Robin Rudy

Wow! My heart goes out to this woman. Just this week I visited that same school and within 30 minutes knew that I would not be anle to accept a position offered to me. I simply did not feel safe and after hearing staff talk about incidents like race riots as the norm, I was in utter shock and disgust for what the children and adults have to endure. – JoVanna Jenkins

I resigned last year from the RCSD in May of 2014, after 14 years in the district, after being basically being told it was my fault for being assaulted in the classroom by a 4th grader. The district’s position on violence against teachers according to their response to my worker’s comp case was that it “is nothing more than work in the ordinary course of the claimant’s job as a teacher in an inner city school environment. – Chelsea Rowe

She was awesome. She had my son for many yrs and all my kids passed through 17 schools doors while she was there and all of them have graduated high school and on to higher learning now. It was Mrs . Alice who got my son the services he needed to be the young recently graduated working young man he is now and the rest of the staff there. It’s clear that she is tired of fighting with no army as times have changed. – Shareen Tanna

I am so glad I no longer work for the RCSD! What she wrote is so true and I wish I had the same courage to write it all in my resignation letter. I taught there for 9 years in different schools. By the time I resigned I was also under medical care and on antidepressants and antianxiety medications. – Kristen Bonn

I worked at School 17 with Alice during the 2012-2014 school years. We both taught 6th grade. She is one of the most courageous women I know. I am so proud of her. – Kellene Paul

I worked in Alice’s classroom a few years back. She is not one for exaggeration or outlandish overstatements. It does nor surprise me that the administration tried to make light of the situation. To admit she was right would be to admit that are negligent in their job (which they clearly are). But to be fair, teachers and administrators can only do so much. Parents are shirking their responsibility in raising polite, respectful children. They are allowed to act this way at home without any consequences, so when they get to school and are expected to behave appropriately, they rebel. It all begins and ends with parents. – Karen Nasella Melville

Lombardo is getting some rest and she’s on vacation. She emailed me that she is thinking about my request for a television interview.

“I shared my letter because I want things to change, especially for the students and the conditions under which they are schooled,” she said. “I want the RCSD to address issues instead of sweeping them under the rug.”

 

Links of the Day:

 

– An award-winning, outspoken New York City principal is retiring early to take on the test and punish system.

– An article in the Buffalo News quotes a Cuomo official saying the state is in talks with several mayors about mayoral control of schools. Since there are only five eligible cities and New York City already has mayoral control, one can surmise Rochester is in these talks.

– Look up the obesity rates in your school district with this interactive map.

– Emails reveal Hollywood effort to give Cuomo donations because he helped with film tax credits.

– “They think, ‘Oh my God, there are kids outside. We have to call the police.'”

– Black families have traditional used black funeral homes. In Buffalo, that’s changing.

Go ahead, swim in Onondaga Lake.

The numbers are in. Thousands of parents – a third or more of them in some districts – are opting their children out of state tests next week.

The Buffalo News and Democrat and Chronicle editorial boards would like you to believe these parents were manipulated by unions and a fear little Johnny will get stressed out.

The Buffalo News writes:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Improvement means change and New York State United Teachers are not much into that.

The Democrat and Chronicle writes:

The only child-centric argument most opt-out supporters have is, “Tests stress kids out.”

(snip)

Teachers have been whipped into a frenzy by union leaders who have lost their decades-long chokehold on state government, its citizens and the educational system.

These editorials completely missed the point of the opt-out movement and showed tremendous disrespect for the intelligence of their readers.

There are many reasons besides unions and children’s stress levels that people are opting out of the tests.

First, these tests will be used to measure teacher performance. There’s zero evidence supporting the use of test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. There’s quite a bit of evidence showing this evaluation method is deeply flawed.

Lleyn_sheepThe tests are also problematic in measuring student performance. State test data would have you believe only a third of students are proficient in math and English. The success of our suburban high schools, which make up the majority of student population, show differently. The state also sets the passing rate by deciding what score is needed to be deemed proficient – after the tests are taken. Not to mention, critics say these tests are not developmentally appropriate and poorly written.

There is also great concern about how the tests will be used to measure entire school buildings, which could face closure. The state is pushing state takeovers of schools deemed failing. The state is also pushing more charter schools. Many test critics have a problem with lucrative contracts for testing firms and the use of student data to help these firms profit.

Furthermore, these editorials miss a giant fact: Unions didn’t start the opt-out movement. Parents did. This is a grassroots movement. Unions didn’t get on board until this year. When they did so, editorial boards got tunnel vision and failed to see the big picture of this movement.

Now, there’s a movement to opt out of the Democrat and Chronicle. It’s okay to have unpopular editorials. Reasonable people can debate the merits of this movement. But at least make sure editorials are based in fact and well-reasoned. These editorials failed on both counts.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Does standardized testing look out for kids’ civil rights?

A state lawmaker wants to force schools to close on Election Day. bWhy? SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN. But nothing’s ever happened to a child during voting at a school. Bad things could happen anywhere (and 99.99999 percent of the time, don’t).

– This school’s dress code, fun as it is, has done nothing to get kids to pass Regents. The school is yet another failed experiment, per state test data.

– The Rochester teacher who brought a gun to the Statue of Liberty on a school field trip is back in a classroom.

– You know what will create jobs in Rochester? Innovation! The people who invent things and come up with new ways to do things will create the next Kodak. Carlson Cowork in Rochester is the type of hub that could lead to big things. Meanwhile, the state is throwing money at Start-Up New York, with few results.

– Senator Churck Schumer is squeezed on the Iran deal.

– The downtown Rochester Red Shirt program is in jeopardy.

– Some Upstate cities are marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s funeral train passage. Is Rochester doing anything?

Bolgen VargasRochester Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has a short memory.

He plans to sue the school board over its vote to strip him of some hiring and firing powers related to the Superintendent Employee Group. This group is made up of highly-paid at will managers, including deputy superintendents, numerous chiefs and a few confidential secretaries. The SEG is also known as the “cabinet.”

Here’s why we care about SEG. These are the folks running the district. The payroll for this group exceeds $3 million, not including benefits. There have been numerous abuses by superintendents of this classification.  Under former superintendent Clifford Janey, SEG members were given golden parachutes. Under former superintendent Manny Rivera, SEG members got secret side deals in which taxpayers paid for their PhD’s, with no requirement they continue to work for the district. Under Brizard, the SEG had a record payroll and open records showed he gave SEG members large raises, including a $10,000 one for his secretary. Under Vargas, some SEG members were given secret contracts guaranteeing salary, no matter the performance.

Under a state law championed by Assemblyman David Gantt to shield Janey from a meddling school board, superintendents have the right to choose their cabinets. This law had an unintended consequence. It’s been used by RCSD superintendents to making quiet and dubious decisions. The board only has the power over the budget line and job titles – and history shows the media often has to tell the board what’s going on with SEG.

Right now, there are 32 members of this group. That’s down from the days when it exceeded 50. Former interim superintendent Bill Cala got it under 30, but his successor, Jean-Claude Brizard increased the ranks to more than 40.

Board member Willa Powell said the major reason the board has concerns with Vargas and his cabinet is turnover. Vargas fires people and other people leave. It’s a revolving door. Here’s the short list of people who have left in the past few years: Beth Mascitti-Miller, Shaun Nelms, Anita Murphy, Tom Petronio, Kim Dyce, Jeanette Silvers, Anne Brown, Jamie Warren, Jim Fenton, John Scanlon, Laura Kelley, Leslie Boozer, Bethany Centrone, Jackie Polito and Gladys Pedraza.

Fights between the board and the superintendent over the size and makeup of SEG are not new. This comes up every few years. But Vargas’ decision to sue the board is shocking for one reason. The board easily kick him to the curb and buy out his contract tomorrow.

Vargas should know. He was on the school board that bought out Janey.

 

CLEAR THE SIDEWALKS:

 

The City of Rochester does zero enforcement of the code saying property owners have to clear their own sidewalks. Meanwhile, New York City issues thousands of tickets.

 

 

 

November 3 memo to teachers

November 3 memo to teachers

 

Once again, the Rochester City School District has instructed teachers not to give any grades below 50 percent.

Some teachers are outraged by this practice. Students who score below 50 percent likely don’t come to class, don’t do the work and don’t know the material. These teachers feel insulted that cannot give a true grade. They call this grade inflation.

November 3 memo to teachers

November 3 memo to teachers

But here’s the rationale. If a student gets a terribly low score, he may not be able to recover and the entire year is lost. Even if that student scores an 85 on the final exam, one or two semesters with scores below 50 percent could mean he gets no credit for the class. And let’s face it – 50 percent is still failing.

If there’s a problem with grade inflation, the more likely scenario is that teachers give the students who show up to class and do the work passing grades each semester. But when final exam time rolls around, the student fails the test. That means the grades throughout the year were likely not a true a reflection of the student’s knowledge.

My dad was my Course I math teacher at Marshall. He said on the first day of class that we would be graded on what we know. If we skipped class and didn’t do homework, we probably wouldn’t know anything. But his message was clear. He wasn’t going to be punitive to students who demonstrated mastery of the material.

Telling teachers to change grades certainly presents an ethical issue. In a district where fewer than half of students graduate on time, this is clearly an effort to make sure as many as possible get class credits. But even with the class credits, they cannot graduate without passing the required Regents exams. Those grades are the ones that matter the most.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– President Obama says the FCC should reclassify the Internet as a utility.

– There are multiple problems with Rochester’s study of red light cameras, according to an anti-camera advocacy group. Here’s another takedown of studies like the one the city commissioned.

– A D&C columnist was criticized for his use of the word “buffonery.”

– “What the world apparently sees is a woman lugging around a giant umbilical cord.”

– The Susan B. Anthony House is not happy with the use of Anthony’s name.

– Check out this awesome interactive map of Rochester’s trading partners.

Kodak has a role in “Interstellar.”

Sexy Syracuse University?

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

Bills tweet

Credit: University of Rochester

Credit: University of Rochester

Guidance counselors and principals in the Rochester City School District no longer have the power to change student schedules. They first have to get permission from Central Office.

The rule was spelled out in two memos, one to principals and one to principals, registrars and guidance counselors. The goal is to maximize efficiency and make sure there are not classes with too few students. The district is also trying to weed out no-shows, which impacts its graduation rate.

The district calls this process ‘True-Up.” It has already reduced three teaching positions in elementary schools. But high schools are more complicated. Students take multiple classes and each has unique needs. But the district locked all schedules after September 16.

Here’s an excerpt from a memo:

Starting September 17th, student schedule changes can only be made by  registrars, with approval from the Acting Executive Director of Student Placement. To change schedules after Sept. 16th, counselors or principals should send the student’s name, ID number, schedule change needed and reason for the change. Reasons that will be considered are:

  • New students who are placed incorrectly (provide a full explanation of the placement issues)

  • IEP changes

  • Safety concerns

The district admits in its memo it does not expect major staffing reductions because of this process. If that’s the case, why alienate principals and guidance counselors, who feel incredibly disrespected? Assuming there’s a lag time in approving schedule changes, why force students to wait for approval, instead of granting immediate changes when necessary? Why make students and teachers who may fear for their safety wait?  Why must students spend even one more day in a class that may not be appropriate?

Most importantly, why doesn’t Central Office trust the principals, registrars and guidance counselors – the people trained on schedules at their school and the people who know their students best – to make these fundamental decisions?

Ironically, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas is a former guidance counselor.

(Full disclosure: My mother is a retired RCSD guidance counselor.)

Links of the Day:

 

– More evidence the teacher evaluation system is ridiculously flawed: Rochester’s highest-rated high school has no highly-rated teachers.

– What a mess. Cuomo hasn’t signed teacher evaluation modification bill, so districts don’t know which rules to follow.

The Cuomo administration edited and delayed a key fracking study.

– The Seneca County Amish do not want a casino nearby.

– A DEA agent created a fake Facebook page using an Upstate woman’s photos. And the feds this is totally okay.

– Here’s why you might want to vote no in November on school technology bonding.

Two Western New York bikers were shot in the back of the head and their gang won’t help police.

– Upstate New York is getting into bikeshares.

– Key line: ‘This study does not link any of these hands-free systems to an increase in car accidents —  the science is not there yet.”

 

Help Fight Poverty

 

I’m the honorary chair of the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley 5k and Walk. This organization helps women and girls in poverty. Please consider signing up to join my team or donating!

School 50 ClassroomAn article on the Dropout Nation website highlights terrible statistics about the Rochester City School District. The Democrat and Chronicle editorial board linked to the piece by Michael Holzman, which has been making the rounds on social media.

The article is called, “Rochester, Good Lord.”

There are some big problems with this article.

After discussing low test scores, low college readiness rates, and high dropout rates, the article concludes:

At the end of the day, the only thing Rochester does well is reinforce a socioeconomic caste system that keeps young black men and women at the bottom. Thanks to the district, they will have a good chance of being known to the criminal justice system.

The first sentence may be correct. But Holzman is wrong to place the blame solely on the RCSD.  He points out 85 percent of RCSD students are poor. He also says about two-thirds of the city’s white children don’t attend city schools. That does indeed look like a caste system, but the district didn’t create it by itself. The “caste system” comes from decades of middle class people fleeing the city, housing policies that segregate the poor and inflexible school district boundaries. The “caste system” also comes from broader government policies and social ills.

Holzman compares the RCSD to Greece, saying Greece does a much better job educating black students. This is an apples to oranges comparison. Greece is a racially and economically integrated school system. Compared to the RCSD, Greece has half the rate of poverty, and far fewer special education and English language learners. There is no “caste system” in Greece. Studies support the idea that poor students at economically integrated schools perform better.

Holzman also criticizes RCSD teachers:

In the 2011-12 school year, the turnover rate of teachers with fewer than five years of experience was 51 percent. The turnover rate of all teachers was 28 percent, double the state-wide average. In a typical Rochester school, comparatively few teachers are highly educated, few teachers new to teaching are in the classroom after their second year, few of any teachers after their fourth year.

I would love to know what he means by “comparatively few teachers are highly educated.” The requirements to teach in New York State are the same in all districts. Teachers have five years to get their master’s degrees. If he’s suggesting RCSD has so many novice teachers that they do not yet have their master’s degrees, he should provide that data. Salary data doesn’t appear to support the notion the RCSD is teeming with young teachers. The average salary for RCSD teachers is $56,570, which is higher than the Pittsford average. Yet Pittsford pays teachers more. That suggests the RCSD has more veterans.

As for teacher turnover, Holzman’s data tells us very little. How many teachers retired? How many left for the suburbs? How many left the teaching profession? Teacher job cuts in the RCSD have been real, with young teachers often getting laid off every summer. This could impact turnover data.

Among the non-retirees, we also have to know WHY they left. I know of one teacher – not a novice – who left an RCSD elementary for a western suburb because of a high stress level. It’s alarming if the district is losing talented educators who feel overwhelmed by chaotic school environments. The RCSD should take ownership of this issue. But the “caste system” is also at play – the system that loads up schools and classrooms with a high-needs population. This doesn’t serve teachers or students.

The bottom line is this article takes a lot of shots and offers few solutions. There’s no question the RCSD is responsible for some of its failures and could do more to fix them. But holding the RCSD responsible for the “caste system” is grossly unfair. The district didn’t create this mess. We all did.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– New York’s casino developers admit locals will drive business. That runs counter to the governor’s argument they will bring tourists.

– The postage to mail out rebate checks to families will cost New York $1.6 million. I’m burned this is not targeted to low-income families. I may not have children, but I could use free money a lot more than a household earning $150,000.

– The L.A. Times takes a hard look at film tax credits. (They don’t pay for themselves.) Meanwhile, is New York’s deal with Colbert’s new show illegal?

– “Dawn Nguyen is being held responsible for her role. Will Gander Mountain be held responsible for its part as well?”

– The U.S. has banned imports of Russian AK-47s. Gun dealers are selling out.

– Tops is rolling out new packaging for its private label to make products look “less cheap.”

– Schumer tried to shake 10,000 hands at the New York State Fair. As for Governor Cuomo, he avoids shaking hands and kissing babies.

 

Stat of the Day:

 

According to UnionStats.com, Rochester union membership has held steady. In 1993, 17 percent of workers were in a union, with 7 percent of private sector workers being unionized. In 2013, 18 percent of the workforce is unionized, including 8 percent of private sector workers.

 

Tweets of the Day:

 

 

 

Brookings Institution

Brookings Institution

 

Foreign students are important to the Rochester economy, new data from the Brookings Institution shows.

There were 6,782 international students at area colleges from 2008 to 2012, ranking Rochester 35th out of 118 metro areas. About half are here pursuing graduate degrees. Fewer than half are pursuing STEM-related fields, which is below the two-thirds national average. The top country of origin is China, followed by India, South Korea, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

The top destinations for for foreign students are Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, Hobart and William Smith, College at Brockport and SUNY Geneseo.

University of RochesterForeign students paid $242 million in tuition and $82 million in living costs. Only 23 percent end up finding jobs in Rochester, compared to 45 percent national average of students who stay in their college communities.  Rochester ranked 82nd in terms of retaining foreign students, perhaps a sign our job market is not strong.

Buffalo has twice as many foreign students, but that’s because of its proximity to Canada. More than five thousand of Buffalo’s foreign students are from Canada.

Brookings argues easing immigration would help build a skilled workforce and benefit local businesses. Foreign workers could also build bridges to new markets and help local economies.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– RTS is eliminating several stops in Chili, making it tough for people to get to jobs downtown.

 – I dig Irondequoit’s plans to shore up East Ridge Road. Plazas with parking out front and no landscaping are ugly.

– What if Kathy Hochul doesn’t win the primary for lieutenant governor? She’s now scrambling to make sure that doesn’t happen.

– Should Senator Gillibrand have to name her harassers?

– Ninety-five percent of Monroe County’s white children attend majority-white schools. See how we compare to other places in the country.

– In America, we don’t let 9-year-old girls play in parks with their moms. But fire an Uzi? No problem.

Did Buffalo steal Shark Girl?

– Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei star in a romantic comedy set at Binghamton University.

The state finally released 2012-2013 teacher evaluation data for individual districts and schools. We already knew by surveying districts that urban teachers fared much worse, but now we have proof.

In the Rochester City School District, only 2 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective,” while 40 percent were rated “ineffective” or developing.” Teachers found in need of improvement are monitored closely and could be subject to termination.

 

RCSD Teacher Evaluation Results

RCSD Teacher Evaluation Results

 

Meanwhile, in Pittsford, 62 percent of teachers were rated “highly effective.” Only 3 percent were rated “ineffective” or “developing.”

 

Teacher Evaluation Results for Pittsford

Pittsford Teacher Evaluation Results

 

What’s going on here? Either you believe Pittsford has way better teachers than Rochester or the methodology is flawed. What’s the biggest difference between Pittsford and Rochester? Wealth.

The data shows the poorer the school, the fewer the “highly effective” teachers. At Rochester’s School #23 in the Park Ave. neighborhood, 27 percent of teachers are “highly effective.” At School #22 off Joseph Ave., no teachers were rated “highly effective.”

The Syracuse and Rochester teachers unions are suing the state over the teacher evaluation methodology, which they say harms teachers in poor schools. Test scores account for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. (See this story about a nationally-certified teacher, mentor and college instructor who was rated “developing.”)

As you consider these numbers, remember the enormous amount of time and money districts spending to evaluate teachers under this system.

Click here to look up teacher evaluation data. Go to “districts” or “schools.” Make your selection and click on 2012-13 to see the data.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– There’s growing support in Buffalo to return to neighborhood schools.

– A Central New York congressional candidate had his gun stolen while he was a prosecutor. That gun was later used during a deadly robbery.

If you live in Rochester or Buffalo, consider taking the train to the New York State Fair.

– Traffic is down, but wait times are up at Western New York border crossings to Canada.

– Heroin overdoses have spiked in New York City, with 420 people killed last year.

– University news departments are not held to same standards as traditional news outlets.

– Jon Stewart’s take on Ferguson, Fox News and white privilege is brilliant.

Chicken wing-flavored donut anyone?

A Rochester City School District high school teacher I know wrote me a letter about end-of-the-school-year testing. What this teacher describes is a little confusing – but that’s probably the point.

Remember “final exam week”? Especially when you were a freshman and you learned that you only have to come to school if/when you had an exam?

Boy, have times changed.

Test - Small FeaturedIn my district, where I am a veteran teacher – that is no longer the case. Final exam week – also known as Regents week is now reserved only for those taking actual Regents exams. “Final exams” are now often referred to as “post-assessments”. When do students take their final exams? During the last weeks of school, when students traditionally wrap up the year, finish projects, and prepare for their exams.

As a high school teacher, the last marking period of the school year, better than any other marking period, is planned to the day and usually loaded with work. Students are given their assignments and know the timeline regarding how the marking period will progress. Unfortunately, for my kids, their time has been cut short. Mind you the marking period is already shortened due to final exam week. This last marking period is 24 instructional days. Other marking periods max out at 32 days. The loss of eight instructional days is a 25 percent reduction! Not only are there fewer instructional days on the calendar in this last marking period, there are even fewer legitimate days of classwork going on. Remember in the beginning when I mentioned that “Exam week” is reserved for only those taking Regents exams? Well, my class does not end in a Regents exam, so they are to take their post-assessment during class time! That is a loss of two to three additional class days.

Add on the early administration of the Common Core Algebra exam – my class was cancelled that day – now my students will have had 20 instructional days this marking period. Oh! It keeps going. Next week, I will be pulled out of my classes to grade those exams! Yes, there will be a substitute; my students will be in class – however – seriously! You really think they’re going to work as they would if I were present? (This could be fixed relatively easily – send post-assessments back to finals week, where they belong!)

Now, let’s talk about these post-assessments, SLOs (Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives?) and APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review?).

Post-assessments. Traditionally, students take their final exams during finals. There are only two testing periods per day at 3 hours each. Students were able to work for an extended period of time and focus on one test. Now, students are taking tests during class time. So, a 90-minute test is to be taken over a few days in 45-minute increments. Basically, students come to class, get materials handed out and begin their test. Then class is over! Hand everything back in and leave. Come back tomorrow, hand everything out and work some more – often rereading the passages and questions that were interrupted yesterday because of the end of the class period. It is terribly unfair to students. They cannot get in a groove, sustain their focus, and power through their test. It’s start-stop-start-stop, etc. Is that really conducive to high achievement? In addition, my student in 5th period just left his Global Studies class where he just sat for that post-assessment! AND will move to another period and work on THAT class’s post-assessment. UNFAIR. While the score they earn is a small class 6th percentage of their final average, it is a significant portion of my evaluation, which brings me to SLOs and APPR.

The exam my students are taking was not created until this winter. This past fall, we were asked to predict – to a percentage point – precisely what score each student will earn on this test, which hadn’t even been created yet!

In October, I had to list my 85 students and state what they’ll earn – hhmmmm, Joe – I think he’ll get a 72; Darryl – he’s going to get an 84; Carly – she’ll probably get an 80. I had to do this with every single student.

Yes – I had “data” to look at from previous school years, but how am I to predict how a student would do on a random day in June on a test I hadn’t even seen!?! That’s the SLO part, now the APPR part. 20% of my final evaluation will be based on what percentage of my 85 students earned or exceeded the grade I guessed they’d get back in October. Now that I have actually seen the test, yeah – sign me up for a TIP right now!!! (Teacher Improvement Plan – for teachers deemed “ineffective” or “developing” in the new APPR rating scale.) I’ve spent more than a decade earning respect and a reputation for being a good teacher, having earned “Distinguished” evaluations, taught AP classes, mentored student teachers and served as a department coach. This system will not reflect that.

Back to the kids. This system is not working, it is not allowing them to be successful. I feel badly for them, they are stressed, burnt out and tested out. Are the parents even aware of this?

The Rochester Teachers Association has filed a grievance over the post-assessments. I think many of the issues described here are unique to the RCSD. It appears to be a chaotic system with the primary goal of informing a dubious teacher evaluation system.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Land between Buffalo and Rochester will be last national cemetery for veterans to be built for next 40 years.

– That’s it. Larry Glazer owns all of Rochester.

– There will be no charges filed against the Buffalo woman who went on a racist rant. But there’s been such a backlash, police removed her children for their safety.

– A review of the Cortaca mess blames everything except college drinking culture.

Is softball sexist?


report1

report2

 

I received a tweet last night from a woman who said these are images of fifth grade report cards handed out at a local elementary school. She hasn’t responded to my inquiry for more information. I will update this post if I learn more.

The report cards raise a couple interesting issues. First, it seems the school has no idea how to grade students on science and social studies. Second, you have to wonder if science and social studies are priorities. Third, what the heck is a “science process skills rating?”

Common Core is supposed to integrate science and social studies throughout the curriculum. I wasn’t able to find a huge body of information online saying this approach is a failure. There was a well-circulated piece on how students have to read the Gettysburg Address without an accompanying history lesson. (There’s some good news for high school students: New York is updating its social studies curriculum.)

The school that issued the report card above is telling us that it has no way to separately judge how students are performing on science and social studies. That’s alarming.

Update: This report card is from the Greece Central School District, according to multiple sources. One district source said my conclusion that there’s no way to judge the students on those subjects is not correct; they just haven’t finished judging them.

Links of the Day:

 

– A state lawmaker wants to boot Pearson testing company.

– Parents around the country are fighting Big Data, as governments try to create massive databases on their children.

– “There are two classes of men that may be found on the beach, those who are already dead and those who are about to die.”

– Golisano: “Why go through all that renovation and $130 million when you’re going to build a new stadium anyway?” Preach!

– Wegmans mislabeled cookies, causing a kid with nut allergies to get sick.

– A YouTube video prompted Niagara Falls to condemn rooms at the Rainbow Motel.

– One Buffalo television station ignored the racist rant that went viral. The other went overboard.

– Problem gambling among older people is on the rise.

– Does having a casino in your town really lower taxes?

– Senator Chuck Schumer is a frequent, uninvited guest at college graduations. He gives the same speech about being dumped by his girlfriend.

– Upstate New York has distinct regions with distinct cuisine and politics. Here’s the Upstate vote, by food.

 

 

During a public hearing Thursday night, East High School Principal Anibal Soler, Jr. asked the school board to exercise civil disobedience and consider saying no to the state.

The district was given a shockingly short amount of time to come up with a plan to fix East High School. All of the options include outside management coming in or shutting the place down.

East has 1,700 students in grades 7 through 12. Seventy-seven percent are low-income. Fifteen percent speak English as a second language. Twenty percent have disabilities. The graduation rate is the same as the district average – 43 percent.

“You cannot find another urban school district in the country that is performing without some kind of filter, without some kind of way to pick kids, pick staff, do something different,” Soler told the board. “The beautiful thing about East High, we don’t do that. We take what we get. We do the best we can. We work hard every day and we’re proud of it.”

Soler implored the school board to ask the state a simple question about urban school transformations, “Show me where it’s worked.”

What would happen if the district told the state to shove it? Would the state come in and take over the school? Would the state take over the district? Would the state get better results? Would it be so much different than what’s happening now?

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Cities are building on their downtown parking lots. Buildings generate life and tax revenue.

– The path to owning the Buffalo Bills is extremely complicated.

– The key paragraph in this story is about what happens if the Medley Centre mess ends up in court. Maggie Brooks could actually force a compromise.

RAPA opposes a downtown Rochester theater.

– Editorials around the state are criticizing Cuomo for disbanding his anti-corruption commission.

– Laws prosecuting women for choices they make during pregnancycould set dangerous precedents.

Weird Press Release of Day:

 

Correction: The demographer switched Richmond and Rochester. The correction came out after I published this piece. A reddit user alerted me to the issue today. The accurate Rochester numbers show we rank 36th of 51 metros. We had an 11 percent increase in people with bachelors degrees and higher between 2007 and 2012. This doesn’t refute the article’s conclusions, but it does temper them. 12/20/2015

 

What brain drain?

Demographer Wendell Cox crunched census data for 51 metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million. He looked at the growth of people with bachelors degrees and higher between 2007 and 2012. All of the metros saw gains.

Rochester ranked 15th of 51 metros for percentage increase of educated people. In 2007, we had 244,277 people with degrees. In 2012, we had 280,650, a 13 percent increase. We were ahead of tech hubs Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle.

What’s happening? Rochester has always had a high rate of degrees per capita. But that doesn’t explain why we gained 36,373 college-educated people. The economy is not great. More people are still moving out of Rochester than moving in.

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

Here are a couple things that could explain it. Brookings found young adult employment in Rochester didn’t fall as much as other parts of the country during the recession, a sign there’s not a huge brain drain. Growing sectors of our economy continue to be health care and education, fields requiring college. We’ve been told there are 23,000 unfilled jobs in the region. Perhaps college graduates with the right skill set are not finding it hard to get jobs. It’s also possible many college graduates are underemployed.

Maybe the answer is simpler: Rochester is a nice, affordable place to live.

 

Rochester v. Buffalo

 

Meanwhile, a headline in the Buffalo News touted the growth in the Millennial population and a reverse of the brain drain. Rochester is doing better. Buffalo ranked 35th in the growth of college educated residents between 2007 and 2012 –  10.3 percent or 23,811 people. Also, Buffalo saw 10.1 percent growth of people aged 20 to 34 between 2006 and 2012. Rochester saw 11.8 percent growth. 

Let’s hope both cities continue the momentum.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Monroe County and Frank Sterling, who spent nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, is poised to get a $7 million settlement from Monroe County.

– Reinventing schools can go terribly wrong, as this observer of one such undertaking in Rochester discovered.

– Could a basic guaranteed income ever come to the United States? There are people on the right and left who support it, but would go about implementing it in different ways. PBS News Hour did a fascinating “what-if” story on this topic.

Delta Sonic wants the Clover Lanes property.

– “Zombie Residency,” Tree Climbing,” and “Meaning of Life.” Weird SUNY courses.

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

University of RochesterCan you say sticker shock?

University of Rochester announced what it will cost undergraduates to attend next academic year. Tuition, room and board will be $59,788. That’s a 60 percent jump over the cost to attend 10 years ago. If UR had pegged tuition to inflation, tuition, room and board would be more like $46,000 today.

Apparently, UR is consciously slowing the rate of increases. Tuition is going up 3.5 percent at UR. Last year’s 3.9 percent hike was touted as the lowest in a decade. This follows a trend nationwide among private and public colleges.

The College Board reports only about one-third of students pay the full price, with no financial aid. The College report expressed concern government aid is not keeping up with increases in prices for many students. What’s more, when adjusted for inflation, family incomes have declined over the past decade.

Some argue sticker prices are not a reason for concern, as there’s a lot of help for lower-income students. Others argue colleges have not been spending tuition money wisely.

Despite the tremendous cost, students and families are still making the college investment, even if it means going into steep debt. The payoff for having a college degree is still there. Pew Research found college graduates between the ages of 25 and 32 earn $17,500 more than those with only a high school degree.

 

 

Links of the Day:

 

– The Democrat and Chronicle did a great story on the madness of busing kids to school, all in the name of “school choice.” The process is futile, because virtually all of the schools have high concentrations of poverty. Furthermore, parents are now using school choice as a means to prevent their children from having to walk to school. All of this is costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars, while polluting the air and costing children precious time they could use for studying, play and activities. Parents also can’t make it into school for conferences and other events.

(I walked to School #7 with every other kid in the neighborhood. We walked by ourselves through rain, sleet and snow. It was a great experience.)

– I’m guessing this is what we can expect from the Seneca Nation in Monroe County: A “middling casino” like the one they built in Buffalo that doesn’t live up to its promises.

– Police store data from license plate scanners, including your whereabouts. An Onondaga Sheriff’s deputy said, “I can see how it would be creepy…”

– Are dog parks safe for dogs? A Syracuse woman’s dog was killed.

– The Syracuse University basketball team is worth $21 million, up 10 percent over last year.

– When streets had life. Remembering Rochester’s Front Street.

grad speech

 

(Please click the image to blow up the article and read. If it’s too cumbersome, let me know and I’ll type it out.) 

I gave this speech on June 24, 1994 at Kodak’s Theater on the Ridge.

I’m not sure I could have given a different speech, though 20 years later, there are some things I wish I could add. I would add that the experiences we had were not the fault of individuals running our schools, but a broken system. I would add that I had some wonderful teachers; I didn’t score highly on my Regents and AP exams without their support. I would have said thank you to my parents.

My teenage self was talking about educational inequality, though there was much about it I had yet to learn. I knew something wasn’t right about my school. Watching so much human potential go unrealized remains a very painful memory.

What would 17-year-olds say today?

 

Links of the Day:

 

– A couple other things I wrote about my RCSD experience: Meeting a student who got shot at school years later and reconnecting with a classmate who went to prison.

– Can Buffalo and New York state afford a new stadium for the Bills? Is it even worth talking about, with future ownership in limbo?

– Rochester’s port development is very complex – and expensive. RG&E is trying to figure out how and where to build a $2 million gas pipeline to the port.

– Was your utility bill super high this month? Join the club.

– New York-based Remington Arms is opening a factory. In Alabama.

– What role does marijuana play in road fatalities? Seems a lot more research is needed.

– Does cutting the cord save money? Comcast doesn’t want it to. Meanwhile, cable TV prices have gone up twice the rate of inflation annually for the past 17 years.

RCSD LOGOToday, all heck broke loose at Northeast College Preparatory and Northwest College Preparatory high schools, which share the old Frederick Douglass High School building. (The names of those schools, which have nothing at all to do with places on a map, have always irked me.)

These schools were started in 2006 and partnered with the College Board. They have smaller enrollment, about 500 each, and higher graduation rates of around 75 percent in 2012. They were touted as places where kids beat the odds, graduate and go onto college.

Last school year, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas announced a Wegmans executive would conduct an experiment of sorts at Northeast. The school would have an extended day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Students would eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at school. They would be able to take all kinds of classes administered by community volunteers. They would get to learn yoga, or take cooking and dance classes. This intense focus was to ensure no kid was lost and the opportunity gap would be closed.

But the project didn’t work out. Parents and kids didn’t buy in. You can’t leave volunteers alone with students. The whole thing was rushed. School now ends at 3:45 p.m., according to the district website. It also appears the College Board is no longer an integral part of Northeast or Northwest.

Now the schools are battling a chaotic environment, and reports indicate today wasn’t an isolated incident. Maybe there’s still awesome work happening in this building, but enough has happened to take the shine off. We will be watching to see if the early promise has been sustained.

Something else happened today. The district announced it studied Edison Tech’s multiple schools and found them lacking. Edison was broken up into smaller schools by former superintendent Manuel Rivera 10 years ago. Less than a decade later, Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard began phasing out schools at Edison and adding others. Today’s report found all the rejiggering made no difference. Kids are not getting ready for college or anything else. The district wants to make Edison one school, with a career and technology focus. Perhaps BOCES will take over.

No discussion of school reinventions is complete without mentioning Franklin High School. Former superintendent Clifford Janey created multiple schools on the campus. They were also deemed unsuccessful and are being phased out.

Faced with terrible results, the district is not afraid of trying new things. Vargas opened All City High School and then cut its budget in half in the space of one year. The superintendent even wants to turn over some schools to colleges.

Meantime, a whole bunch of charter schools are coming to town, ready to try their own version of something new.

All of these experiments are costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Former Mayor Tom Richards used to lament all the new programs coming and going in our schools:

“We must be dependable and stable—like adults are supposed to be. Our children must be able to depend on us. At its most fundamental level, this need for dependability—for stability—should not be overcome by some debate over educational philosophy. Or by which group of adults gets to decide which philosophy is correct. It means that we pick some fundamental programs and approaches and that we stick to them.”

Update: Here’s what RPD said happened. Took them 24 hours to respond and it’s far more detailed than what district put out there.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– It is astounding and disturbing that the state budget director had no idea so many people live in poverty in Rochester. The state seems clueless when it comes to the plight of cities.

– COMIDA does most of its work behind the scenes. When it’s time for the board to vote, decisions have already been made.

– I did an interview today with the City of Rochester’s transportation specialist about bicycle boulevards.

– The governor created a board to look into the possibility of a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. That is causing speculation over the Bills’ future.

– Did the police really need to read Philip Seymour Hoffman’s diaryand then go blabbing about it?

– I LOVE this column about the ridiculous hysteria surrounding the sleepwalking man statue.

Notice any changes in Wegmans Chinese food?

 

Tweet of the Day:

 

RCSD high school teacher's APPR rating.

RCSD high school teacher’s APPR rating.

 

Rochester City School District teachers received their ratings in the mail, just a few days before school starts. They are not happy. The scores are referred to as “Annual Professional Performance Review” or APPR. They won’t be used against teachers or schools this academic year, but teachers are upset this could be a sign of what’s ahead.

Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski wrote to his membership an email called, “APPR (be)rating:”

In all too many cases, these flawed assessments are a gross misrepresentation of the work that teachers do…

While a small percentage of teachers received the “Ineffective” rating, altogether too many dedicated and excellent teachers were rated as “Developing.” Even some teachers who received a perfect (60 points) or near perfect score for their Professional Practice were dismayed to find out that they were “developing.” But what they were in fact developing was a realization that APPR is patently unfair. It is neither good for students nor fair to teachers. But unfortunately, in New York State, APPR is embedded in legislation. Our first priority, therefore, must be to either improve or abolish this bad law.

Michael Occhino was among the teachers rated “developing.” The All City High science teacher has been teaching in the district for 23 years. He is one of only about 60 nationally board-certified teachers in the district. He’s a lead teacher and mentor. Occhino is also a visiting instructor of education at the University of Rochester. He’s now been labeled as needing help and must come up with an individualized improvement plan.

“It is impossible for me to tell how my scores were computed,” Occhino said. “It’s thoroughly opaque. I don’t know how my pre and post-tests were utilized.”

A longtime teacher who is at School of the Arts and doesn’t want to be named, is not yet aware of any colleagues who scored “highly effective.” This teacher was rated “developing,” despite getting a perfect score from her administrator. SOTA is one of the best schools in the district. This person teachers special education and other students.

“Our kids’ scores are so low,” the SOTA teacher said. “To me, it’s not possible to score highly effective.”

A teacher at a high-needs elementary school who did not want to be named and was rated developing said, “I should be able to learn and grow from any rating. The scores are a composite of my children’s math and ELA scores. I don’t even know where I need to improve…It’s not going to help me be a better teacher. It’s just going to make me feel bad.”

This elementary school teacher feels powerless. The teacher can’t control which children are assigned to a class and “all children learn at a different rate.” This teacher can’t control parental involvement. This teacher also thinks these 90-minute tests are developmentally inappropriate. The teacher’s students didn’t finish the tests. The teacher thinks the tests are not good tests.

There’s a lot we need to know about the teacher scores that came out. Good luck understanding the rubrics. Beyond getting into the nitty gritty of how scores were calculated, I’d like to know the percentages of teachers who fell into each category. If the likelihood of being rated effective corresponds with teaching at more affluent schools and schools with higher parental involvement, there could be something very wrong with this measurement.

“You name any other profession and this never would happen,” said Occhino, who is off this semester to work on his dissertation. “Why are teachers being labeled as something they are not? I am a great teacher. It wouldn’t change what I did in the classroom, but it sure would be demoralizing. I would feel like I wasn’t valued.”

Update: An RCSD elective teacher contacted me who received a “highly effective” rating. This teacher and colleagues in the subject area wrote their own tests.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Schools will be very different this year because of Common Core.

– State law now allows schools to discipline cyberbullies, even if the bullying takes place off of school grounds.

– This is a great map that shows the dominant immigrant group that settled each part of the United States.

Test - Small FeaturedDid New York State manufacture an educational crisis by releasing artificially low test scores? By creating panic, government may be able to enact “reforms” more easily.

Nazareth College Professor Maria Baldassarre-Hopkins  wrote an important and fascinating blog post about how the state decided the “cut scores.” The state gathered educators at a hotel for five days to go over the tests – and the results – and make recommendations.

Here’s the big problem she revealed. The tests are supposed to measure what students know based on national standards. Yet the state set those standards – after the results came in. The state looked at how many kids answered questions right as it was deciding the cut scores. The professor, who signed confidentiality agreements, implies the panel’s work was not heeded.

The anti-education “reform” crusader Diane Ravitch picked up on the blog post. She published a response to the Nazareth professor’s post from testing expert Fred Smith:

…data generated by the test population were used–changing the concept of a standards-based test (as in testing aligned with the common core learning standards) to one that depends on the performance of students who took the test.

This makes the Level 2, 3 and 4 thresholds dependent on how well kids did on the exams–bringing the test score distribution into play and rendering judgments about cut scores and student achievement relative to the composition of the students who took a particular set of items at a particular time–a normative framework instead of a standards-based one.

This information adds to the questions about the state tests and how they will be used.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– There’s a flaw in the state’s teacher evaluation system. Teachers could be rated “ineffective,” even if scores say they are average.

– Cuomo got $100,000 from a developer and then signed a law giving it big tax breaks.

– Buffalo police will post pictures of johns online. 

– Amazing. Less than a month after her ouster from North Syracuse, former RCSD official Kym Dyce is hired to run the large Tulsa school district. (Do employers use Google?)

– The George Eastman House restored a long lost Orseon Welles film called “Too Much Johnson.”

– A review says Amore restaurant is a vehicle to sell Wegmans products.

– Frederick Law Olmstead left his mark on Rochester.

– Why cycling is so popular in the Netherlands.

– Swedish men are warned about testicle-biting fish.