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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:




9 Responses to Who Owns the “Caste System?”

  1. I think your criticisms of the article are spot on. The site it comes from appears to be a propaganda factory for the corporate charter movement. Your last paragraph summarizes my thoughts perfectly.

  2. September 2, 2014 at 11:29 am theodore kumlander responds:

    Here is a big surprise about the Casinos. The pool of gamblers is not expanding. Every Casino built only divides the market into smaller shares.

    You do not have to take my word for it. 3 Billion dollar Casinos in Atlantic City are closing this month. Built on the idiotic idea ” If we build it they will come.”

    Who will come? The poor working stiffs that have not had a raise in 10 years. Tourists? Does anyone really believe tourists will go to Henrietta to Gamble? I wet my pants laughing at that idea.

    What always surprise’s me is that the Banks fall over each other to loan the Casino Hustlers money to build another Casino and Resort. I assumed Bankers knew better, but what the hell they are only using our Pension Money.

  3. September 2, 2014 at 11:34 am theodore kumlander responds:

    the RCSD does the best job it can. How about making the students Partners in Education and give the them half the responsibility for their own success or failure.

  4. Here is the REAL bottom line…..the RCSD is FAILING its students. The proof is in the results. Anyone who doesn’t see this is in total denial. You can make multiple excuses, but you can’t deny the facts. Being poor should be NO excuse. It doesn’t cost anything to get up in the morning and go to school. First thing that needs to be done is EXPEL troublemakers. This allows those that want to learn not to be distracted. Of course, I would expect the critics to say that every child needs to be in school and it is their right. OK…end of discussion. You have proven the point that the RCSD is indeed unwilling to face reality and make hard choices to save the many who really want to learn.

  5. September 3, 2014 at 11:36 am T.C. Defender responds:

    “The district didn’t create this mess. We all did.”

    YES. What we’re seeing is the entirely predictable result of an “education by zipcode” system. Changing RCSD policies or leadership is moving deck chairs on the Titanic. As long as our current system is in place, people will do whatever they can to relocate to better districts to give their kids a better chance, leaving behind those who cannot.

  6. “But holding the RCSD responsible for the “caste system” is grossly unfair. The district didn’t create this mess. We all did.”


    People who work hard, move up the socioeconomic ladder, move out of the city to new bigger homes, in safer neighborhoods, and better schools for their kids are to blame?

    People who don’t care about education of themselves or their own kids are not to blame? Those that don’t work HARD to better themselves and the lives of their children are not to blame? Those that have no problem with living on welfare and whose daughters get pregnant at 14 are not to blame? Those who wreck their apartment and trash their neighborhood, bringing the value of the neighborhood down are not to blame?

    “We all are to blame” sounds cool… but one group is 99.9999999% to blame and the other side .000000001% to blame- if at all.

    We have a major problem in this country when those that work hard to better themselves and their families, and when in doing so are then labeled the “cause” of a problem.

    White flight is and was not a problem. People looked for a better life and earned it is not bad. There is only so much room in the city to live and burbs offer a better way of life in many aspects to most people.

    Why is it that some / many today look with disdain at white flight that occurred 20 or more years ago, (to seek a better safer lifestyle for their family)…. but today when a minority / black family moves to the burbs we “admire” them because they earned it, and are showing concern with the well being and education of their children?

  7. We need to ditch the racial terms when talking about schools, which you did for the vast majority of your article. Its about socioeconomic status. Those with money get their kids out of RCSD one way or another. They move, send them to privates, charters, or if they happen to be of color can get into urban/suburban(no matter their income level).

    Middle class flight in the city is a problem. It was a problem 30 years ago when it was whites, and now its still a problem when its blacks and latinos. I don’t know how to fix it, but it is the iron collar around the city’s neck.

  8. September 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm Susan Barnhart responds:

    Sorry Rachel, but there is a caste system.. not created by the RCSD, but created by those who allow these kids to be barricaded within the city walls… that means most of us.
    Condeleeza Rice said it right, when she said that urban inner city schools are the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Until we address this issue, there will always be a caste system.

  9. There is no barricade. There is no Caste “SYSTEM”. Tell us what is the “system” you claim exists?

    As a fundamental right of free movement in this country and the ability to live where you want, assuming you can afford it, …you can live where you want and go to that public school. Where there is a will there is a way.

    There are inexpensive apartments in every suburb and in the counties surrounding Rochester… one needs the initiative to find them.

    There are very successful people who have graduated EVERY YEAR from City Schools. One needs the initiative and work ethic to succeed just as you do in every and any school.

    Blaming “the system” is just an excuse for those that don’t want to do the work to better themselves or their family.

    How is it the system’s fault when Parents don’t care enough or KNOW enough to have their kids attend school on time every day? How educated a parent do you need to be, to know that your child needs a winter coat to attend school in Rochester NY in the winter time?

    Why is it that in a Divorce or custody case in the Burbs between two parents, the parent who has custody can (and have) lose their children, if the children do not go to school or are late to school on a regular basis. Its considered a from of child abuse if they don’t attend.

    But in the city the Superintendent, with TV Cameras in tow, goes to known homes of kids who are not attending school to “urge” and “promote” better school attendance to the parent? Was it 15% of kids didn’t make it to school on the first day this year in the RCSD?

    IF you can lose your kids for not going to school in the burbs you should be able to have the same thing occur in the city. That would send a far stronger message than the Superintendent making TV covered home visits.

    Social workers should take those kids that aren’t attending school regularly away from the
    parents, parent or grandmothers.

    Thats not happening today and perhaps that is the “unequal” caste system you refer to that exist today?

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