Friday, February 26, 2010

Our children are not guinea pigs: The critically important issue of mayoral control --- observations and thoughts by a seriously concerned parent

Our children are not guinea pigs: The critically important issue of
mayoral control --- observations and thoughts by a seriously
concerned parent

February 24, 2010
Howard J. Eagle

It's been a long time since I read a newspaper article and became really pissed off, but that definitely occurred on the evening of February 23rd --- in the process of reading (several times) an article titled 'College leaders back mayoral control of Rochester schools' --- published on the Democrat and Chronicle's website.

My initial thought was, and still is, that even if 119 or 1,019 college presidents from around the world declared their support for mayoral control --- that wouldn't change my mind one little bit (if for no other reason) because I'll never support (under any circumstances or conditions) the idea of diminishing predominantly poor African American and Hispanic peoples suffrage rights --- never!

I asked myself (out loud) how could college presidents (of all people) be so ignorant? However, once I got over the initial shock of what I had read --- it dawned on me that they aren't really ignorant at all. People don't become presidents of colleges and universities, especially internationally known, top-rated universities, by being ignorant --- or do they?

With regard to this particular situation --- I concluded that the gang of 19 was fully aware of what they were doing. That is, they had made a collective, conscious, choice (at his request) to back the smooth-talking, fair-haired, hometown all American Mayor --- even if it was at the expense of the lives and futures of our children. Like Duffy (politically speaking), they had chosen "the hill that they are willing to die on." That is, the national hill of Arnold Duncan school-of -thought and direction (privatization today --- privatization tomorrow --- privatization forever).

What really dawned on me though was that this is no longer a normal, run-of-the-mill debate. People, especially Robert Duffy is really playing hard-ball politics. I also thought about how correct Rochester City Councilman Adam McFadden had been several weeks earlier (1/14/10) when, as a guest on Bob Smith's WXXI radio talk show --- he had mentioned the possibility of the mayoral control issue tearing the community apart in a manner that we haven't seen for many years. This possibility and probability certainly is evidenced by the fact that we now have top leaders of local colleges and universities taking a public position that is diametrically opposed to the position taken by some of the most notable professors and researchers working at those same colleges and universities. Several outstanding examples that immediately come to mind include the position of Joel Seligman vis-a-vis that of Dr. David Hursh; Dr. William Destler vis-a-vis distinguished professor of public policy and former Rochester mayor William Johnson, and Daan Braveman vis-a-vis professor and former Fairport, NY and Rochester City School District Superintendent, Dr. William Cala. Perhaps this is all part of healthy dialogue, but one thing for sure is --- it is not part of the norm.

The actual letter of support, which was endorsed by "the presidents of every major higher learning institution in the area," and sent to the president and Publisher of the Democrat and Chronicle --- is really quite amazing. The first amazing thing about it is that, according to the above referenced article, the presidents had made a decision to support Duffy as early as 2/3/10. A full twenty days after the decision was made, the original version of the 2/23/10 letter from 19 top-level "academians" contained at least two typos. I don't mean to nit-pick, but is it not reasonable to expect excellence from this group?

In their soon to be infamous letter, these "academians" claim that they "realize that all involved in this discussion want the best for our students..." Our students? By their own admission (no pun intended) most RCSD students never even come close to gaining entrance into their colleges and universities. Another very amazing thing about their letter and position is that they magically connect the latter fact to the issue of "governance" within the RCSD --- amazing!

With regard to the issue of RCSD governance (as a guest on Bob Smith's WXXI radio talk show on 2/11/10) former Rochester mayor and distinguished RIT professor of public policy, William Johnson is quoted as having said the following: "My view is that we need to look at the more basic issues here. I think we need to look at how to reform the delivery of urban education, not the governance structure. I think, to be fair --- to say that you're going to disrupt a whole $700 million structure --- subsume it into your organization, and if it doesn't work after 4 years, you will take it and send it back --- you can't put humpty-dumpty back together again, after you have made all those changes, and I think that we (as a community) need to understand that it is easier said than done. It has been tried by people much smarter than Bob Duffy and Bill Johnson, and they haven't been able to make it work. It has been tried by communities all over the country. With all due respect to Mayor Duffy (a man who I admire; a man who I supported for election; a man who I worked with for 12 years; a man whose sincerity I do not question in the least bit) --- I think he is biting off a lot more than he can chew (as we say down South), particularly given some of the other challenges which this City
faces at this particular point and time."

Also, in their letter --- in the process of pointing out extremely poor performance on English Exams by 8th graders at two RCSD schools --- the intellectual "dream-team" made the blatantly obvious point that "students who cannot understand what they are reading, cannot succeed in high school," (no kidding). What's most interesting about this observation is that if anyone should know, these super-intellectuals certainly should know that mounds of research exists, which supports the vital need for successful students to be reading at or above grade level by or about 3rd grade. Thus, the critical task is not to just point out that schools have huge numbers of students who are light-years away from where they should be relative to basic skills-development. In so doing, they are only describing a symptom, which almost anyone can do, but the real fundamental issue and problem that must be solved is figuring out and eliminating that which allows for "84%" or "85%" of a school's student body to reach 8th grade without having acquired basic reading, writing and math skills. This is absolutely one of the most critical issues that must be thoroughly addressed in any legitimate, authentic, urban education reform model. Since we know that Board of Education members are not directly responsible for teaching reading, writing and arithmetic --- I can't wait to hear the academic leaders explain how this and other such fundamentally critical issues are related to RCSD governance. Clearly as professor Johnson pointed out --- this is an educational delivery issue, as opposed to one of governance.

Furthermore, when intellectuals begin hypocritically spewing rhetoric about poor academic "results [being] especially tragic in Rochester, a city with a proud history of quality educational institutions that has fueled entrepreneurialism, innovation and creativity for almost two centuries" --- then we can be absolutely certain that they don't have the best interests of the majority of our students in mind or at heart. Remember the history. "Two centuries" ago the ancestors of the overwhelming majority of our students couldn't get near the "quality educational institutions," which the intellectuals referenced in their letter.

They also make the bogus claim that "there is considerable evidence that mayoral control improves outcomes from cities as diverse at [their typo] New York City, Boston, New Haven, Hartford, Cleveland, Washington D.C. and Chicago." I say if "considerable evidence" exists --- they should produce it now.

The president of Finger Lakes Community College was quoted as having the audacity to say that "overwhelming research shows [mayoral control] has delivered good results." Wow! Again I say, if "overwhelming" evidence exists --- they should produce it now.

It's difficult to determine whose statements (the intellectual's or Duffy's) are most ludicrous and absurd. With regard to the gang of 19, the Mayor is quoted as having said "I think they are as connected as anybody could be..." Incredible! Imagine that. I mean really imagine that this guy is serious. He really means this --- I think.

We (RCSD parents and concerned community members in general) absolutely cannot allow the likes of Duffy and/or totally disconnected intellectuals , or anyone else for that matter --- to preside over the destruction of another generation of our children without being at every major decision-making table.

We must continue to organize!!!

College leaders back mayoral control of Rochester schools
Nestor Ramos and Brian Sharp • Staff writers • February 23, 2010

Calling the current School Board system a “dead end,” the presidents of 19 area colleges and universities are urging the state to give control of the Rochester School District to Mayor Robert Duffy.

In a letter e-mailed today to the Democrat and Chronicle, the presidents of every major higher learning institution in the area say it is time to try a new approach.
Duffy has asked the state Legislature and Gov. David Paterson to turn over control of the school district to him for a five-year test period.

“We urge action now. The stakes are very high. The current system of school governance is not working for our children,” the presidents wrote. Those signing the letter include Donald Bain of St. John Fisher College, William Destler of Rochester Institute of Technology and Joel Seligman of University of Rochester, as well as 16 others.

The letter originated with Rochester Area Colleges, a consortium of nearby public and private universities, colleges and community colleges.

“Unfortunately, in all too many cases we never have the opportunity to work with Rochester city students either because they never graduate from high school or graduate ill-prepared for college work,” the letter says.

Duffy said he met with the college presidents on Feb. 3 at Monroe Community College. He requested in advance that mayoral control be discussed, as it was in the news. Once there, he handed out a draft outline of the issue and spoke for 15 minutes, then answered questions.

By the end of the 90-minute meeting, Duffy said, he had the group’s unanimous support and asked that they show their support publicly.

The resulting letter criticizes the school district’s failures in recent years, but also says other cities including New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and others have seen improvement under mayoral control.

Many studies also suggest the opposite, however.

“There’s data out there that shows there’s a lot to be desired in terms of mayoral control,” said Rochester school board President Malik Evans, who opposes Duffy’s proposal and favors a referendum to decide the issue.

“Some of those college and university presidents should talk to some of the professors on their staffs who’ve done research on the issue,” Evans said.

“I think it’s an embarrassment to higher education,” said former City School District interim superintendent William Cala, a visiting professor at Nazareth College. Nazareth President Daan Braveman was among those who signed the letter, which cites “considerable evidence that mayoral control improves outcomes.”

“If they say that, they’ve obviously not done their homework,” Cala said.

The mayor bristled when asked whether the presidents appeared well-informed on the topic.

“I would never question the education and depth of this group,” Duffy said. “They are well aware of the data. I think they are well aware of the graduation rates, and all of the issues surrounding our public education system in Rochester. I think they are as connected as anybody could be, running the colleges and universities in our community.”

Barbara Risser, president of Finger Lakes Community College, said she was not at the Feb. 3 meeting with Duffy but said she researched the issue herself and spoke with her colleagues in reaching a decision.

“We’re at a point where it’s important to look at what has worked well in other parts of the country, and the mayoral control does have a good track record,” she said.

Asked about conflicting studies that conclude otherwise, she said the “overwhelming research” shows it has delivered good results.

Several other college presidents were unavailable for comment or did not return calls Tuesday night.

As evidence that governance by an elected school board has failed, the letter cites poor test scores at several city high schools, a recent state list of struggling schools that included nine in Rochester, and a graduation rate of 46 percent this year — a number that has not been released by the state.

Evans said the figure has been discussed, but has not been announced or released. The last graduation rate released by the state, for students who entered high school in 2004, was 51.9 percent.

Cala said the root causes of poor student performance in the district have less to do with governance than with bigger societal issues.

“The common ax that we’re hearing is, ‘The system is broken, let’s try something else.’ The system that’s broken is the city of Rochester and the county of Monroe,” Cala said, citing disturbingly high teen pregnancy and child abuse rates.

But Duffy turned that on its head.

“Education failure is not separate from crime, lack of economic development, population loss … all the other things that impact us,” Duffy said.

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