Sunday, December 21, 2014

Buffalo will miss Commissioner John King, Or will we?

On December 10th, New York State Education Commissioner, Dr. John B. King, Jr. announced his resignation.  Dr. King revealed that he was joining the U.S. Department of Education as a Senior Advisor to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  To some the Commissioner’s decision signals concern and reason to worry about the future of education in the Buffalo Public Schools.  To others, like me, King’s departure is a hopeful sign that the tyrannical, unreasonable and questionable mandates forced on the District under his administration will cease and the District will, instead, experience a new era during which a more collaborative relationship with SED can be developed that will support our efforts to improve the educational outcomes of our students.

It’s obvious that Dr. King has his supporters, but he also has many critics and not just those of us in Buffalo, who disagreed with him and questioned the motivation of the State Education Department in its dealings with our District.  After all if one looks at other urban Districts in the State, especially Rochester and Syracuse, the questions have to be asked why these Districts, which have graduation rates and student proficiency scores below Buffalo’s, escaped the targeted attention that we’ve received.  In fact it was puzzling that the Commissioner should cite a remark dropped by a former Board member years ago that the “Commissioner was picking on Buffalo”.  It surprised me that as recently as this year, Dr. King admonished us for being whiners and making excuses as he again used this remark to punctuate his claim.  He especially singled out the minority Board members as examples of the whiner/excuses group while praising the new majority for having a vision and reform agenda that aligned with his.

Throughout my tenure on the Board the relationship with Dr. King has been strained (that’s putting it mildly).  Productive communication with the Commissioner has been non-existent and the District has been subjected to mandate after mandate with little time to respond to complicated demands with dire consequences for non-compliance.  There are numerous situations that I can recount as examples of this treatment but for the purposes of this article, I will only cite the appointment of the Distinguished Educator.

In June 2012 just before the appointment of Dr. Pamela Brown as the new Buffalo Schools Superintendent, Commissioner King named Dr. Judy Elliott as the Distinguished Educator to the District.  Per his letter to the Buffalo Board of Education, the Commissioner said Dr. Elliott “is considered a consultant to the Buffalo City School District and her services will be a charge upon the district. Among her other responsibilities Dr. Elliott will conduct an intensive review of district and school systems, structures, and operations and develop an action plan outlining goals and objectives for the ensuing school year that is focused on addressing the needs of the Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools and Priority Schools in the District. She will also serve as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the board of education.”   Oh, and by the way, it’s the law.  This appointment was made without the courtesy of prior notification or consultation with the Board or Dr. Brown. 

During her tenure, Dr. Elliott has developed action plans but it remains to be seen what improvement has resulted from this work.  In fact, given the continued pressure on the District during her term one would have to conclude that Dr. Elliott has not helped the District to improve its priority and focus schools.  Dr. Elliott was appointed for a third term in June 2014.  It should be noted that evaluation of Dr. Elliott’s performance is the purview of the Commissioner.  However, as with her appointment the Board has never been consulted regarding her performance and as a matter of fact no evaluation has been shared or made public by the Commissioner.  What does this say about accountability for someone who earns $190 an hour plus expenses,  amassing a salary close to that of the Superintendent?  Oh, and did I mention that Buffalo is the only District with a Distinguished Educator?  Rochester doesn’t’ have one.  Syracuse doesn’t have one.

Will Dr. King be missed?  Most certainly.  Should we be worried?  Not in the least. His legacy, not just in Buffalo but across this state is one of oppressive mandates, seemingly personal petty politics, failure to dialogue with parents and other stakeholders, insistence on  imposing the Common CORE and incessant standardized testing tied to teacher evaluation and other “reforms”  that have not been validated.  The results, however, have been detrimental to the educational system statewide.   So as Dr. King exits the State Education Department and the Regents begins a national search, we must be vigilant to demand that the next Commissioner provide the open, transparent and honest interaction that has been demanded of us.

 Note:  As previously stated the opinions expressed in these columns are my personal views and are not intended to represent the views of the Buffalo Board of Education.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: Clock is Ticking for Out-of-Time Schools

This Fall, New York State Education Commissioner John King declared that four Buffalo Schools were “out-of-time”.  These schools, East, Lafayette, Bennett High Schools and the MLK Jr. Multicultural Institute #39, were given several options to remain open or face closure.  The State and the majority members of the Buffalo Board of Education determined that one option was to have new or existing charter schools come in and take over any/all of the school buildings.  To facilitate this option, the majority Board members resolved to request that the State hold a special application process for new charters that, if approved would only operate in Buffalo.  The majority passed another resolution to ensure that existing independent charters could apply to lease space or the entire building of any of the out-of-time schools.  The caveat with this arrangement is that current students in the out-of-time schools would have to apply for admission to the charter, as they would not be guaranteed a space.

Other options to keep these schools open include:  conversion charter (these are charters resulting from a vote of 50% of the parents of students in the school and these schools remain under the authority of the School District and serve the students already enrolled in the school); an Educational Partner Organization to take over the operation of the school; a partnership with a SUNY College or University; or a new school that would be phased in as the old school is phased out.  In order to get proposals for this last option, the District issued a Request for Proposals.  These proposals are due to the District by Friday, December 12th.

As of this article, there are several very committed groups – one in each school.  These groups are composed of teachers, administrators, alumni, parents and other community stakeholders, who have been working diligently to develop plans for new phase-in schools for each of the out-of-time ones.  These groups are devoted to maintaining the schools as public schools of the District while addressing the problems that led to the out-of-time designation and creating an educational program that will result in better outcomes for our students.

After the December 12th, a group of evaluators appointed by the Interim Superintendent will review and rate each proposal.  Over the objections of the minority Board members, who demanded transparency, the names of these evaluators will be kept secret.  Of the 16 individuals, four are designated to be chosen from the charter school environment.  Following the selection process of the evaluation team and their recommendations, the successful proposals will be published publically and open meetings will be held for public comment.   I have also asked that a mechanism be established so that the public can give feedback online.

The Board will vote on the proposals which must be sent to the State Education Department by January 30, 2015.  State Ed will have the final say on the selection of a new model for the schools and can also recommend closure of any or all of the schools.  Time is running out for these out-of-time schools.  But there is still time for public input and comment on the final proposals.  Details will be shared about dates, times and places for you to share your thoughts.  Your input is needed and valued.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: A letter to the Interim Superintendent Re: "RFP Charter Schools"

Rather than respond to this letter, on November 26th Mr. Ogilvie sent it on to the State Education Department with a request that they respond to the questions, in writing, to all Board members.

November 25, 2014

Mr. Donald A Ogilvie, Interim Superintendent
Buffalo Public Schools
712 City Hall
Buffalo, New York 14220

Dear Mr. Ogilvie:

This letter is a follow up on the discussions at the Board meeting of this date regarding the Resolution RFP Charter Schools, the subsequent passage of that Resolution by a 5 to 3 vote and numerous questions resulting from the same.  The Resolution proposes that “the attached RFP” be released for existing Charter Schools to make application to operate one of the “out of time schools”; namely East, Bennett, Lafayette High Schools or School #39, MLK, Jr. Multicultural Institute.

The attached document however is entitled an “RFS, Request for Space” not an RFP and does not appear to correspond to the RFP(s) issued earlier.  The RFS states as follows:

The Board of Education is therefore establishing a transparent (my emphasis) Request for Space (RFS) process for proposed charter operators to notify the school board that they would like to seek space in a district building and, at the board’s discretion, begin negotiations with the board.

Just as Buffalo Public Schools is considering proposals for conversion charter schools, educational partnership organizations, SUNY lead partner and local innovative programs through a Request for Proposals, this RFS process will enable independent charter schools to seek selection for operation in any the following “out of time” school buildings:

East High School
Lafayette High School
Bennett High School
Martin Luther King School

Applicants for an independent charter that seek space in one of these district buildings must include with the RFS any relevant application or other documentation that they submitted to a charter authorizer, if applicable. (my emphasis) Applicants are only asked to answer the questions below to the extent they are not addressed in such attachment.

1. What is the name of the school that the applicant is seeking to site? Please note that
BCSD is committed to building on the rich history and strong community ties of these four schools. Applicants must therefore submit proposals that retain the existing name as all or part of the name of the proposed schools.
2. What school building does the applicant seek to use?
3. Does the applicant seek (indicate all that apply):
a. Use of the entire school building
b. Co-location with one or more independent charter schools
c. Co-location with one or more district-operated schools
4. Does the applicant’s proposal require formal closure of the current school at the location requested?
5. Describe the applicant’s approach to:
a. Education
b. Leadership, oversight, staffing and operations
c. Community involvement
d. Finances, including school operational costs and any start-up operating or capital funds sought by the applicant

Applicants are asked to submit responses to the RFS as soon as possible, and no later than January 7, 2015, for operation beginning in the 2015-16 school year.”

My concerns/questions about this RFS relate to the questions that prospective charter applicants are asked as there are few or none that ask for any information about the charter school’s ability to provide a “quality educational program”.  What would these applicants offer that is innovative, creative and likely to result in better educational outcomes then the current program(s)?  What populations would they serve?  What are their admissions criteria?  How will they recruit students?  Further, the emphasis appears to be on the use of the building as the primary consideration and not on the educational program to be offered.  Also, what does it mean to “operate” one of the schools?   In addition, why is the date for submission January 7th, not December 12th?   Rather than a level field, it appears that these charters are being given an undeserved advantage.

I’m sure that I would be accused of making an “assumption” that there are already charter schools in the wings waiting to submit a proposal.  And there have been numerous disclaimers regarding this possibility.  But there has been too much work to get these Resolutions crafted (with the input and consultation of NYSED staff) and passed, that it’s difficult to believe that there are not several proposals waiting to be submitted.

Who will evaluate these proposals?  The same group evaluating the proposals resulting from the RFP?   Again the time frame for public hearings, input from the Board will be truncated considerably and not reasonable to provide a thorough vetting.

Another question, which has yet to be answered, even though I posed it several times in tonight’s meeting relates to the authority that the Board has to seek “Requests for Space” from independent charter schools in the instance of the out of time schools or any District schools for that matter.  A review of the Guidance from NYSED on out of time schools states the following:dmissions criteria?  I think by nowal outcomes then the c

“Guidance for Schools Districts Required to Submit Plans for “Out of Time” Schools

Consistent with sections 100.2(p) and 100.18 of Commissioner’s Regulations, districts with “Out of Time” schools must choose one of the following options to implement in identified schools for the 2014-15 school year:
  1. Close the school and disperse the students;
  2. Phase-out of the identified school and phase-in of a new replacement school;
  3. Contract with an Educational Partnership Organization (EPO);
  4. Establish an alternate governance structure for the school(s);  
  5. Convert to a charter school;
  6. Enter into a contract with the State University of New York (SUNY), or in New York City, the City University of New York (CUNY), to provide for the education of the students at the identified school(s).”

Where in this Guidance does it offer the option to the District to seek independent charter schools to take over the school buildings, co-locate in the school buildings, “operate the schools” or co-opt the school building space or program?

In fact, this statement appears in the RFP issued by the District:

“Independent Charter School - A Charter Management Organization may choose to apply to the Board of Regents or the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to operate an Independent Charter School at one of the four schools. An Independent
Charter School under a charter school operator or charter management organization must directly apply and be approved by a NYS chartering entity, either the Board of Regents or the SUNY Charter Schools Institute”

According to comments made by Mr. Quinn, conversations with SED staff have provided you and some Board members with information and guidance that all Board members have not been privy to.  I have included a copy of the motion passed by the Board in July 2013 regarding the requirement that the Superintendent share all communication with NYSED with the Board immediately upon receipt.  I remind you that this requirement is still in force.  The fact that a significant number of Board members, specifically the four minority members of the Board are not consistently given information communicated from NYSED or included in conversations with the State regarding important issues about the future of our schools impacts our ability as elected officials to represent our constituents or to make sound, informed decisions, which will have a serious impact on the education of the children in our District.  That is not acceptable.

I am requesting, in writing, guidance received from the State Department of Education officials that supports the Resolutions and RFS submitted and passed by five members of the Board.  I am requesting that all Board members be given the opportunity to participate in phone and or personal meetings with NYSED officials on these matters.  I am requesting that information be shared in a timely manner with all Board members.

Yours Truly,

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD
At-Large Member

Cc:  Board Members

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: It's about Transparency, Honesty and Accountability

There is a steady march, by the new Board majority and its Interim Superintendent, toward making Buffalo Public Schools into a Buffalo Charter School District (in whole or in part).  From Mr. Paladino’s pledge to “disassemble” the District to Mr. Quinn’s resolutions to open the District up to “high performing” charter schools, their intentions are clear.  However, just that description alone implies that there are charter schools, which are not “high performing”.  That’s a topic deserving two or three columns in and of itself, but this article examines how the majority Board members are moving, by hook or by crook, to open the door to more charters even as they ignore efforts to support new programs in four out-of-time schools (Lafayette, Bennett, East High and School #39).

A secret meeting between Mr. Quinn, Mr. Sampson and Commissioner King held in June signaled the new Board’s lack of transparency.  Moving quickly after the installation of the new Board in July, the majority issued a “Vision Statement” and hired the Interim Superintendent without the knowledge or inclusion of the four minority members.  Throughout the last five months incremental steps were taken toward the goal of increasing the presence of charters in the District.  Recently those efforts have escalated beginning with the October 8th Quinn Resolution to request that State Education Commissioner King designate an unprecedented third round of charter school applications for Buffalo only.  As reported last week, only two charters had submitted applications by the November 16th deadline.  While that was surprising, an even greater surprise followed when the State immediately refused to consider either application.  Now what?  Of course, there is backup plan in the works.

Mr. Quinn introduced a new Resolution at the November 25th Board meeting.  This resolution allows “independent” charters to seek space at any of the four out-of-time schools.  This writer pointed out that it was premature to vote on such a motion given numerous questions, primary among them:  “What authority does the Board of Education have to give independent charters space in or the ability to take over the entire school building?”  This is an important question as turning over any one of these school buildings to a charter is not one of the options that State Ed has given to the District regarding plans for the out-of-time schools.  Yet this and other questions remain unanswered as the motion was passed. 

Following the meeting I wrote a four page letter to Mr. Ogilvie noting the continued exclusion of minority members from conversations with State Education officials and requesting an answer to the question about the Board’s authority regarding the Quinn resolution. (Letter posted on this Blog)  He responded by forwarding my letter to the State Education Department for a response.  However, in the last month members of the minority have written to the State three times, with little or no substantive response.  It remains to be seen as to the State’s response to this latest letter.  Even so, the majority of the Board continues with their plan to open our schools to a charter take-over.

The next few weeks will be a critical time for the future of East, Bennett, Lafayette High Schools and School #39, MLK, Jr. Multicultural Institute.  Proposals for each of those schools will be presented at public sessions and ultimately to the Board.  Community input is critical.  I urge all who are interested in public education to attend these meetings and let your voice be heard on the direction to be taken for these schools.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: The Future of Four Out of Time Schools Matters!

The Buffalo Board of Ed’s Majority’s first foray into launching the plan to disassemble the District’s schools in favor of charter schools has resulted in an interesting turn of events.   The plan was hatched on October 8th, when Board majority members, over the objections of the minority members, voted to ask New York State Commissioner John King to create an unprecedented third round for charter school applications just for the Buffalo School District.  The urgency of this decision, an excuse for not seeking public comment on this action, was underscored when the State posted the call for new applicants on its website on the morning of October 10th.  The minority Board members wrote two letters, the first dated October 10th, to Commissioner King requesting clarification of his out–of- time designation of four schools.  He was also asked for more time to allow for community input into this new charter school process.  The Commissioner’s responses, through his surrogates, were curt and referred us to the Board’s own attorney for answers to our questions.

Moving ahead with the process, the State even offered potential successful charter school candidates up to $750,000 in start-up funds as an incentive.  The deadline for submission of completed applications was November 16th, by 6:00pm.  While the State voiced expectations that they would receive loads of applications from “high quality” applicants, they only received two.  Both applications are for elementary charter schools.  None were received for high schools.  So, what’s next?  According to the State website, public comment can be submitted to the State regarding these applicants at  The Buffalo Public Schools are also required to conduct Public Hearings between the dates of November 17 – December 15.  The final decision to approve or disapprove the applicants will rest with the NYS Board of Regents.  That decision will be made during the Regents’ December 15-16 meeting in Albany.  The successful charters would start in September 2015.  

At the same time, the Buffalo School District is moving forward on its own internal process to determine the fate of the four out-of-time schools, Bennett, East, Lafayette High Schools and School #39, MLK, Jr. Multi-cultural Institute.  The District’s options, as ordered by the State, include creating new, innovative District led programs for each school, partnering with an Educational Partner Organization, Converting the existing schools to charter schools (this is a different process than the State orchestrated one) or seeking support from the State University of New York as a lead partner with any of the schools.  The final option, one which is not an option for the minority Board members is closure of the schools in question.  The School District’s call for proposals has been issued and the deadline date for receipt of these will be December 12th.  Public hearings will be held once the proposals are vetted.  The Board has until January 28th to make a final decision, which must be communicated to the State Education Department.  The State will still have final approval.

The future of the four District Schools and the hundreds of students served by these schools is at stake.  All of us, not just parents, Board members, teachers or school staff are called on to be knowledgeable about the circumstances under which decisions are being made or will be made about the schools in the District.  Today, we speak of four schools but tomorrow it could be another four, eight or more.  I urge the community to stay vigilant and voice your opinions.  Education matters!

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: A Tale of Two Resolutions

November 17, 2014

In the past week there were two significant Resolutions regarding the Buffalo Public Schools that many of you are probably not aware of, since the Buffalo News gave little coverage to one and completely ignored the other.  So, let’s talk about the first Resolution that did receive some coverage as it represented a positive development in community support for one of our “out of time” schools, Lafayette High School.

In a stellar show of solidarity and support for Lafayette students, faculty, staff and families, the Buffalo Common Council, on November 12th, voted unanimously on a Resolution, which reads in part:
“Therefore, Be It Resolved: That the Common Council seeks support from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Education Department Commissioner John B. King Jr. to provide State Improvement Grant Funds for Lafayette High School, so that the funds deliver an equitable school turnaround for the school, students, and community. In addition, NYSED should provide translations of New York State Regents Examinations and Bilingual Glossaries as afforded to other language groups in the state, as well as extending waivers for schools designed for adolescent English Language Learners, which exist in New York City.”

In addition to the Governor and the Commissioner of NYS Education, the New York State Board of Regents also received a copy of the Resolution.  It remains to be seen as to the impact of this show of support for Lafayette.  But it’s a great sign of local support for keeping local control of the school.  I’ll provide an update as soon as I receive it.

The second Resolution was initiated, on November 10th, by the four minority members of the Board, Dr. Harris-Tigg, Mrs. Belton Cottman, Mrs. Kapsiak and this author.  The resolution calls on the Board for transparency and openness in the case of the alleged conflict of interest of Carl Paladino as it relates to his votes on Charter School decisions.  The specific question relates to a settlement with the Charter School for Applied Technologies.  You may recall that Mr. Paladino purchased the former Holy Angels School earlier this year.   Beginning in September the Charter School for Applied Technologies located a middle school in this building.  As a result of his ownership of this building, the minority members of the Board contend that Mr. Paladino has a conflict of interest and therefore should not have voted on this agreement.  The Board received a legal opinion on this matter and the Resolution demands that the opinion be made public.  The resolution concluded with the resolve that:

“Therefore, the sponsors of this Resolution request that the Board vote to make public the legal opinion provided by Mr. Kristoff regarding the issue of conflict of interest and Mr. Paladino and also stay further action to execute the settlement agreement with the Charter School for Applied Technologies until the question of conflict of interest is resolved.”

Needless to say, this Resolution created quite a stir with the majority Board members.  They initiated a number of actions to prevent it from coming to the Board meeting on November 19th for a formal vote.  In fact, they circumvented the Resolution by having Mr. Paladino give an interview to the Buffalo News during which the confidential and privileged details of the attorney’s opinion were disclosed to the press.  This is another instance in which this group of Board members demonstrates their support of a double standard.  Their actions have evaded and ignored the Board’s obligation to maintain confidential information that was received in executive session.  Their goal is to make discussion and presentation of this Resolution moot.  However, the minority members of the Board will exercise our right and responsibility to bring this Resolution to the table for a vote.  As with the other Resolution, I’ll update you on the outcome.

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: What’s next? Threat to Freedom of Speech?

November 9, 2014

It doesn’t stop!  From disassembling the school district to dismantling the structure of school board meetings, members of the new Board majority continue to execute an agenda that supports their “vision” for the District.  The opportunity for parents, students and other stakeholders to exercise their freedom of speech rights at Board meetings is at the heart of the latter issue.

Majority Board members and the Interim Superintendent, Mr. Ogilvie are moving toward making sweeping changes in the structure of Board meetings, initially focusing attention on the Public Comments Section of the meetings.  Mr. Quinn signaled this intent at the November 5th Board meeting when he observed that this aspect of the meeting was unproductive.  He went on to describe many of the speakers as “political plants” implying that they represented a faction not aligned with his and that their comments were orchestrated. 

Since the new Board took office, Mr. Quinn has questioned the continuance of the Public Comment item on the official Board Agenda.  In fact, a move to eliminate the opportunity for public input would have occurred much sooner if minority members had not cited the Board’s Bylaws, which define and mandate the current meeting structure.  Board Policy 1513 allows up to 30 speakers, each of whom can have 3 minutes to make their statements.  If all 30 slots are taken, the Board meeting can be extended by an hour and a half or more.  That’s much more time than some members of the majority want to spend listening to the “complaints” and “unproductive” appeals of the populace.

While he alleges that there are more productive ways for stakeholders to express their opinions, Mr. Quinn has ignored my response to his concerns and comments.  I’ve pointed out many “productive” strategies that Board members can and should use to invite public feedback.  These include the Board’s regular committee meetings.  Held twice a month totaling eight hours, these meetings are essentially work sessions, open to the public and flexible to allow discourse between Board, staff and community members.  In addition, Board members are requested to act as liaison members with various other Board committees, such as the Special Education Parents Advisory Committee (SEPAC), the Health & Wellness Committee, the Multicultural Education Advisory Committee (MEAC).  And Board members can host community meetings/forums on timely issues.  Frankly, there are more “productive” ways to engage stakeholders if Board members are seriously interested and will put in the time.  But I don’t see Mr. Quinn taking advantage of any of these strategies.

I will agree with Mr. Quinn on one thing regarding the Public Comments period. There is a need for all speakers to act responsibly and to be accountable for delivering their comments respectfully.  However, at this point in time the tone and tenor of the public’s comments reflect that of certain members of the Board.  As with many other issues, the Board itself needs to take a leadership role before it can demand change from members of the public.  It’s hypocritical and disingenuous to demand civility from speakers when Carl Paladino is allowed to denigrate Board and staff members via email and Facebook assaults.  His behavior is treated with silent consent.

And before freedom of speech at the Board meetings is tampered with, I suggest that majority Board members and Mr. Ogilvie take advantage of all the other, “productive” ways to engage public comment.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: The Plan to “Disassemble” the Buffalo Schools

When a Buffalo Board of Education member promises to “disassemble” the School District, we should question his intent and his motivation.  According to the dictionary, the definition of “disassemble” is “to take (something) apart”.   Synonyms for “disassemble” include:  dismantle, take to pieces, break up, deconstruct, and strip down.  Further, “disassemble” is a verb, an action word that connotes the concerted effort it takes to take something apart. 

South District School Board member Carl Paladino is on the record talking about his plan to “disassemble” the Buffalo Public School District.  Speaking before the Erie County Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee, chaired by Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, Paladino explained how he would dismantle the public schools:  “We’re going to open charter schools; we’re going to hopefully help the privates and the Catholics to become better and be able to take more kids.  We’re supporting the closing of a number of Buffalo Public Schools and turning them into charters….”  He concluded by describing his (their) plan further as “…the game that we’re playing.”  

This is not the first time that Paladino has spoken of his goal to “disassemble” the District Schools.  In a December 2013 interview with Buffalo Rising, he pledged to make a motion that the Board of Education members resign and request that SED (the State Education Department) appoint a special master to reorganize the BPS.” While that motion went nowhere, Paladino has waged a campaign of disruption, dissension and dysfunction.  He routinely disrespects, intimidates and bullies women of color, staff members as well as members of the Board.  Even with this unprofessional behavior and gross failure to support the School District that he was elected to lead, Paladino has not only voiced his plan but he has proceeded with its implementation with the support of the majority Board members, the current administration and high officials in the State Education Department.   

In his own words, Paladino has made his intentions clear.  But what about his motivation?   A recent report from the Alliance for Quality Education, entitled “Good for Kids or Good for Carl?”  examines Paladino’s business dealings with at least 6 local charter schools.  This study reports that “Paladino’s companies are the leading charter school developers in Buffalo” and details his support of each of the identified chartersFollowing the publication of this report, the Buffalo News’ interviewed Paladino on October 22nd.  He responded to the question about his conflict of interest by saying that he would be a “frigging idiot” not to take advantage of these business deals.  He tried to justify the conflict by saying that he is the only developer to invest in such risky deals.  Yet, it does not appear from the report that he has lost any money on his investments.  It’s quite the contrary in fact.

The recent mandate from the State Education Department for four “out of time” schools, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Bennett, East and Lafayette High Schools forces the District to consider independent charter school applicants.  And in order to secure those applications, the majority members of the Board voted to ask the Commissioner (prompted by SED staff) to offer an unprecedented third round for charter school applications just for Buffalo.  No time was given for public input or questions.  Yet, it’s not too late for the community to ask questions about the propriety of a Board member who has investments in charter school development and boldly proclaims that his game plan is “…the closing of a number of Buffalo Public Schools and turning them into charters….” If Paladino won’t answer these questions, what about asking the State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. or Western New York’s Regent, Robert Bennett?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads_Buffalo Students Rock Mayor Brown’s Bully Free Bus Tour

Generally this column addresses the current problems in and threats to the Buffalo School System.  But even as we experience unprecedented attacks from within as well as from the outside, there is incredibly positive teaching and learning going on in the Buffalo Public Schools.  This week, I had the opportunity to visit a number of schools and see firsthand talented, articulate and personable young people, who have goals and aspirations for their future.   October is Bully Prevention Month.  In recognition of the need to send a message that bullying is a serious problem, Mayor Byron Brown organized a Bully Free Bus Tour this past week.  On October 23rd, fellow Buffalo Board members Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Patti Pierce and I boarded a yellow bus with the Mayor, Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie, Deputy Mayor Ellen Grant, Associate Superintendent, Dr. Will Keresztes, DPCC Members Byron McIntyre, Dr. Wendy Mistretta, P.L.A. Executive Director Mody Cox, Deputy Police Commissioner Kim Beaty and several other Board of Ed and City Hall staff to visit five Buffalo Schools. 

It was a great day, starting with breakfast provided by students at Emerson and a proclamation presented by Mayor Brown designating the month as Bully Free Month.  Next stop on the tour was at International School #45, where students, in grades Pre-K through 6 speak over 40 languages.  An assembly program for the lower grades featured illustrations on how bullies, people being bullied, bystanders and (new to me) upstanders each play a role in a bullying situation.  The key to stopping the bully, the children learned, was to be an upstander.  At South Park High School, we had an open and heartfelt dialogue with students, who shared difficulties that they’d encountered that would have been difficult for adults to overcome.  Yet with the help of school administrators and support staff, each of these students is on track to graduate and to move on to college next year.

The Tour continued to Performing Arts where we were treated to an awesome, multi-discipline (dramatic reading, performance art, dance, acting, vocal and instrumental music), student created performance on bullying. The finale at Waterfront included a greeting by the school’s band playing Eye of the Tiger and the Glee Club’s adaptation of Pharrel's “Happy”, transformed to the Attendance Song.  And while the Mayor’s Tour ended at the Waterfront School, Mrs. Kapsiak, Mrs. Pierce and I joined the students and faculty on October 24th at Lorraine Academy for the unveiling and dedication of their decorated “anti-bullying” Buffalo statue.  I ended my week of school visitation at my own Pre-K granddaughter’s school, Montessori #32, where I joined other parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in the class’ first Family Day.

I wish I could describe more fully the programs I attended on the tour and the day after.  Space does not permit such a detailed presentation.  However, I want to end by saying that of the seven schools I visited, I had the following take-aways.  Now, even though I know this, it was reinforced that Buffalo Schools have a very diverse population of students.  Therefore each has its own unique culture.  And within this unique culture, children are learning, children are thriving and children are nurtured as well as educated by their teachers and other educational professionals.  The State Education Department has forced us to measure our students by one yard stick.  Within our own families, we know that no two children will develop exactly the same, even when their parents try to parent them in the same way.  Teachers need the freedom to develop and use teaching strategies that address the unique learning styles of different students.  And students need the individualized attention in order to reach their potential.  I encourage the readers to take a closer look at the Buffalo Schools.  Don’t believe the hype. There are a lot of good things going on in our schools.  And the students in the Buffalo Schools ROCK!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

New Voices Call for Openness, Transparency and Inclusion

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemöller, Protestant Pastor (an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler, who spent seven years in concentration camps)

After reading the above quote, some individuals may question if our current education crisis warrants comparison to the world crisis that provoked this pronouncement.  The answer lies in Pastor Niemöller’s underlying and timeless message - silence in the face of tyranny and cruelty or in today’s situation, deceit, collusion and coercion is ultimately tacit approval and ends up harming the bystander, who looks the other way and fails to speak out.

Last week a group of people decided it was time to speak up, loudly and clearly, in opposition to the actions of the current majority membership of the Buffalo Board of Education, the Interim Superintendent and the Commissioner of Education.  Operating on a “Vision Statement”, which proposes an agenda that turns over our schools to private sector operators, the new majority rammed through several resolutions on October 8th, which asked Commissioner John B. King, Jr. to create an unprecedented third round for charter school applications exclusively for Buffalo.  In response to the Board vote, operating on what can only be described as lightning speed,  by October 10th the New York State Education Department posted a call for “Prospective Charter School Applicant Groups and Charter School Operators – Buffalo ONLY” on its website. To increase the likelihood of numerous applications the State is dangling a potential grant of $750,000 as an additional incentive.

The majority Board members refused to allow time for community input in the decision.  But now new voices are being raised against their actions and their “Vision”.  On Thursday, October 16th, these voices joined in a speak- out about the lack of transparency, openness and honesty.  Led by parents, community members and activists from Citizen Action, P.U.S.H. Buffalo and Alliance for Quality Education, they called a press conference that was held in front of Lafayette High School, one of the targeted schools. They voiced their opposition to decisions made in secret; decisions that excluded the minority members of the Board; decisions that excluded the parents of the District, the students and other stakeholders; decisions that open the District up for private take-over.  They voiced their concern that plans to turn at least four schools, East, Lafayette, Bennett and MLK, Jr. Institute over to Charters will result in a move to privatize more schools in the District ending in fewer resources for remaining schools and students.  And they pledged to call on others to break their silence and turn up the volume in support of our children.  

Yes, we are at a critical juncture….we can’t afford to remain silent or ignorant of the facts while they come for our schools.  Get involved.  Our children need you.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Open Letter to Commissioner John B. King, Jr.: Opposing Privatization of Buffalo Schools

October 10, 2014

Commissioner John B. King, Jr.
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Street
Albany, New York 12234

Dear Commissioner King:
As members of the Buffalo Board of Education, we are writing to you with (1) a request for clarification regarding a recent communication to the Board and (2) to express a number of related concerns we wish to bring to your attention.  On October 7th, 2014, Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie received a letter (attached) from Mr. Ira Schwartz, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Accountability, regarding your designation of East and Lafayette High Schools as “Out of Time Schools” along with mandates for the District regarding those schools as well as Bennett High School and Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Institute School #39.  This letter was shared with Board members via email late afternoon of the 7th October.

As you know the letter required that the District provide a response to your office by October 20, 2014.  Subsequently, Mr. Ogilvie, in consultation with Mr. Schwartz, crafted Resolutions regarding the District’s intentions/proposed timelines and options consistent with the Commissioner’s Regulations 100.2(p), 100.18 for East and Lafayette High Schools.  These Resolutions included, at the suggestion of Mr. Schwartz according to Mr. Ogilvie, a statement that read:

6. The Buffalo Board of Education requests that the NYS Commissioner of Education approve a third round of charter school applications for start-up in the 2015-16 school year with the intent of securing charter applications for any of the four Buffalo Schools which are in phase-out/phase in:  Bennett High School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Multicultural Institute, East High School and Lafayette High School.

The Board received the revised Resolutions on Wednesday afternoon, October 8th a few hours prior to the Board meeting.  The Interim Superintendent presented his recommendations and the newly revised Resolutions at the Board meeting that started at 5:30 pm. Following Board discussion of approximately 30 to 45 minutes, an amendment was made and the language in the foregoing was modified to read as follows:
APPROVED, a motion made by Mr. Quinn, seconded by Mr. McCarthy, that the Buffalo Board of Education requests the NYS Commissioner of Education approve a third round of charter school applications for start-up in the 2015-16 school year with the intent of securing charter applications for any of the four Buffalo Schools which are in phase-out/phase-in:  Bennett High School, Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute, East High School and Lafayette High School or any other location in Buffalo.  The roll call vote resulted as follows:  5 – Ayes (McCarthy, Paladino, Pierce, Quinn and Sampson), 3 – Noes (Belton-Cottman, Kapsiak and Nevergold), 1 – Absent (Harris-Tigg).  Motion carried.

Request for Clarification:
With the foregoing background, the following questions are posed for clarification.  In reviewing the Commissioner’s Regulations 100.2(p), 100.18; Guidance for School Districts Required to Submit Plans for “Out of Time” Schools
We do not see where the Regulations include Independent Charter Schools as one of the Options offered under these Regulations.  Therefore, is it proper, appropriate or legal to include reference to this alternative in the District’s response to the Commissioner’s mandate? 
Second, the letter and your directive were specific to Bennett, East and Lafayette High Schools and Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute #39.  The addition of the request in the above motion, “or any other location in Buffalo” appears to us to exceed the Commissioner’s mandate and should not be part of this motion, if the motion itself is indeed proper.

Please advise

Additionally, the Guidance for School Districts Required to  Submit Plans for “Out of Time Schools”
States that in order for the District’s Plan to be approved, it must include evidence that the District has ensured compliance with a number of actions including the following:
7 Evidence that the district provided parents, teachers, administrators, and community members an opportunity to participate in development of the plan pursuant to Commissioner’s Regulations 100.18(m)(5)(iii), 100.18(m)(6)(i)(b), and 100.11. Additionally, the district must address how it will involve parents, teachers, administrators and others in the development of the new school prior to the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

The rush of the Interim Superintendent and some members of the Board to respond to Mr. Schwartz’ letter has denied open and transparent communication with the school communities impacted and the community in general.  As noted both the Board and the Interim Superintendent received Mr. Schwartz’ letter on October 7th.  Resolutions and revisions were hastily put together for the meeting on October 8th.  While the October 20th date required prompt attention, we do not believe that the Board should have or needed to vote on its response on October 8th, one day after receiving Mr. Schwartz’ letter.  The Board has scheduled Committee meetings on October 15th that would have given us enough time to inform/engage the community and meet the State’s deadline.
We offer this time frame as it is reflected in the concern we have about the time and diligence devoted by the Interim Superintendent and the Board in making such an important and impactful decision.

Not only did the Board ignore the requirement to engage parents as stated above, the Board also ignored its own Policy #1510, which states: 
No committee, nor the entire Board, will act, study, or decide upon an issue unless the supporting documentation has been made freely available to all Board members at least 48 hours in advance of the above mentioned action, with the exception of “Late Items” filed as such by the Superintendent for action at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board. This provision may be suspended by an affirmative vote of six members of the full Board (2/3) upon the motion of one of its members and must be approved by an affirmative vote of six members of the full Board (2/3).

And Policy #1511
The Board of Education shall not attempt to decide upon any question under consideration before examining and evaluating relevant information.  The Superintendent of Schools shall be given an opportunity to examine and to evaluate all such information, and to recommend action before the Board attempts to make a decision.

Finally, in addition to the clarification we’ve requested, we also ask that you require the Board to reconsider its submission and allow for public discourse, in the interest of open and transparent communication.
Yours truly,

Barbara A. Nevergold, PhD, At-Large Member

Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ferry District Member

Theresa Harris-Tigg, PhD, East District Member

Mary Ruth Kapsiak, Central District Member

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: The Truth Will Out

In last week’s article, I cited an interview with New York State Commissioner of Education, Dr. John B. King, Jr., which referenced comments and sentiments confirming his agreement with and support of the positions taken by the new Board majority, majority and their hand-picked Interim Superintendent, Donald Ogilvie.  On September 18th, the date of Dr. King’s visit to Buffalo, he seemed also to say that he thought it would take time to see if this group made good on their plans to reform the District.  What the Commissioner didn’t say, however, was that he would soon be issuing a new mandate that would assist in moving that reform agenda.  In spite of the fact that the majority agreed to revise a Vision Statement that included the input of all Board members, they are moving ahead on setting up mechanisms to privatize the Buffalo Schools and create a Charter School District that will not serve the least and the left-out in their schools. Independent Charter Schools will inherit our buildings, not necessarily the children in those buildings because they will be free to set their own admissions criteria.   

On October 7th, the Commissioner sent a surprise new mandate to the District that informed the Board that East and Lafayette High Schools were, in addition, to Bennett and MLK Institute #39 being declared “Out of Time Schools”.  He ordered the Board to provide a timeline for the next steps for these schools, which could include, per the Commissioner’s Regulations 100.2(p) and 100.18, closure, phasing out and phasing in a new school, converting the schools to charter schools (the conversion process is different from allowing a charter group to take over the school) partnering with the State University of New York to operate the schools or entering into an agreement with an Educational Partner Organization.  Independent Charters are not explicitly cited in these Regulations:

The Commissioner gave the Board until October 20th to respond to this new order.  However, within a 24 hour time span, Mr. Ogilvie drafted a set of Resolutions that he presented to the Board for adoption at its October 8th meeting.  Members of the Board’s majority proceeded to amend the Resolutions to request that the Commissioner offer a new exclusive round for independent charter school applications that only applied to Buffalo.  Over the objections of the Board’s minority, who requested time to consider all implications of the Commissioner’s new mandate; time for open and transparent communication to the community; and time to engage the parents and other stakeholders in the affected schools, the majority passed the Resolutions.
These Resolutions were rammed through the Board, in record time!  Why?  The “Vision Statement” issued by the new majority in July when they took office proposed an agenda that turns over our schools to private sector operators.  In other words this action is part of a reform agenda that has roots in a nation-wide privatization plan for public education.  It is well-planned, orchestrated, well financed and supported at the highest level of the state’s educational hierarchy.  You might ask if I’m being over dramatic or dabbling in conspiracy thinking.  All I have to say to that question, for now, is that you should check out the New York State Education Department’s website, where you’ll find a posting for “Prospective Charter School Applicant Groups and Charter School Operators – Buffalo ONLY”.  The date of this posting?  October 10th, first thing in the morning    To increase the likelihood of numerous applications the State is dangling a potential grant of $750,000 as an additional incentive.

We need your support.  Call/write Mr. Ogilvie and let him know you object to his actions – 816-3575.  The community should have an open and transparent session(s) to get information about the meaning of this mandate.  Also Call/write the Commissioner,    Your voices can make a difference.

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: Commissioner John B. King, Jr., Cheerleader for the New Majority

I’ve written on several occasions about the strategic messaging of the Buffalo News regarding former Superintendent Pamela C. Brown and the minority members of the Board of Education.  Their stories have been consistently negative and biased or have purposely omitted information that might have given readers a more balanced view of the Superintendent and Board members, particularly the significant student outcomes achieved during her tenure and the role of the majority members in undermining Dr. Brown.  But I have to admit that there are stories that even the Buffalo News cannot manipulate to hide their veracity.  Some stuff you just cannot make up.  I offer the following comments by New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King during a recent interview.   Over the past two years Dr. King has used his regulatory powers to issue numerous mandates and compliance orders to the District.

Dr. King made a surprise visit (none of the minority Board members knew he was coming) to Buffalo on September 18th.  As he normally does, he met with the News’ education reporter.  His remarks about the School District, three months after Dr. Brown’s departure, were reported in an article entitled “State is giving School Board more time to enact reform:  Education Chief optimistic on new majority’s agenda” and are strikingly candid about the Commissioner’s acceptance and support of the New Majority faction of the Buffalo Board of Education to the exclusion of the minority members.

Specifically, Dr. King:

·         Credited the new majority for making amends with the State (especially since current Board President James Sampson and At-Large Member Larry Quinn went to Albany for a secret meeting with the Commissioner before the new majority took office; they claim no deals were made, but it’s obvious that the Commissioner and the Board members reached some agreement; perhaps about the selection of the Interim Superintendent as noted in the article)

·         Commended the new majority for hiring Don Ogilvie as Interim Superintendent; the article acknowledged that Mr. Ogilvie is a mentor of the Commissioner

·         Approves of the new majority’s philosophy on educational reform because it aligns with the Commissioner’s own philosophy

·         Is “more optimistic than at any other time” about the future of the District (under the leadership of the new majority and Mr. Ogilvie)

·         “Championed” the new majority’s creation of a “Vision Statement”, even though that statement was created without the knowledge, involvement or input of the four minority members
·         Ignoring this obvious exclusion of a significant part of the Board,  Dr. King stated that the task of the new majority is to “transfer their vision statement into some concrete plans”

As if the foregoing wasn’t enough to paint a portrait of the bias of the Commissioner of State Education in favor of a Board faction comprised of only the majority members, the Commissioner concluded his interview with the most outrageous and revealing statement of his dismissive attitude toward the African American women minority members of the Board by saying:
“I’ve been at the department for five years,” King said. “Up until three months ago, you would regularly have members of the board majority or the superintendent saying, essentially, that the state was picking on the district to expect better outcomes. So now you have the board leadership and the district leadership saying that ‘We believe that schools can be the difference for kids. We believe that schools matter. We believe that poverty doesn't determine outcomes, that we can overcome the obstacles that poverty creates if we improve schools.’”

Like I said, you just can’t make this stuff up!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Buffalo Schools at the Crossroads: The Myth of Failing Schools_Are You Smarter than a 3rd Grader?

For the last few weeks I have been writing about the impact that the New York State Standardized Assessments:  the ELA (English Language Arts) and Math Tests have on how our schools are categorized – Good Standing, Focus and Priority.  This will be the last in the series on this issue for now.  But before I leave this subject I thought my readers would be interested in getting a first-hand look at an actual test question (space does not permit more).  The State Education Department released a sampling of the 2014 tests in August and you can find these questions and rationales used for grading each test at

The ELA Tests are principally made up of long reading passages.  The paragraphs in the articles are numbered and students are given multiple choice questions or are asked to write short answer responses.  The multiple choice questions give four possible answers.  Students need to reference the article in order to provide their answer.  The Math tests combine word problems along with questions based on charts, graphs and other visuals.  Here is an example from the 3rd grade Math Test.

The ELA and Math Tests are given to all children in the schools, across New York State.  That includes students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency.  While these students are given some accommodations, e.g. students with disabilities are given more time to finish the tests, they take the SAME tests.  This means that other than extended time, there is no substantial differentiation in the tests themselves for students who have different levels of ability.

The ELA tests are given over a three day period during one week followed by the Math tests over the same period during the following week or two.  The testing series takes about an hour and a half for each day of testing.  The tests are timed, so this adds added stress to the test taking process for students who have test anxiety or do not do well on timed tests.  There are many more issues regarding student response to these tests.  For example, many parents in Buffalo and other Districts have decided to have their children “Opt-out” of the testing.

Over the next few weeks I will be asking teachers for feedback on their experiences with their students and will share those in a future article.  If you are a teacher and want to share your experiences; bad and good with the New York State ELA and Math Tests, Grades 3-8, please email me at

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Myth of Failing Schools: The Case of Houghton Academy #69– An Injustice or Just Plain Dumb?

September 21, 2014

For the last few weeks, I’ve been exploring the myth of our “failing schools”.  I want to be clear; I am not offering an argument opposing the fact that we have serious problems in our schools.  But the issues contributing to poor student achievement are complex and should not be defined solely through the lens of standardized tests.   Yet, detractors are quick to cite these test statistics as a rationale to justify the labeling of our schools and the children in them as “failing”.

Each year, the New York State Education Department compels children in grades 3 thru 8 to take standardized tests that measure English Language Arts (ELA) and Math proficiency.   High school students take regents exams in these subjects, in addition to other subjects.   As such these tests are used as the basis to assess and categorize our schools as:  good standing, focus or priority (with priority being the schools with the lowest tests results).  Again, it’s important to point out that all students, with few exceptions, take these standardized tests.  That includes students with disabilities and students who have limited English proficiency. 

The tests were changed radically in 2012-13 to conform to the new Common Core Learning Standards.  The result was a precipitous drop in the percentage of students, across the State, who ranked at the proficient or exceeds proficient levels.   In fact, only about 30% of all students scored at these levels. The 2013-2014 tests produced negligible growth, particularly in the ELA exam results.  None the less, Buffalo’s International School #45 and Houghton Academy, School 69 both demonstrated “historical growth”, based on the standardized measures and other growth measures over a period of time. This warranted both schools being moved to the Schools in Good Standing List.  But, and here’s the irony or the insanity of the system, the District could not move Houghton Academy to a School in Good Standing without moving a current Good Standing School from that list to the Focus List! 

When Board members received this information, we were dumbfounded.  Why?  The explanation lies in the State’s submission of a Waiver request to the Federal government.  Now, I admit that I don’t understand the details of this Waiver.  I even posed the question to Commissioner John King last week during his visit to Buffalo.  He gave me an explanation but it’s really not any clearer.  I will have a conversation with a State Education Department member this week so I have a better understanding.  The bottom line, however, is that the Buffalo School District is deprived of having another school moved to the School in Good Standing List.  Not because the school, its students, its teachers and administrators have not earned this designation but because there are bureaucratic guidelines in place which will not permit the move, unless we penalize a current school in good standing by placing it on the Focus School list.  It doesn’t make sense!

So, here are my questions to the Commissioner and his staff, “How do we incentivize individual schools to improve student achievement when they may not get moved to the Good Standing School list because of a bureaucratic impediment?”  “How can a District like Buffalo be properly recognized for improvement?”  “With this system, how will we ever move the District forward, school by school, to one that has many schools in good standing?”   “What do we tell Houghton Academy about why their achievement did not get the proper recognition they deserve?”  If you have other questions, please email me and let me know, so I can pose those too?  Send mail to

The Myth of Failing Schools: Part 2

September 14, 2014

We all know that tests and testing are an integral part of our educational system.  In fact we’ve all taken our share of tests, no matter how far we’ve gone in the system.   Certainly there is a place and a rationale for educational testing.  Tests measure student growth from one point in time to another, e.g. from the beginning of the year (or class) until the end or at points in between.  Testing can also be diagnostic; to identify gaps in student learning or to determine areas of need for a specific student or group of students.  Teachers can use the information from this form of testing to target instruction or develop individualized strategies to accommodate a student’s differential learning needs.  Testing, however, is also used to assess overall student achievement in individual schools or in an entire school district.  And recently, we also see the use of testing as a tool to evaluate teacher effectiveness and competency.

When the conversation is about “failing schools”, however, the tests most often cited are the standardized ELA (English Language Arts) and Math tests that students in grades 3-8 take annually.  Students across the state take the same tests so that the State can compare the students in Buffalo to the students in Williamsville to the students in Rochester or Syracuse for example.  And according to the State’s newly adopted Common Core Learning Standards, these tests “more accurately reflect students’ progress toward college and career readiness.” Students are ranked, as a result of their scores, in levels 1-4.  Level 1 = well below proficient in the standards for this grade level, Level 2 = below proficient, Level 3 = proficient and Level 4 = excels.  Children with special needs and children with limited English proficiency also take these tests with little to no compensation for their needs.

In 2012-2013 the State Education Department changed these tests to align with the new Common Core Learning Standards.  The result was that student scores plummeted across the state.  Even children in Districts that had consistently scored high level 3s and 4s experienced a major drop in their rankings.  Only 31.3% of students scored proficient or excels on the ELA, while 31.2% obtained those ranks in Math.  In Buffalo, our students scored 12.1% in ELA and 11.4% in Math.  We scored higher than students in Rochester (5.6% and 4.8%) and Syracuse (8.5% and 7.2%).  Scores did not improve appreciably in 2013-2014 when state-wide scores for ELA were 31.4% and 35.8% for Math.  Buffalo’s scores also showed modest gains, ELA score rose to 12.2% matching the one tenth of a percent gain statewide and the Math score went to 13.1%.  Again compared to our sister Western New York cities, Rochester students scored 5.7% in ELA and 6.8% in Math; while Syracuse posted the same score in ELA, 8.5% and Math at 7.6%.

So why does all of this matter?  Let’s set the record straight.  Too often, people including some Board of Education members recklessly label our schools as failing as a result of the scores on these standardized tests.   Remember that these are standardized tests that ALL students take, with almost no exception.  There was a time when African American and other minority group members questioned the validity of standardized testing with our children.

Issues of cultural bias and relevance of these tests were questioned.  Today the questions are broad-based and go to the issues of instructional time spent on test preparation instead of teaching; on tests that tell us little about the individual child as they are not diagnostic; of subjecting children to long hours of testing that  frustrate and demoralize them; the use of testing based on new standards (the Common Core Learning Standards) that have not yet been validated; the promotion of these tests almost exclusively benefiting one testing company; the use of these tests as measures of teacher effectiveness and competence (again a new idea, as yet unsubstantiated as credible). 

By raising these questions I am not ignoring or minimizing the problems we have in student achievement gaps in our schools.  We do have a lot of work to do to improve student learning.  But it’s time that local educators, parents and interested community members have an open dialogue about the Common Core Learning Standards, the use of the accompanying standardized tests and how they affect our children ; how they’re used, what they tell us, and how they inform the education of our children.  Let’s clear up the myths, half-truths and labeling of our schools and the children in them.