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On M.L. King Day: Greater Rochester's Leaders, & Everyday Citizens, Have Much to Learn About Equality in Education
On M.L. King Day:  Greater Rochester's Leaders, & Everyday Citizens,  Have Much to Learn About Equality in Education

The Promised Land: But shouldn't Brown vs. Bd. of Ed. guarantee ALL students in Monroe County this caliber of public school?

Monday, January 21, 2013  Rochester, NY -  Yet another article by a business leader claiming that charter schools and vouchers are the cure-all for our broken education system has left me deeply frustrated. 

We have been hearing this tired solution for decades and have yet to see the widespread educational outcomes promised by local and national advocates. What I do see is a policy option embraced by people who care about the poor as long as the poor do not live in their community nor attend their schools.  These folks attack urban educators with the platitude “all children can learn,” leaving out  “just not in my school.”  These supposed education revolutionaries cling to their illogical ideology that supports rather than challenges the status quo.  They ignore the simple solution staring us in the face-economically integrating our public schools.  

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  With few exceptions, schools with high concentrations of disadvantaged children (more than 50% receiving free or reduced-priced lunch), are not successful because a significant number of these children are disruptive to the educational process.  (These tend to be the children that “magically” disappear from the charter schools after a month and are taken back into the public schools.) Of course these children are intelligent capable beings who can learn.  Indeed many of them have learned far more than their suburban counterparts about how to survive with minimal adult supervision.  But the truth of the matter is that the more concentrated poverty in a school the more challenges that a school must overcome. 

Understandably these are not schools that middle-class parents want to send their children to no matter how enticing the curriculum might be.  Their fears that their child will be exposed to lowered academic expectations, bullying, and less resources in the form of high-level classes, materials and enrichment activities are not unfounded.  Last time I checked no city school offered mountain biking or archery in P.E. class.  

On the other hand, schools with a large percentage of middle class students (aka suburban schools) are exactly where poor folks should, and for the most part, want to send their children.  There is a plethora of research that supports the common sense notion that when you immerse children with less resources in schools with more resources, lo and behold, they rise to the expectations.  Most experts put this number at, no more than, approximately 30% to 40% of the population receiving free and reduced lunch.  My own children attend a school in which it is closer to 50%  and although my daughter, a high school senior, is not Harvard-bound, that has more to do with her missing the elusive math aptitude gene, than lack of challenging classes and rich curriculum. The class of 2012’s co-valedictorians both went onto prestigious schools where they are thriving.  

Indeed children who are high-academic achievers will continue on this path as long as enough parents and thus children in their school buy into a culture of academic excellence.  Because the resources in a school are not just the classrooms, books, teachers and administrators but to the largest extent the parents and their children.  The social capital they bring to schools is paramount.  Middle class parents advocate for good teachers, coaches, curriculum and enrichment experiences.  They howl when there are bad teachers on staff and force administrators to get rid of them.  They volunteer for field trips and booster clubs, and give rides to kids whose parents are still at work.  Most importantly, they have the expectation that their child will go onto college and in order to do that expect them to go to class, listen to the teacher, do their homework and study for tests. Academic achievement is valued and encouraged. This does not mean that less affluent parents do not value education -- many do.  However a strong presence of middle class families in a school guarantees a culture of learning that all students benefit from. 

The city schools with the highest test scores, graduation rates and teacher transfer demand, are the ones with (by far) the most  children attending who come from middle class households:  School of the Arts, the International Baccalaureate program at Wilson, the World of Inquiry, 23 School and the Montessori School all hold their own against suburban and private schools.  Miraculously they do this with unionized teachers within a six to seven hour school day and 180 day school year.  Clearly we don’t need to create charter schools or provide vouchers to educate all children.  

In addition, many middle class parents, urban and suburban, value an integrated (by class and ethnicity) educational setting for their children.  That my own children are just as at ease hanging out with their North Street Recreation Center soccer team as their travel suburban team, gives them a perspective and comfort level interacting with people from all walks of life, which most employers would find advantageous in our demographically changing society.  Yet I hear not a peep from pro-business groups about integrating schools to better reflect our community-wide demographics.  (Whether you buy that argument or not, at least my kid’s school didn’t have to recruit black actors from other schools for their theatre musical production of “Hairspray.”)   

Urban parents also have the opportunity to shop for schools that are a good fit for their child, a fact that appears to be lost on some of our “free market principle” proponents. (Why are the only valid choices for poor urban kids charters and vouchers?  What about housing choices?) I wish I had a dollar for every time a suburban parent inquired whether their child could attend School of the Arts. I know many parents would gladly put their child on a bus for 30 minutes one-way to attend a thriving Montessori, Science Technology Engineering and Math,  Expeditionary Learning, Outward Bound  or an IB school,  even if it is not located in the best section of town.  As long as there are enough middle class peers to maintain the quality of a school, parents would welcome the many curriculum choices available to city students.  

Indeed, regional magnet schools are a logical solution to economically de-segregating our schools.  If they have the courage to, I am confident that the creative and competent business and political leaders of this community,  in consultation with educators,  can design and implement a plan that allows for choice and economic integration in a way that dramatically increases graduation rates for our neediest children while increasing “free-market” choices for all parents.  It’s, as they say in business parlance, “a win-win.” 

Let me be clear, I am not anti-innovation, am most certainly not anti-school choice but most assuredly am anti-hypocrisy.  If the business and political leaders in this community want positive results they should implement an educational policy that will cost no more or less than the roads we have already taken and fight for an education system that looks much like the success stories of Montgomery County, Maryland, Wake County, North Carolina  and Jefferson County, Kentucky.  These are all school districts in the U.S that have economically integrated their schools in a variety of ways.  The results?  Double digit increases in graduation rates for traditionally low-achieving groups of students, not just in a few schools, not just for a handful of students, but district-wide.  I simply cannot understand why, when faced with the overwhelming evidence that economic integration works on such a grand-scale, powerful players in the education “reform” movement continue to insist that charter schools and vouchers are the only way to go.  It begs to question, what are their true motives? 

It’s time for us to challenge Rochester’s elites to grow a backbone and do everything in their power to structure a county-wide, economically integrated school system that offers high standard educational opportunities for all.  Will they back up their claim that they are “fighting for the children, not the adults” and do something that may not be politically expedient or popular but that we know works? I’m not holding my breath.

Linda Lopata, of Rochester, is a former public school teacher, is currently an exercise instructor for the Greater Rochester YMCA, and is a parent with children in the RCSD.

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Member Opinions:
By: admin on 1/23/13
Linda, what a great article. I have been saying we need a "Monroe County" school system for years! Please submit this to the D&C editorial page.

Just getting folks to discuss this issue is impossible. However the economic segregation of classes is evident. It truly is rich vs poor. Race is also a strong factor in this. Rochester schools look like Mississippi in the 1940s. The city schools (except SOTA) are over crowded, under funded for the societal problems they must deal with, and are scary dirty buildings! Nobody seems to care that this is not a representation of equality for all.

People need to comment on this regardless of their opinion. A dialogue needs to take place. Silence is defeat, acceptance of the status quo, and a desire to keep inequality in education, the norm.

Dave Wurz
Hemlock, NY

By: admin on 1/23/13
"Economic Integration"?

Are you advocating just sending City of Rochester kids to the suburbs? Or should we also make suburban families send their children to city schools, to help the city do a better job of education? That would be "Economic Integration" also.

You actually stumbled on the real answer in your writing. In your own words, "Indeed many of them have learned far more than their suburban counterparts about how to survive with minimal adult supervision". Minimal adult supervision IS the problem. It's not that the schools outside of the city have more "Economic Integration"; it's that they have MORE PARENTS WHO CARE!

Fix that, and you will fix more than just the schools! Many rural communities are "economic integration"-ally challenged as well, but parents seem to participate at school board meetings, teacher/parent meetings, and other school functions. They have more parents who care.

"Economic Integration", Now that's a straw man that can be seen from SPACE! Just what we need, more socialist crap!

Robert W. Henry
LakeSideDigital
Canadice, NY

By: 2che on 1/23/13
Linda's observation has considerable merit. It raises the immediate question, though, how and where do you start?
Would the Monroe County Legislature form the "Monroe County School District" and consolidate the various school districts one at a time, or all at once? Or, might the RCSD "adopt" neighboring school districts one-by-one? Which politicians, which school boards, which parent groups will have the strength and perseverance to see it through to completion? Might the various Teachers' Unions be helpful, or not?
Sounds something like Consolidation of County Services, another worthy idea which has been around for decades, but has had limited success.
My guess is that, once implemented, there would be a migration of many urban students toward suburban schools which would experience manageable growth. But not many suburban students would transfer toward the urban schools unless and until they become competitive and attractive.
For now, the question seems to be, how and where do you get started?
Tom Shea
Rochester

By: admin on 1/24/13
Mr. Henry, we both identified the problem. I provided a credible solution; you blame, and nothing else. I am open to other proven strategies that work to get parents more involved, be they 'carrot stick' or a combination of the two.

Simply blaming parents doesn't help children, if indeed that is your intent. In the meantime enjoy the success of economic integration in Canadice, where I am certain that less than 50% of children qualify for free and reduced lunch. It is my hope that if your cash-strapped rural school district is forced to consilidate with another, perhaps more afluent one, they do not respond as viscerally as you did to the thought of attendeing school with others from a less desirable zip code.

As for "socialist crap" I believe public schooling, be it rural, suburban or urban could be tucked under that charming heading.

Linda Lopata
Rochester, NY

By: admin on 1/24/13
Mr Wurz and Mr Shea; your positive responses give me hope. Just asking the questions about how to integrate could get the ball rolling.

I am confident that there are any number of scenarios that could be implemented with a combination of urban and suburban leaders rallying the troops. And for clarification, classrooms in the city are overcrowded due to budget cuts, but the schools themselves are not since we have been losing population for decades.

As for SOTA it receives less funding than other RCSD schools but also educates a less challenging population. There a far fewer English as a Second Language and Special Education students at SOTA than most of the other high schools.

Linda Lopata
Rochester, NY

By: dkmiller26 on 1/24/13
Thanks for the great article Linda. Monroe County has the size and diversity to create a county-wide district that could be successful. Allowing students to attend any school as long as no more than 40% of the students in a building qualify for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL) would make a huge difference.

With high-quality options like School of the Arts, Wilson IB, Montessori, and World of Inquiry, this movement of students would not have to be a one-way street from the City to the suburbs.

Looking at a Pittsford district with 4% FRPL, and Rochester with 89% FRPL it is not hard to see how disparity in opportunity leads to disparity in outcomes.

A few options would make sense like one combined district, 4 quadrant districts, or a "pie" solution where surrounding suburban districts add city schools by extending a wedge from their existing areas.

The suggestion that urban parents care less about their children is ridiculous. It is true however that a single parent working multiple jobs will have less time to help with the projects, transportation, and homework. You very clearly pointed out how this can be balanced out to a large extent by the social capital brought by other parents who DO have more time and resources. This is much more easily accomplished if 60% of the parents have resources than if only 9% of the parents do.

Dana K. Miller
Rochester NY

By: 2che on 1/24/13
Ms Lopata, Thank you for your kind thoughts, and revealing insights.
May I submit a few hypothetical questions?
Is it conceivable that the new MCSD might "phase-itself-in" over a thirteen year period, starting with kindergarten? This way, those schools anticipating higher-than-normal enrollments (AND, those losing students) can adjust for the changes gradually.
Would individual schools be mandated to take all qualified applicants, or would MCSD be rigorously involved in staffing and space allocations?
Would school taxes disappear from city and towns over the same 13 years, and gradually become a County Property Tax?
Wouldn't it be a natural progression to phase out the individual school districts management structures in favor of a new, streamlined MCSD organizational chart? (Again, a 13 year phase in)
Is it logical to project that Special Needs students can be better educated with any number of Dedicated Schools located throughout the County?
How might the MCSD handle suburban-to-suburban transfer requests? (e.g., wouldn't there be some, say, Irondequoit students who would like to attend a Pittsford school?)
How might the school busing system be impacted? (Could be a logistical nightmare!)
Is it assumed from the outset that private schools are excluded from MCSD?
Please, keep in mind, I'm not looking for specific answers now, but rather, tossing around food for thought. Seems to me, in order to draw interest from school officials, county decision makers, parents, current and former students, teachers, unions, etc., you'll need a plan or prototype. And if you can have the answers to potential questions already included in the prototype, you are off to a good start.
Perhaps those school districts that have already converted to county-wide districts might be willing to share their experiences?
Your thoughts?
Tom Shea.

By: BobHenry on 1/25/13
Ms. Lopata,
You say "we both identified the problem". I say we need more parents who care. I implied that they should be from the community with the problem. I believe that you also say we need more parents who care, but your solution would dilute those parents who do care with those that do not. I don't see that as a solution.

How about this for a solution; abolish the city school system all together, and send all of the kids to the suburban schools.

Divide all of the money now spent on a City School District by the each student. That money will now go to the suburban school district where the student is enrolled. Allow this transfer of funds for, say 5 years, as a new funding model is created. It's like "outsourcing".

All of the teachers, administrators, support staff, school board members "Central Office" folks, can now leave the schools that have failed, and apply for jobs in the suburban schools.

Canadice has already outsourced our school aged children to surrounding central school districts. But I am not sure that, just because one qualifies for free or reduced lunches, that that should be used as a measure of parents who care. BTW, if our "rural" school districts are cash strapped, it more because of the unfunded mandates of our Federal and State governments, than the fact that we are "rural".

If I seemed visceral in my comments in response to your "solution", I apologize. I did try waiting a couple of days before I posted.

And, finally, I was not referring to public schools (of which I am a product), when I used the "socialist crap" moniker. I was specifically speaking to your "Economic Integration" as a solution.

Robert W. Henry
Canadice, NY

By: admin on 2/5/13
I certainly did not mean to imply that urban parents don't care about their child's education. There are a myriad of legitimate reasons why a good portion of urban parents are not as involved with their child's education as most suburban parents. I am not judging merely stating. Abolishing the Rochester City School District and making one regional Monroe County School District spliced into geographic zones makes perfect sense. I think you will find that many of the RCSD employees would be welcomed into such a district given their expertise and willingness to work under adverse conditions. The idea that the RCSD administrators, unionized teachers or school board is to blame for the continued failure of so many students is simply ridiculous. Anybody who has ever spent a significant amount of time in the RCSD knows how hard these folks work. Indeed many successful leaders and teachers in the suburbs cut their teeth in the RCSD. It never fails to astonish me how many folks, who have never taught a day in their life, think they know what's best for schools. If people were required to substitute teach for a week in an urban school (not even at one of the more challenging ones) they would be more informed about the obstacles disadvantaged children face and less likely to blame (as a whole) the professionals that work within the system. After all not every teacher can be Jamie Escalate nor every principal as charismatic as the ones portrayed on film. Although this is no doubt what many of our esteemed charter school and voucher proponents are counting on-anything to avoid my kids going to school with "those " children. – Linda Lopata, Rochester, NY


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