The state Legislature is poised to adjourn without doing anything to help Rochester’s school children, despite a recent study that singles out Rochester as the lowest-performing large urban school district in the nation.
Mayor Lovely Warren spoke out for a state takeover at the Rochester Beacon’s May 13 Education Forum and has proposed legislation to temporarily displace the Rochester City School District Board of Education, although only after a November referendum. Her initiative seems to have little support among the local delegation, however. Odds are that either nothing will pass or something will pass that might as well be nothing.
Let’s be honest: This school district cannot reform itself. The distinguished educator’s report identifies a number of challenges, but the most easily addressed is the RCSD board.
Bold action is politically risky. The powers that be have figured out how to control the current system and will oppose significant change both through their paid lobbyists and through their campaign contributions. Are the members of our Albany delegation more worried about offending their financial supporters than they are about the well-being of the children?
In May, the Manhattan Institute released a study of 68 of the largest school systems in the country. One finding is that performance among Rochester’s 51 schools is remarkably consistent: The difference in the share of students reported as “proficient” between the 25th and 75th percentile schools is only 9 percent. Unfortunately, RCSD has achieved the wrong kind of consistency: Nearly all of the schools are underperforming. Rochester comes in last, edging out Detroit for this dubious distinction.
Measuring and comparing the quality of individual schools is challenging, however; some have appropriately questioned the reliability of the in-district comparisons used in this study. Our position near the bottom is, sadly, hard to dispute.
The time to act is now.Every year another 800 to 900 Rochester youth drop out of school. Some will find their footing without a diploma and build successful lives. Some will return to school and graduate or complete a GED and enter the mainstream. Yet most are likely to flounder, having quit formal education without the skills needed to secure a job and launch a satisfying career.
Following the Beacon’s May 13 forum, I posted a poll that assessed support for various options. In response to the statement, “The failure of local efforts to achieve systemic, districtwide reform demands state intervention,” 88 percent agreed. And what should the state do? In response to the statement, “The state [sh]ould replace current district leadership with a board and superintendent appointed by state education officials,” poll respondents again agreed overwhelmingly, with 81 percent in favor.
This is called a “convenience” sample—it lacks the statistical validity of a large, random sample. Yet these are not naïve or unengaged respondents. They care enough to read about the challenge and engage in a thoughtful discussion about possible solutions. More results from the survey follow. In a future column I plan to address each of these options in more depth, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each.