I have to admit I’m torn on the issue of high-stakes testing. In a recent article for the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss aptly describes it as a national obsession in education thanks to No Child Left Behind.
Her piece includes a column by Kenneth Bernstein, an award-winning teacher and education blogger. Bernstein, who is now retired, offers a warning to college professors about the students graduating from the nation’s high schools and arriving in their higher ed classrooms.
Bernstein offers a firsthand account of why many college freshmen struggle: they’ve spent the last decade learning how to identify the right answer in multiple choice-style questions; they’re not required to make cogent arguments to substantiate their choices.
The second point Bernstein makes: the teaching profession has been whittled away by policy makers and politicians who have never taught a child or managed a classroom. Even exceptional teachers are routinely ignored, a point made by National Teacher of the Year, Anthony Mullen, in his blog “Teachers Should be Seen and Not Heard” writes Bernstein.
Would we ever knowingly agree to have surgery by a doctor who was taught from a curriculum developed by people with no medical training? The idea seems absurd, but I’ll bet Bernstein’s question resonates with many teachers and principals.
At a recent breakfast with a friend who happens to be a dean at a local college, I was surprised to see how her love of teaching had waned in recent years. Many freshman today are not at all prepared for the rigors of college, she said. The first year of college is now spent on remedial learning for many students, she said, and the problem isn’t confined to students who come from urban school districts.
For that reason, Bernstein concludes his piece with an apology to his college colleagues. But I think his apology was directed to all of us, especially the students.
Last night, the Legislature agreed to let Monroe County buy space from Kodak for a new Monroe Community College city campus. But Legislature Democrats, all of whom voted against the legislation, and Mayor Tom Richards say the county unnecessarily rushed the deal (Richards' statement is at the end of this blog).
The county plans to buy and renovate several buildings at Kodak's State Street site for MCC. It has a tentative agreement with Kodak to purchase more than 560,000 square feet of space, plus part of a parking lot — though MCC will only use 275,000 square feet initially. The county, college, and Kodak negotiated a purchase price of just under $3 million. The county and college are still negotiating with Kodak over llingering details of the sale.
Democrats questioned several aspects of the deal at last night's meeting, including the cost of maintaining the unused space ($100,000 a year, said MCC President Anne Kress) and the certainty of $30 million in state funding that college officials say is set aside for the project. MCC has a $72 million budget to buy and renovate the campus.
Democrats also pushed for college and county officials to consider a proposal by the Sibley building's new owner, WinnCompanies. Winn says it can renovate 275,000 square feet of space at the building for $57 million;
MCC officials are skeptical of the plan. Andrews offered a motion to table the Kodak deal, but it was voted down along party lines.
The final vote was also split along party lines, with 19 Republicans voting for the legislation and nine Democrats voting against it.
After the vote, Mayor Richards issued this statement:
"It is unfortunate that the Republican caucus of the Monroe County Legislature opted not to take the time to adequately study and address the myriad of questions surrounding the purchase and the operation of the old Kodak site for use by MCC. I want to say here and now, that the cost to purchase and renovate the Kodak space is just one concern as there is an alternative that is $18 million cheaper. Of larger concern are the operating costs of the facility. Lacking is a clear explanation of how the operating costs will be funded. The college is buying twice the amount of space they need. There are also purchasing an entire heating and cooling plant — not just for their space — but for the entire Kodak Tower complex. MCC will now have to find a way to operate the plant and become a small utility company and not just a college.
"How will the cost to heat the unused space and the costs of operating the heating plant be paid for? Will the County divide up the extra costs and pass them onto taxpayers with their charge-back fee system? This will put a great burden on City taxpayers as well as on the larger towns who send students to MCC as well. We don't know the answer to these questions and still the County is moving ahead and entering to a binding deal that could needlessly cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The hard part to understand is that there is no rush needed here. MCC has a new five-year lease at Sibley and there is no one beating a path to purchase the Kodak site. The public did not get a chance to participate in this decision and I fear taxpayers will be left to pay a bill they can ill afford."
It looks like the state may not make its deadline for finalizing fracking regulations (draft regulations are here). But it could begin reviewing well permit applications after it finalizes an environmental statement on the extraction technique.
Today, state Health Department Commissioner Nirav Shah sent a letter to Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, saying he wants more time to study the health impacts of fracking. In September, Martens asked Shah to conduct the review. In the letter, which is attached below, Shah says he anticipates submitting the completed review within a few weeks.
The DEC faces a February 27 deadline to finalize high-volume hydraulic fracturing regulations. But in order to do that, the department must first finalize its environmental impact statement on fracking and publish a findings statement in the Environmental Notice Bulletin. That would have to happen no later than February 17.
In a statement sent out this afternoon, Martens says the department will not issue the final environmental statement — officially called the supplemental generic environmental impact statement — until the health review is completed. But he also said that the department could begin reviewing well permits without the final regulations in place. From the statement:
However, this does not mean that the issuance of permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing would be delayed. If the DOH public health review finds that the SGEIS has adequately addressed health concerns, and I adopt the SGEIS on that basis, DEC can accept and process high-volume hydraulic fracturing permit applications 10 days after issuance of the SGEIS. The regulations simply codify the program requirements.
If, on the other hand, the DOH review finds that there is a public health concern that has not been assessed in the SGEIS or properly mitigated, we would not proceed, as I have stated in the past.
In either event, the science, not emotion, will determine the outcome.
When Rodney Anderson, 50, had a physical at a local health fair, he asked for a prostate-specific antigen test — which is used to detect prostate cancer. The health workers told him he didn’t need to take the test, since it mostly occurs in older men.
Anderson’s test came back positive. But the bigger surprise came when he told his mother about his diagnosis. She told him that some men in Anderson's immediate family have it, too, but refuse to discuss it.
Based in part on his own experience, Anderson recently founded the Rochester chapter of Us Too, an international network of education and support for prostate cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones. Us Too meets at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at the Jewish Community Center, 1200 Edgewood Drive.
This month, however, Us Too meets tomorrow evening, Wednesday, February 13.
More than 232,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the US yearly, and about 30,000 die from the disease. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US. Men who have immediate family members with the disease are at twice the risk of developing prostate cancer, and African-American men are also at greater risk for this form of cancer.
Many men have difficulty talking about prostate cancer, but the emotional and physical toll can be difficult to handle without support.
“I decided I was going to start talking more about this, and I have the full support of my wife,” Anderson says. “And I encourage other men to do the same.”
It’s hard to say why many men react to prostate cancer with silence. Some may be concerned with post-operation problems or how the disease will impact their relationships.
Patrick Fisher, program coordinator for Us Too in Rochester, says the group's meetings have been well-attended. The meetings feature a speaker who is an expert on topics of interest to the group, Fisher says, stressing that the meetings are open to loved ones, too.
Education and support comprise Us Too’s primary mission, according to its website. But joining a prostate cancer support group serves another important objective: advocacy. Researchers need to learn more about prostate cancer to find better treatment options and a cure. That’s reason enough to keep talking about it.
Information about Us Too can be found at www.ustoo.org or by email: email@example.com.
Any doubts about whether Alex White would run for office were immediately erased when he showed up at his press conference this afternoon wearing a button with his name on it and the slogan, “A Rochester for all of us.”
White, a Rochester businessman, is seeking the Green Party endorsement to run for mayor (his speech from this afternoon's press conference is below). He has in the recent past waged unsuccessful bids for mayor and City Council with the backing of the Greens.
White is the third person to express interest in the mayor’s office. Mayor Tom Richards, a Democrat, is running again, while City Council President Lovely Warren is weighing a primary challenge to Richards.
White rattled off a populist platform at this afternoon’s press conference. He spoke out against subsidies for wealthy developers and in favor of community policing, though he didn’t answer directly when asked if Rochester should return to a multi-station model, as some advocate. He said there should be more officers on the street and they should be more engaging and not more aggressive.
“We live in a city where stop-and-frisk and pray for rain are the top police strategies,” he said.
A Green Party spokesperson said the party is attempting to run multiple candidates — possibly a full slate — for City Council this year; all five at-large seats are up. Council people Carolee Conklin, Dana Miller, Loretta Scott, Jackie Ortiz, and Matt Haag are all seeking re-election, according to a Council spokesperson.
Rochester businessman Alex White will make an announcement this afternoon regarding the 2013 elections. White, a member of the Green Party, has waged unsuccessful bids for Rochester mayor and City Council in the recent past.
“There has been speculation as to my intentions for the local races this year,” White said in a press release. “I have been talking with people all over the city, getting advice and feedback, and I’ve come to a decision that I hope will bring people together to help Rochester achieve its full potential.”
The mayor’s office is up this year, as are all five at-large seats on City Council. Incumbent Mayor Tom Richards is seeking re-election, and may be challenged in a Democratic primary election by City Council President Lovely Warren.
White’s announcement is at 1:15 p.m. today, Monday, February 11, outside Rochester City Hall, 30 Church Street. Christine Carrie Fien
City schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas will hold a public meeting on the 2013 to 2014 proposed budget at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12. Vargas is projecting a $50 million gap in the $726 million proposal, and is soliciting input from parents, residents, and community leaders. The hearing is at central office, 131 West Broad Street.
The Rochester school board’s monthly business meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 14, which is a week earlier than usual due to February recess. The meeting is at central office.
Rochester for Obama will hold a State of Our Union watch party at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12. Volunteers and supporters can watch the president’s address and discuss ways to support his initiatives at the local level. The party is at Merchants Grill, 881 Merchants Road. Tim Louis Macaluso
The County Legislature will decide the future location of Monroe Community College’s downtown campus on Tuesday night.
Legislators will vote on a referral that, if passed, authorizes the county to buy several buildings at Kodak’s State Street site; the buildings would be renovated and used for a new city campus. The legislation stipulates a purchase price of just under $3 million. The college would get approximately 562,000 square feet of space as well as part of a parking lot.
MCC officials plan to initially renovate 275,000 square feet for the new campus. SUNY officials have tentatively backed the plan and said they’ll provide financial assistance for the purchase and renovations.
Last year, WinnCompanies purchased the Sibley building, which is the current home of MCC’s city campus. Gilbert Winn, managing principal of the company, is asking the Legislature to delay Tuesday’s vote for 60 days so his company’s plans for a downtown campus can have a public airing.
Winn says it can renovate 275,000 square feet at the Sibley building for considerably less than the total cost budgeted for the Kodak site.
But MCC officials question the plan, particularly the purchase price for the Sibley building. They say the college would spend more money and end up with less space.
The Legislature meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, February 12, at the County Office Building, 39 West Main Street. Jeremy Moule
Ninety-two percent of readers responding to a Rochester Business Journal poll said they prefer Tom Richards for Rochester mayor over possible challenger Lovely Warren. Warren, who is president of City Council, is weighing a primary challenge to Richards, the incumbent. Richards announced his intention to seek re-election earlier this week.
About 740 readers participated in the RBJ poll, which was conducted February 4 and February 5.
The poll asked two questions: should Richards run again (he hadn’t announced at that point), and whom do you favor, Richards or Warren? Eighty-nine percent of poll respondents said they wanted Richards to run again.
It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the RBJ caters to a more affluent, business-oriented readership — which is in sync with Richards’ background as a lawyer and business executive.
Cap and trade advocates got some good news this morning: the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has announced plans to permit fewer carbon emissions from power plants in 2014.
RGGI, as the initiative is commonly known, is made of Northeastern states that banded together to impose stricter regulations on power sector greenhouse gas emissions. The coalition sets a limit on the emissions and auctions off allowances; it essentially creates a market-based approach to reducing emissions. The idea is to put a price on the emissions, which in turn serves as an incentive for power producers to use cleaner generating technology.
This morning, RGGI administrators announced that they're lowering the 2014 emissions cap from 165 million tons to 91 million tons. And the cap will shrink 2.5 percent each year after 2014 through 2020. By 2020, emissions should be 14 million tons to 20 million tons lower than they would have been under the previous cap, says an RGGI press release.
The lower cap shouldn't come as a surprise. In his State of the State address, Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed for the adjusted cap. He said power plant emissions in the RGGI states were already below the 165 million ton cap, that they were emitting only 91 million tons.
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas told parents, teachers, and community leaders in his State of our Schools speech last night that the district can be turned around. But he simultaneously lowered expectations, saying that it will take years, and test scores and the district’s graduation rate could get worse before they improve.
“I want you to know that doesn’t mean our teachers are working less and our students aren’t learning as much,” he said. The state’s academic standards have become more rigorous, he said.
Vargas laid out his priorities, which have become familiar themes: increasing instruction time by expanding the school day in 10 schools in the fall; reaching full reading proficiency by third grade; doubling down on early childhood education; and firmly committing to neighborhood community schools.
“We want neighborhood schools to be our parents’ first choice,” Vargas said. “I want to make it very difficult for parents to want to leave their neighborhood for another school.”
He also revisited his two long-standing concerns: attendance and offering students more music, arts, and sports. The district is aiming for a 93 percent to 95 percent attendance rate. Though some improvements in the district’s attendance record keeping have taken place, the attendance rate is still below 90 percent.
Music, arts, and sports are essential to drawing students to school and increasing parental engagement, Vargas said.
Noting that black and Latino males in city schools have less opportunity to participate in sports than they did 20 years ago, Vargas said, “You will never see a budget while I’m superintendent that cuts music, arts, and physical education activities.”
Though Vargas faces a $50 million budget gap for next year, he is counting on the state to help fund expanded school days and universal pre-K. And two new grants may help him fund some of his other priorities. Governor Andrew Cuomo has awarded the district a $1.5 million grant for three years to find office and operating efficiencies. The money saved from a more streamlined operation would be redirected to open the first pre-K program in the city for 3 year olds.
And the Gates Foundation has awarded the district a $3 million grant to hire a consulting firm to move the district away from short-term, year-by-year budgeting to a more long-term three-to-five-year budget plan.
“We can’t do everything we want, but at least this way we can be sure that our core priorities remain funded, and we don’t get off track,” Vargas said after the presentation.
In a delivery that rambled at times, Vargas profusely thanked members of the audience, which included nearly every local politician from Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks and State Senator Joe Robach to Mayor Tom Richards and City Council President Lovely Warren.
But most of Vargas’s personal references went to School Board President Malik Evans, who Vargas said he remembered as a student. The strong working relationship between Vargas and Evans was clear. It was also evident that Evans’s political future is linked to helping Vargas succeed.
In his remarks, Evans said the district had been through years of transition. And Vargas’s well-established roots in the community have been his strongest asset, Evans said.
“I believe, we believe, he has brought stability to the district,” he said.
Vargas’s hometown roots may buy him more leeway than some of his predecessors received. And he’s managed to spread the responsibility for student success beyond his office at 131 West Broad Street to the offices of many of the leaders who attended last night’s event.
Vargas should own the copyright to his trademark message: “We can’t do it alone.”
But last night he added an ominous warning, saying this was the community’s “last chance” to reverse years of decline in the school district. While Vargas said he believes a 70 percent graduation rate is still possible, his statement left some people wanting further explanation.
City officials are asking the state for permission to form a land bank, an entity it'd use to help address vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties.
This morning, Mayor Tom Richards announced that the city has submitted a formal application to Empire State Development, the state's economic development agency. The application proposes creating the Rochester Land Bank, a nonprofit corporation operated by the city. A state law enacted in 2011 allows a limited number of local governments to set up land banks, pending state approval.
Land banks have more leeway than city government to acquire and transfer properties. Under the application, the Rochester Land Bank would take title to approximately 25 properties each year for the first two years of operation, says a press release. It would supply the homes to HOME Rochester, a Greater Rochester Housing Partnership program that rehabs vacant single-family homes and sells them to first-time buyers.
The release also says that a typical home demolition costs the city $25,000. A home can be rehabbed through the HOME Rochester program for less money, and doing so puts the property back on the tax rolls.
The city's press release says that HOME Rochester purchased 21 properties last year through the tax foreclosure process. The purchases cost the program $249,000. But by using a land bank, the properties could have been transferred to the program at no cost, which would have provided more funding for rehab work, the press release says.