Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What did Rhee know about cheating in DC schools?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 at 4:39 PM

This is a corrected version:
Nearly 200 teachers in roughly 70 schools appear to have been involved in another widespread city school district cheating scandal. This time, however, the “wrong to right” erasures may have happened during the tenure of the grande dame of education reform: Michelle Rhee, founder of Students First.

In a report called “Reign of Error,” PBS education reporter John Merrow questioned on his blog "Taking Note" why cheating in Washington, D.C. schools was not thoroughly investigated when Rhee was chancellor.

The erasures were discovered by a DC school official in charge of testing, writes Merrow. But what he says caught his attention is a memo that allegedly shows Rhee ignoring the official’s concern about reading scores at one school that jumped by 29 percent and scores in math that jumped by 49 percent.

Rhee handed out more than $276,000 in bonuses based in part on the higher scores. Though she said on the PBS television show "Frontline that she didn’t know the details about cheating in DC schools, but that she would look into it. Merrow hypothesizes that Rhee never pursued an aggressive investigation because the cheating simply didn’t fit her branding narrative.

Talk to teachers in elementary education today, and almost all will tell you that high-stakes testing is creating enormous anxiety. That’s partly due to the new teacher evaluations, where 20 to 40 percent is based on student test scores. There’s a lot of concern about whether test scores can fairly determine a teacher’s effectiveness.

And there’s even greater concern about what high-stakes testing is doing for students if teachers are spending too much time preparing for tests. The big question: What are students really learning?

Rhee continues to advocate for high-stakes testing and test scores as a measurement of teacher success. And politicians and education policymakers in many states have bought her neo-liberal reform agenda.

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Environmental groups push bi-national commission to advance lake levels plan

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2013 at 11:59 AM

A coalition of environmental groups is calling on the International Joint Commission to move forward with its proposed Lake Ontario levels management plan.

The IJC, a bi-national commission that handles issues involving water bodies with shared US-Canadian borders, is meeting today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C. And the environmental groups are asking the commission to schedule public hearings on plan Bv7, the proposed lake levels management plan.

The coalition includes Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Nature Conservancy, Audubon New York, and Save the River. The groups say they've collected 9,170 "expressions of support" — letters and petition signatures, essentially — for the plan. (The Nature Conservancy's website devoted to the plan is available here.)

The IJC has used the same lake levels management plan since 1963, according to its IJC website. But that plan never took the environment into consideration, and shoreline wetlands have suffered. It also doesn't take climate change, which will likely have its own impact on water levels, into consideration.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

[UPDATED] Week Ahead: College Town grocer wants tax breaks; learn about the Common Core; RCSD budget meeting

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 at 10:09 AM

Update, Tuesday, April 16: According to a spokesperson for Monroe County, Meliora Provision Co. pulled its application from this month's COMIDA agenda because they are still working out details with College Town's developer.

The company looking to build a grocery store in the future College Town project on Mount Hope wants sales and mortgage tax exemptions. Meliora Provision Co. will be making its case to the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency at noon on Tuesday, April 16, in the Watts Conference Center, 49 South Fitzhugh Street.

It will be interesting to see how COMIDA handles the application in the wake of the just-passed state-level IDA reforms, which limit exemptions for retail projects. Meliora says its project qualifies because “it will provide a product or service to the area that otherwise would not be available, and it creates jobs.”

One local reporter calls B.S. on the first part of that argument.

According to the application, the 20,000 square foot grocery store would create 44 full-time jobs. Cost of the project is approximately $2.7 million, and Meliora is asking for $179,897 in exemptions. Christine Carrie Fien


The Rochester school board will meet on Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s proposed budget for 2013 to 2014 at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16.

Some parents and teachers have raised questions about art and music programs in elementary schools, since the budget recommends increasing offerings in some schools and decreasing them in others to provide more consistent districtwide coverage.

The meeting is in the district’s central office at 131 West Broad Street.


There will be special Parent Academy meetings to educate parents about the new statewide Common Core curriculum. The new curriculum will raise the education standards in core subjects, according to state education officials.

Meetings are on Thursday, April 18; from 10 a.m. to noon and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and on Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to noon. All meetings will be held at 30 Hart Street. To register: call 262-8621 or online at www.rcsdk12.org. Tim Louis Macaluso


Two events this week will focus on scientific aspects of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the Rochester Committee on Scientific Information will host two presentations. Richard Young, a geological sciences professor at SUNY Geneseo, will make a presentation titled “Hydrofracturing: The Geologic Discussions are too Superficial.” And Thomas Shelley, a chemical safety and hazardous materials specialist, will make a presentation titled “The Health Effects and Other Hazards of Hydrofracking.” The event will be held on the RIT campus, in the Xerox Auditorium, which is in Building 9.

At 2 p.m. Friday, Karl Korfmacher, associate professor of environmental science at RIT, will present a seminar: “Assessing Emissions from the Transport of Sand, Water, and Waste in High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Activities.” The seminar will be held in 2-110D Dewey Hall on University of Rochester’s River Campus. Jeremy Moule

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Rochester school board member Willa Powell among parents rejecting tests

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 3:53 PM

School districts across the state will begin administering standardized English Language Arts tests next week to students in third through eighth grades. The following week, students will begin taking math and science tests. But not every student will participate, including the son of Rochester school board member Willa Powell.

Powell's son is a student at School 23 in the Park Avenue neighborhood.

Powell is among a group of parents in the Rochester region who have counseled their children on how to respectfully refuse to take the test. Powell will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. today at the Ryan Center, 530 Webster Avenue, joined by other Monroe County parents who are taking the same stand.

In a telephone interview earlier today, Powell said her son has already been given enough assessment tests. And she said she knows he's performing at grade level.

“I want parents to know that they have a choice,” she said. “These tests do not measure what a child has learned in class; they contain material taught in the Common Core curriculum, and the Common Core has not been fully implemented yet.”

New York is one of more than 40 states rolling out the Common Core, which is meant to implement a uniform curriculum. Students will need to demonstrate what may be a higher level of proficiency in subject matter at every grade level.

But Powell said that the upcoming set of tests is not assessing her son’s grasp of English and math; the tests are more likely to be used by the state to create a benchmark for future tests, she said.

Powell is also protesting the fact that data from the state exams, including personal student information, is being forwarded to corporations in the private sector, such as inBLOOM, without prior parental consent. Pearson, the company that helped to develop the Common Core, also publishes the tests.

Powell said she does not recommend that parents keep their children home from school on testing days, and she said that she is not against all standardized tests.

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Rochester's education, housing, and poverty by the numbers

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 9:56 AM

If you’ve lived in the Rochester region for a few years, the scores on ACT Rochester’s recently released annual Community Report Card probably won’t shock you. Most of us already know that the nine-county Rochester region, overall, is doing better than the state in some areas — the economy, education, health, and housing.

But when the report focuses on the city, however, it exposes stark disparities involving race and ethnicity. And correlations between different sets of data become more evident.

One of the most obvious is the relationship between educational outcomes in city schools and housing.
For example, third grade English Language Arts scores on state tests show that 61 percent of white students in the region are proficient at reading and writing, compared to 34 percent of white students in city schools.

But only 35 percent of African American third graders in the region are proficient at reading and only 23 percent from city schools.

The problem gets worse as the students age, with 60 percent of eighth-grade white students in the region proficient in reading and writing and 35 percent in city schools.

But just 26 percent of African American eighth graders in the region are proficient and 15 percent in city schools.
The data, which is drawn from 2011, follows a similar pattern when examining math scores for grades 3 and 8.

But how does this relate to adults?

The Report Card does not track students to adulthood, but an interesting thing happens when you look at a comparison of rent as a percent of income by race and ethnicity.

About 12 percent of a white person’s income goes to rent in the Rochester region, and about 34 percent of their income goes to rent in the city.

But African Americans struggle, with 45 percent of their income going to rent for those living in the region. And 49 percent of their income goes to rent if they live in the city.

The federal guidelines for housing say that housing costs should not exceed 30 percent of a person’s income, regardless of whether it’s rent or a mortgage. The data, which was collected from 2006 to 2011, indicates a need for more affordable housing, especially in downtown Rochester and Monroe County.

But it’s also a future indicator: many of today’s lower-achieving city students will likely become tomorrow’s lower wage earners struggling to find affordable housing. And if the data does nothing else, it shows just how deeply embedded the concentration of poverty is in Rochester, and how long it will take to address it.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

No decision today on RPO lawsuit

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 4:07 PM

This afternoon, State Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Fisher heard arguments in a lawsuit against the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He's not issuing a decision today but will do so by the end of next week, says Eileen Buholtz, the attorney that filed the legal challenge.

Buholtz is suing to invalidate the results of the RPO's annual meeting, which happened on January 23. In particular, she wants the results of the board member elections thrown out. Buholtz, who ran as a write-in candidate for the board, alleges that the RPO didn't properly notify all of the members who would have been eligible to vote. She also alleges that the RPO board failed to recognize the write-in ballots submitted at the meeting.

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More EV charging stations coming to New York

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 1:59 PM

A state agency announced this afternoon that it's awarding $3.6 million toward 260 electric vehicle charging stations, which will be installed across New York.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority sent out a press release breaking down the awards, which are going to various companies. Only a couple of summaries mention specific locations in Rochester: 10 stations will go in at the Frito-Lay facility for charging fleet vehicles, and three will be installed on the RIT campus for student and staff use. Other summaries include generic information about installing stations across the state at places such as hotels or shopping plazas.

The press release was sent out by Governor Andrew Cuomo's office.

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More 'Spider-Man' news

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 10:19 AM

The City of Rochester sent over the following press release this morning with more details on the upcoming movie shoot in Rochester:

Mayor Thomas S. Richards met with the producer of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie this week to discuss the logistics of the production that will take place Downtown. The major motion picture shoot is set to begin on Tuesday, April 30 and is expected to wrap up by Thursday, May 9. Action sequences will be shot on Main Street, between South Plymouth Avenue and East Avenue, requiring some portion of Main Street to be closed each day during the filming from approximately 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"This is a fun and exciting time for Rochester and we are looking forward to welcoming the more than 300 crew members to our city," Mayor Richards said. "At the same time, this is a very large event and our number one priority is making sure that the public is informed of all the necessary road closures and that movie fans are not in any areas that may cause safety concerns."

Surrounding streets will be closed intermittently during this time and some areas will be closed to pedestrians. These details are subject to change as the production company finalizes its schedule. City officials have been meeting with the Rochester Police Department, Rochester Fire Department, Monroe County Dept. of Transportation and the Rochester/Finger Lakes Film & Video Office to finalize plans for street detours and closures as well as measures to best keep the public informed. RTS buses using Main Street will be re-routed for the duration of the film shoot. Details will be posted on this page and on www.rgrta.com as soon as they become available. Discussions with the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority and the Rochester City School District are ongoing regarding alternate bus routes for students and the potential impact this may have on them—which is expected to be minimal.

The City will provide information regarding filming activity, with comprehensive information to be posted at www.cityofrochester.gov/spiderman. The website will feature street maps detailing street and sidewalk closures, and "frequently asked questions" sections for the public, Downtown residents, workers and business owners and the media. Updates will also be posted on the City's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CityofRochesterNY as well as on Twitter, @cityrochesterny, #SpideyROC. In addition, City customer service representatives will be available by phone at 311, 24 hours-a-day to answer detour related questions. Callers outside of city limits may call (585) 428-5990.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Rochester parents want more music and arts in the schools

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Unlike some prior budget proposals in the Rochester school district, where the response from parents and teachers was swift and aggressive, the response to Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s current budget proposal has been more of a slow build.

But last night’s public hearing on next year's budget drew a nearly packed conference room at the district’s central office, with parents and teachers concerned about cuts to music, arts, and some special programs.

Many parents from School 23 in the Park Avenue neighborhood told board members they're concerned about planned cuts to that school’s music instruction. Some questioned the rationale behind cutting music: sharing copies of several studies that show a correlation between music instruction and better math scores.

Others argued pointedly that the superintendent’s goal of reversing the decline in student population in city schools will fail unless he does a better job of boosting music and art offerings. Some parents said that even though they prefer to live in the city, suburban schools offer a more enriched educational experience.

Plans to stop funding the Alternative to Suspension program run by the Center for Youth also drew fire from teachers who work with students in the program. The program has helped students stay in school and graduate, they said.

Vargas has been talking about his budget proposal for months, and he’s been somewhat amenable to making revisions based on community feedback. He recently reversed his plan to close School 16 in the southwest section of the city following a relentless lobbying effort by residents of the 19th Ward.

But it’s unclear how much Vargas can do to satisfy teachers and parents while he’s facing a $50.2 million budget gap.

His administration prepared a three-page letter in anticipation of last night’s meeting. In the letter (see attached below), which was sent to parents, Vargas stressed that music instruction will continue in schools that already have it. He said his goal is to offer a balanced approach to the fine arts, including music. He said he's trying to even-out the distribution of the district’s resources, which has allowed some schools to have more fine arts instruction than others.

According to Vargas’s letter, students in most schools will receive 50 minutes of general music instruction and another 50 minutes devoted to visual arts per week.

For some schools, that will mean less instruction and for others it will mean more. Instrumental music, however, is an “enhancement” offered at the schools’ discretion.

The most revealing part of Vargas’s mailing to parents was a document called “Sample Elementary Master Schedule” for second-grade teachers. The largest time blocks for instruction, nearly a 90 minutes daily, are for English Language Arts and math. Students are expected to take multiple standardized tests in those subjects, and teachers will see their job performance evaluations linked to them for the first time.

In comparison, about 35 minutes of daily instruction is devoted to a rotating schedule of music, physical education, and art, according to the sample schedule. And while English and math instruction is offered daily, music, art, and physical education are offered about once or twice a week.

Vargas says his proposed budget greatly increases physical education to about 100 minutes per week for students in grades K to 6 compared to the current 60 minutes.

In prior public meetings, Vargas said few, if any teachers will lose their jobs. More budget hearings are scheduled.

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Lej Dems stand up to the GOP

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM

Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature voted against two borrowing measures last night, one for a bridge project in Wheatland and the other for a road project in Chili. Because the borrowing measures require approval from two-thirds of legislators, they failed.

County Legislature Democratic Leader Carrie Andrews - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • County Legislature Democratic Leader Carrie Andrews


The votes were a tactical move by the Democratic caucus, which is in the minority in the Legislature; the bond votes are one of their only sources of leverage. Democrats say they are tired of submitting legislation only to have it rejected, voted down in committee, or sent to purgatory by Republican committee chairs. They want at least some of their proposals to be considered and discussed by the full Legislature, says Democratic Leader Carrie Andrews.

"Our ideas deserve to be fully vetted as well," she said during an interview this morning.

Legislators had previously approved borrowing for the Wheatland and Chili projects in 2011 and 2008 respectively. Last night, they were voting on a measure that would have increased each project by $100,000, Andrews says.

Since the time the Chili project was approved in 2008, Democrats have submitted 45 pieces of legislation, Andrews says, but only two went to the full Legislature.

Of particular interest to the caucus is reviving proposed legislationto direct the county to develop an advertising campaign addressing infant mortality.

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