Thursday, October 24, 2013

APPR results raise questions

Posted By on Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 10:01 AM

The recent snapshot of the effectiveness of New York’s teachers is getting some fanfare. In a written statement, Education Commissioner John King said that, “The more accurate student proficiency rates on the new Common Core assessments did not negatively affect teacher ratings. It’s clear that teachers are rising to the challenge of teaching the Common Core.”

The SED’s statement went on to say that 91.5 percent of the state’s teachers are considered “highly effective” or “effective,” the two highest of the four ratings that teachers and principals can receive on their Annual Professional Performance Review.

The ratings do not include the scores of New York City’s public school teachers, which is worth noting because the thousands of evaluations from the nation’s largest school district could impact the entire state’s ratings.

Still, advocates of the Common Core and the APPR are in lockstep with King, immediately issuing press releases extolling the results as if penicillin was just discovered.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the results show that most of New York’s teachers are competent. With a few exceptions here and there, most get up, go to work, and enjoy what they do. Most teachers are proud of their students and want them to succeed.

But what if the data is telling us something different?

Based on some reports, teachers in suburban schools scored significantly better than teachers in districts like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. For instance, only 2 percent of Rochester and Syracuse’s teachers are rated highly effective compared to the statewide average of roughly 50 percent.

Do we really believe that eighth-grade math teachers in Webster are significantly better, for example, than eighth-grade math teachers in Buffalo or Syracuse? Is this data telling us that sixth-grade teachers in Honeoye Falls are better than sixth-grade teachers in Rochester?

The idea that public school teachers clustered in the state’s urban school districts are somehow subpar doesn’t make a lot of sense. And why is this same scenario repeated in urban districts in other states?

You could even argue that suburban and rural teachers have clear advantages, such as high attendance rates, fewer English language learners, more students who enter school with larger vocabularies, and less childhood trauma.

I’m no statistician, but if teachers in those schools are getting help with the heaviest lifting, shouldn’t we expect more of them to receive highly effective and effective ratings? Maybe what these results are really telling us is that the teachers working in rural and suburban districts are just competent at best.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Richards' press conference probably won't end speculation

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Nuanced positions don’t lend themselves to Twitter or Facebook status updates, so Mayor Tom Richards’ “I’m out, but…” press conference this afternoon will inevitably lead to more speculation and salivation around the November 5 general election.

It came out yesterday that two city employees, Molly Clifford, director of fire administration; and Gary Walker, communications chief, are involved in a campaign to elect Richards on the Independence line. Richards lost last month’s Democratic primary to City Council President Lovely Warren, but he still has the Independence and Working Families endorsements. Alex White is the Green Party’s candidate for mayor.

Richards said this afternoon that he has not campaigned post-primary and he would not do so — for anyone, including Warren. But whatever city staffers do on their own time, he said, is their own business. He said that nobody consulted him about the new campaign and that he has had no involvement whatsoever.

Richards said that he couldn’t come right out and say he wouldn’t serve if in the highly unlikely event he wins the general. Speculation is unhealthy, he said, and there are too many hypotheticals to be definitive either way.

“There are many different scenarios that could occur that would need to be addressed,” he said. “It matters how and by whom those decisions will be made. We should not, and really cannot, resolve these issues now.”

“I know that doesn’t satisfy everybody,” he said. “But you’re going to have to live with it.”

It’s clear that Richards blames the media for fueling this story.

“We’re really going to have to come up with some other news in this community to entertain you guys,” he said.

Richards said that he did want to be mayor, but that he didn’t need to be – citing the recent birth of a granddaughter.

“I want to be a grandfather more,” he said.

Asked if Warren would make a good mayor, Richards said that he would do his best to make sure that whoever is elected is the best mayor that he or she can be.






Study renews emphasis on pre-kindergarten

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 12:54 PM

Delayed speech and limited vocabularies were often cited by former School 50 principal Tim Mains as clear indicators of how under-prepared many city school children are entering kindergarten compared to their suburban peers. One landmark study dealing with early childhood development showed that by age 3, children from wealthier families have much larger vocabularies.

Walking in the doorway, Mains said, many of his students were already in a remedial mode.

A new follow-up study reported in the New York Times suggests that the problem is far worse, with language deficiency beginning as early as 18 months. Recent research by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, revealed a literacy gap in children from low-income families that starts earlier than age 3 and gets bigger with time.

In Fernald’s study, children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words, such as dog and ball, much faster than children from low-income families. By age 2, the children from affluent families had learned 30 percent more words between the age of 18 months to 2 years than economically disadvantaged children.

The connection between speech development and reading proficiency has been known for years. But Fernald’s study, which was first published by Developmental Science, raises new concerns about the urgent need for earlier intervention in the form of universal pre-K and day care programs that meet higher educational standards.

The new study is more evidence that poverty places a barbed wire around academic achievement while many children are still in diapers. While the introduction of tougher standards through the Common Core curriculum may have value in better preparing US students for college and the global work force, the inequities stemming from the country’s widening wealth gap sabotage that work.

Millions of largely urban public school students from low-income families may be on a treadmill that never allows them to catch up to their dreams and aspirations.

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[UPDATED] House passes important Great Lakes legislation

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 10:49 AM

[UPDATED October 24, 2013] Last night, the House of Representatives approved the Water Resources Reform and Development Act by a vote of 417-3. Both of Monroe County's Representatives, Democrat Louise Slaughter and Republican Chris Collins, gave 'yes' votes.

Original story: The House of Representatives could soon vote on legislation that would make it easier for federal ports on the Great Lakes to get funding for dredging and other maintenance.

Last night, the House Rules Committee advanced the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 (H.R. 3080). That means the bill, which has bipartisan backing, can be brought to to the House floor for a vote. And the vote could happen as early as today.

The legislation contains a provision, sought by Representative Louise Slaughter and other Great Lakes representatives, that would designate the Great Lakes as a single, unified navigational system. The change would be a technical one, but it would provide an important benefit.

Right now, each federal Great Lakes port, including the Port of Rochester and the port in Irondequoit, receives individual consideration for government funding. That system, in short, pits  the Great Lakes ports against each other, says a press release that Slaughter's office sent out in June. Treating them as a single, connected system will put the ports in a better position to compete for funding, say supporters of the legislation.

The Port of Rochester imports approximately $10 million worth of products each year and is particularly important to the Essroc cement company. This summer, Essroc's cargo ship docked in the Port of Rochester for the first time in two-and-a-half years. Previously, Essroc had been unable to use the port because of sediment build-up. A 2012-2013 dredging project was initiated by the company, which also paid for most of the work.

The Senate has already passed its version of the House bill, the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (S. 601). If the House bill passes, the two pieces of legislation will go to conference.

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Two brownfield projects get state money

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:29 AM

A vacant, dilapidated building at the end of Flint Street marks the Vacuum Oil site. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • A vacant, dilapidated building at the end of Flint Street marks the Vacuum Oil site.
Two state grants will allow Rochester and neighborhood officials to move forward on two brownfield and community redevelopment projects.

Late last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo's office announced that the South Genesee Implementation Strategy — a project that includes the Vacuum Oil site in southwest Rochester — will receive $868,500, and the Bull's Head Revitalization Plan will receive $284,745. Both grants were awarded through the state Brownfield Opportunity Areas program. In a press release sent out yesterday, city officials said that the grants will help clean up more than 330 acres in the Vacuum Oil and Bulls Head project areas.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Notes on the Walker-Clifford affair

Posted By on Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 12:39 PM

My God. Have we completely forgotten how to do subterfuge in this country? What happened to brush passes and secret codes? Or trench coats and full-figured dames with dark pasts? Has the whole word gone crazy?

The Molly Clifford-Gary Walker plot to keep Tom Richards in the mayor’s office is unacceptably prosaic. They apparently carried out their scheme via email, colluding with the chair of the Monroe County Independence Party to launch a pro-Richards ca
Molly Clifford. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Molly Clifford.
mpaign. They got busted when the party chair mistakenly sent the whole smash to the D&C in an unbelievable gift of journalistic good fortune.

Kidding aside, this has to be mortifying for Clifford and Walker. I’m willing to bet this kind of thing goes on in politics all the time, but still, how many times have we been told not to put anything in an email that you don’t want the whole word to see? (Also, would Walker really do this without consulting his boss, Richards? It seems implausible.)

Clifford and Walker have never been anything but professional and courteous during my dealings with them. Clifford gets a lot of guff for having a resume that apparently qualifies her for every job everywhere — she’s been everything from a party boss, Rural Metro spokesperson, to the city’s director of fire administration — but I get the impression that she isn’t thrilled with being used as a utility infielder, either. She's the Swiss Army knife of government service. 

Personally, I don’t see this whole thing being a terribly big deal. Walker and Clifford are free to support whomever they like; what they do on their own time is their business. But Lovely Warren, the Democratic candidate for Rochester mayor, might disagree. If either Clifford or Walker had hopes of staying on in a potential Warren administration, they’d better hope that Warren has a sense of humor.










Preliminary teacher evaluations released

Posted By on Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:03 AM

State Education officials have released preliminary statewide ratings for teachers and principals under the new Annual Professional Performance Review.

The composite results show that 91.5 percent of teachers earned ratings of “highly effective” or “effective,” while 4.4 percent are “developing,” and 1 percent are “ineffective.”
State Education Commissioner John King - PHOTO PROVIDED.
  • Photo provided.
  • State Education Commissioner John King


The data also show that 89.9 percent of principals are rated highly effective or effective, while 7.5 percent are developing, and 2.1 percent are ineffective.

The ratings are for all teachers and principals in public school districts and BOCES throughout the state, except for those in the New York City school system.

In a written statement, Education Commissioner John King said that, “The results are striking. The more accurate student proficiency rates on the new Common Core assessments did not negatively affect teacher ratings. It’s clear that teachers are rising to the challenge of teaching the Common Core. It’s also clear that it’s time to put aside talk about a moratorium on the use of state assessments in educator evaluations.”

Under the APPR law, 60 percent of educators’ ratings are based on observations and other measures negotiated with unions at the local level. Twenty percent is based on student performance on state assessments in grades 4-8, and the remaining 20 percent is based on assessments negotiated at the local level. 

The results are preliminary because not all of the schools submitted their data in time for the report.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

King and the people

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 4:48 PM

It’s not surprising that State Education Commissioner John King rescheduled his public forums regarding the curriculum referred to as Common Core. According to some reports, at least three state legislators contacted him urging a resumption of the forums.
State Education Commissioner John King - PHOTO PROVIDED.
  • Photo provided.
  • State Education Commissioner John King

King said the newly scheduled forums will start in a high school in Albany on Thursday, October 24, according to statement from the SED. He plans to include Rochester, Westchester, Suffolk County, Nassau County, Schroon Lake, Binghamton, Amherst, and Syracuse. The dates have not be determined.

But at least four of the events will be televised by WXXI, including the one in Rochester. The SED statement makes no mention of exactly where the forums will be held; will they be in a city high school with a large auditorium or WXXI's studio?

Nothing against WXXI; I’m a huge fan. But there’s a risk that instead of public forums, where there is a free exchange of ideas, it will turn into canned presentations to a select and more receptive audience.

That would be an unfortunate choice for King, and for many parents, teachers, and students. And I hope I’m wrong.

King says that he cancelled the forums after the initial one at a high school in Poughkeepsie was taken over by disruptive individuals who oppose the Common Core. He says that he wants to hear from real parents, and he should.

But staging the venues to avoid or suppress the voices from the parents and teachers who are confused or may have real issues with the curriculum won’t make them go away. It will only cause deeper resentment toward Albany. 

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WEEK AHEAD: Forum on police-community relations; University Ave. apts. meeting; school board meeting

Posted By and on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 9:49 AM

A forum on police-community relations will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 24, at the Faith Temple Apostolic Church, 141 Arnett Boulevard. The forum is sponsored by the United Christian Leadership Ministry of Western New York, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and the NAACP. 

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley has been asked to attend. Police Chief James Sheppard, Mayor Tom Richards, and members of City Council are also invited.
Monroe County DA Sandra Doorley. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Monroe County DA Sandra Doorley.

According to a press release, the forum will include help “to survive a negative encounter with the police” and “a call to dealing with violence” in the community.


Morgan Management’s proposal to build a 99-unit apartment building at 933 University Avenue will be heard by the city’s Planning Commission tonight. The site is in the East Avenue Preservation District.

The controversial project has been through several design revisions. Originally, Morgan planned to demolish the 1920's house on the northeast corner of the property, and the city seldom grants permission to demolish a structure in a preservation district. Morgan now says that it's willing to save the original house and provide space in it for the building's current owner, the Monroe Voiture veterans group.

The Planning Commission meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers at City Hall, 30 Church Street. There are several items on the agenda. If the commission signs off, the project goes back to the Preservation Board for final approval. Christine Carrie Fien


The Rochester school board will hold its monthly business meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 22.The board’s monthly meetings are usually held on Thursdays, but the board changed the date this week to accommodate those members who plan to attend a special School Board Association conference.

The meeting will be held at the district’s central office at 131 West Broad Street. Tim Louis Macaluso 



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[UPDATED] Independence Party standing behind Richards

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 9:20 AM

[UPDATE 12:10 p.m.] Mayor Tom Richards has released the following statement:
"On September 17 I announced that I was ending my campaign for re-election due to personal circumstances that demanded my attention. That continues to be true following the passing of my son Matthew.

At the time of my announcement, I also stated that I was not going to entertain political speculation. That also continues to be true. Since that time, I have been concentrating my time on my family and on my job as Mayor. I have not had any conversations with any political party leader regarding the mayoral election.

The announcement I made on September 17 was a commitment that I made and it remains so. In the coming days, I will concentrate on the matters that are important to our city's future and I look forward to seeing my new granddaughter for the first time."

Original post: After losing last month's Democratic primary, Mayor Tom Richards ended his campaign, citing a family illness. His son, Matthew, died not long afterward. Since then, some groups who had originally backed Richards switched their allegiance to Democratic candidate Lovely Warren, although Richards remains on the ballot on the Working Families and Independence lines. Alex White is the Green Party candidate for mayor. 

But last night, the Independence Party of Monroe County sent out a press release urging voters to cast their ballots for Richards. (After the jump is the statement that party chair Steve Corryn sent out last night)

Continue reading »

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