Talk about missing the point, or shooting the messenger or however you want to put it, the outrage being directed at State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. is sorely misplaced.
King’s spokesman had it right when he said the other day that the loud complaints by teachers and politicians at King’s unprecedented mandate regarding Lafayette and East high schools is “just another distraction from the work that has to be done.”
But some, it seems, would rather ignore the work that has to be done and focus on the education commissioner.
The latest firestorm arrived on Monday when local leaders called on King to show up in Buffalo this week and explain his actions to the parents of students in those high schools. The politicians could have admitted their own failure in standing by while educational achievement in Buffalo slipped so low, but it’s easier to blame Albany.
The state education commissioner had the gall to demand something be done to stanch the educational bleeding, and he started by requiring the two schools to partner with Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services. That infuriated some teachers, administrators, parents and politicians, but King can hardly be blamed for becoming fed up.
Just to refresh, East High dropped to a 27 percent graduation rate from the previous 44 percent, while Lafayette sank to 21 percent from 36 percent. King said that “Buffalo may simply be incapable of running a quality program in these buildings.”
Instead of worrying about whether King will show up for questioning – he’s already given his answer – leaders in this community should be focused on how to improve graduation rates.
There are logistical concerns worth addressing. School Board members who accuse State Ed of not doing its homework note the increased costs associated with the BOCES alternative. School district leaders distributed side-by-side figures showing that Buffalo’s career and technical education programs serve 6,322 students in 12 locations, cost less than $1,500 per student, have a high percentage of poor and minority students, unlike BOCES, and have a graduation rate of 85 percent.
Erie 1 BOCES serves 2,400 students in three locations and would cost the district $7,600 per student. BOCES has a 92 percent graduation rate.
Costs aside, the school district has no magic formula for graduating students on time and in great numbers. The graduation rate for the entire district is 47 percent. That’s failure that demands change.
King may not be present at the meetings in Buffalo, but he has made his presence known. Now, it’s time for the city to get to work.