LOCKPORT – In his strongest statement to date on low-performing schools, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told reporters here Thursday that there has to be “a death penalty for failing schools, so to speak.”
In response to a question about Buffalo’s low-performing schools, the governor said that such schools – in Buffalo or any other district – should be given a short period of time to improve, “and then something dramatically has to happen, because we can’t allow these failing schools to continue.”
In Buffalo, three-fourths of the district’s 59 schools are considered by the state to be failing, based on test scores and graduation rates.
Cuomo said that there are various options, including state takeover of a district, mayoral control of a district and takeover of a school by a charter entity. Noting that New York State has a system in which local communities control their own schools, the governor said he would want each community to determine the particular option for its failing schools.
“I don’t want Albany to sit there and tell communities how to run their schools, but I do feel comfortable sitting in Albany saying failing schools is not an option,” he said. “We’re not going to allow another generation of children to be failed by a failing bureaucracy, especially when, in this state, we spend more money than any other state to educate a child, period. There is no excuse for failure.”
Cuomo’s comments were met with enthusiasm by the president of Buffalo’s parent group.
“Amen. Amen. And amen,” said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “Literally, right now, it’s like we’ve got a governor leading, and he’s speaking what parents feel and what parents want. So whatever we’ve got to do on the ground or locally to support his ‘death penalty’ initiative, he’s got a partner.”
But the “death penalty” metaphor drew criticism from Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore, who has frequently criticized the governor for the level of state aid to the schools, as well as for other initiatives such as teacher evaluations that are partly based on students’ standardized test results.
“What a choice of words – ‘death penalty.’ It really shows his orientation,” Rumore said. “If they gave us the resources we need, we could provide the smaller class sizes, we could provide the tutoring, we could provide the services that English language learners need.”
Buffalo spends more per student – $22,340 – than any other district in the region. It also has a higher percentage of higher-needs students.
Superintendent Pamela C. Brown, asked to respond to the governor’s comments, reiterated her frequent refrain, saying the city schools are making progress.
“We in the Buffalo Public Schools are absolutely committed to turning around all of our underperforming schools,” she said. “We intend to continue the progress we initiated over the past school year to make sure that all schools are in good standing, or reward schools, so that a takeover is no longer a consideration.”
Cuomo did not offer specifics regarding whether he was proposing any particular course of action but referred in a general way to a need for some sort of legislation.
“We would need legislation that handles what the state can do in terms of failing schools, and that’s going to be a big issue next year when the Legislature comes back,” he said.
State legislation is required for any district to adopt mayoral control. Legislation also would be required to enable the state to take over a district; such legislation has been proposed more than once in the last few years but has failed to garner much support from lawmakers.
Districts already have the option of closing failing schools and reopening them as charters.
Robert M. Bennett, a member of the state Board of Regents representing Western New York, as well as chancellor emeritus, said he thinks it’s likely that the officials in Albany will discuss “a limited state takeover for certain districts” during the next session of the Legislature. He also cited the possibility of mayoral control for some districts as well as charter takeovers.
He pointed to Buffalo, Rochester and three districts on Long Island as being in particular need of dramatic change.
“The frustration level is extremely high about what should be done with a school that is persistently failing. It’s a very serious thing when you have so many schools that are on the state’s watch list,” he said. “It’s the right thing to debate how to turn schools around.”
News Staff Reporters Deidre Williams and Mary B. Pasciak contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org