How bad is the leadership of the Buffalo Public Schools? The answer is plainly spelled out in state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.’s recent statements.
And Monday’s lengthy School Board meeting, in which the board approved a school transfer plan clearly at odds with state requirements, was just more evidence of that leadership vacuum.
King said last week that while the Rochester and Syracuse school districts are also struggling with low student achievement, the superintendents of those districts “have been very clear with their community that they can, and must, do better.”
If that isn’t enough of a wake-up call from the commissioner, he went on to say that the Rochester superintendent “pointed to what’s happening in Buffalo to call for a sense of urgency in Rochester around improving performance.”
King made these frank statements in a conference call with The News editorial board following the release of dismally low results of tests based on the recently adopted Common Core Learning Standards.
Only 31 percent of students statewide in third through eighth grades met or exceeded standards in English and math. New York’s Big Five districts did terribly, with New York City and Yonkers faring only slightly better than the others.
Rochester came in last, with only 5 percent of elementary students considered proficient in English and math. In Syracuse, 8.7 percent met or exceeded the English standard and 6.9 met or exceeded the math standard.
In Buffalo, 9.6 percent of student were proficient in math and 11.5 percent were proficient in English. But those slightly better scores came despite the leadership gap in Buffalo, which is why King is more optimistic when it comes to Rochester and Syracuse.
King pointed out a number of factors that make the state of affairs here particularly troubling. He asks: “Do you or do you not believe that students can achieve at high levels?” It’s a good question.
Too often around here, the answer seems to be a resounding “no.” Maybe that’s why King has said that the district needs better-quality instruction. It’s the reason the state adopted the national Common Core Learning Standards, along with the requirement that districts adopt teacher and principal evaluation agreements. Reaching agreement on an evaluation process was the only way for districts to receive an increase in state funding, and Buffalo managed to make a mess of that process.
Buffalo school officials continue to create obstacles to improving eduction. Besides the repeated failures on teacher evaluations, the district has been either unable or unwilling to submit complete, acceptable school improvement plans to the state. With the district unable to follow state guidelines on these things, it’s no wonder district leadership is unable to offer the public a strong vision for the education of the city’s youngsters.
When contacted by a reporter, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown did not return a call seeking comment. She was, unfortunately, characteristically silent.
King is right. Buffalo’s school leadership isn’t proactive. The only thing the district has managed is spin and, as the education commissioner said, “shading the facts.”
Top district officials cut side agreements with the Buffalo Teachers Federation on teacher evaluations and hyped the district’s career and technical education programs while some educators – not necessarily central office – denigrate the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services. BOCES has a proven track record.
City teachers should be willing to put students on buses or drive the kids themselves if it means a better education.
Buffalo Public Schools are sinking and they’re going to go down even faster if leadership doesn’t get its act together.