Esmonde Demands Magic

17 Jun

And with these passages

To me, it’s not about bragging rights, or to label schools as “good” or “bad.” It is not to prop up the wrongheaded notion that suburban teachers run laps around their city counterparts.

No, I like the rankings, which are based solely on test scores, for one reason – they confirm what education experts have said for decades: The biggest factor in how well kids do in school is not quality of teachers, variety of programs, class size, access to computers or how often pizza is served in the cafeteria. No, it’s socioeconomics.

Donn Esmonde (who is an Ass™) lays his anti-suburb prejudice bare with his dopey strawman argument. (Where have you ever read anyone write that suburban teachers are better than city teachers, much less that they “run laps around” them? Nowhere, you say? Me, neither.)

The city/suburbs performance divide underlines the grim reality of not just how racially segregated the region is, but – more to the point – how economically segregated it is. The median family income in towns housing the top five schools ranges from $84,155 (Aurora) to $98,914 (Clarence). Median family income in Buffalo? $36,700.

The researchers who wrote the Coleman Report would not be surprised. The landmark 1966 study concluded – with plenty of backup since – that the main factor in school performance is his how much money kids’ parents make and how educated they are. Period.

Yes, successful people with good educations place a high value on education and work hard to make sure their kids get a good one, too. But then, so do many poor people who want their kids to do better and have things that they themselves could never have. It’s a thing called social mobility – the American dream itself – and what do we make of these people who are low on the socioeconomic ladder, but want and demand better? And what of the teachers? Seems as if Esmonde takes a very complicated equation, dumbs it down, and denigrates teachers and poor families as hopelessly stuck. 

Of course, a lot of people – including, sadly, test-obsessed state education officials – do not factor socioeconomics into test scores. If they did, they would – and should – grade on a demographic curve. Instead, they see the numbers as “proof” that high-ranking schools have better teachers, superior programs or some magic juju that spurs students. Teachers in tax-controversy Clarence are just the latest to use the rankings to justify $90,000-plus salaries, raises and nearly fully paid health care.

As a veteran columnist and journalist for the sole daily paper in town, one would expect Donn to write truthfully. Had he chosen to do so, or decided perhaps remotely to be accurate, he’d know that the teachers have almost completely stayed out of the tax controversy in Clarence. The teachers’ union has been, alas, too busy determining which members would need to lose their jobs in the wake of the defeat of the crisis budget, rather than engaging in a massive PR blitz to justify anything to anyone.

Simply put, Esmonde’s assertion that Clarence teachers have been making any argument at all in recent weeks is a baldfaced lie, and an insult to them. He also repeats his newfound tea partyism to denigrate the notion that a teacher with 30 – 40 years’ experience are entitled to make a good living with decent benefits. (Teachers in Clarence toil for 20 years before they even hit $50k per year). He is scapegoating people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the cause of the budget crisis in the first place. What a despicable and detestable liar. 

I don’t want to diminish the good work that teachers do. But, for the most part, test scores are not about how good a particular school’s teachers are. Instead, they reflect the background of the kids they teach.

You just did, asshole. You should say these things to your teacher wife, to her face. 

Doubt it? Then imagine this: Take all the kids from, say, Buffalo’s Burgard High and send them to Williamsville East for a year. Take the Williamsville East kids and send them to Burgard for a year. You don’t have to be a school superintendent to guess what would happen: Test scores at Burgard would skyrocket, test scores at Williamsville would nosedive.

It would not be because the Burgard teachers suddenly upped their game, or because the Williamsville teachers lost their touch. It would be about who is sitting at the desks.

That’s why regionalism guru David Rusk has long pushed for fairer housing policies, to ease the overload of poor families in inner cities. Everything from mandated mixed-income housing in the suburbs, to sprawl-reversing business tax breaks, fuels the economic integration that would level the field in classrooms across the region.

Hypothetical. Theory presented as fact. Ignorance of the fact that (a) anyone can pay a cheap tuition and send their kids to any public district in NYS at any time; and (b) there was (may still be) a program whereby kids were bused from Buffalo into Amherst schools. I can’t find the name of the program, or whether it’s still going on, but there it is. 

Sprawl – the bogeyman for everyone who willfully ignores that North and South Buffalo are little more than, respectively,  Tonawanda and West Seneca that happen to be accidentally within city boundaries. Sprawl – the word people invoke to effectively demand a Maoist long march of families from the evil suburbs to the joyful city – just carry what you can and stay on the path, lest the comrade guard beat you with a bamboo shaft! 

“Housing policy is school policy,” wrote Rusk in a still-relevant 2001 report on Erie County schools. Inner-city classrooms “cannot overcome the many problems and minimal home support many children bring to school … With 80 percent poor children, you aren’t going to ‘fix’ the Buffalo schools.”

There is no reason for suburban teachers to check the school rankings and feel smug. Just as there is no reason city teachers – of whom my wife is one, although not in a classroom – to feel defensive. But given what is at stake, I think there is every reason to understand what these test scores are really about.

Good to see Esmonde finally owning up to the source of his anti-suburb / anti-suburban school animus. But this entire column is based on a false premise of crowing teachers. Quite the contrary, I haven’t seen any crowing about much of any of it, anywhere.

Some places do. There is a growing national movement to economically integrate schools. Studies show that poorer kids do better when surrounded by Hollister-wearing classmates. The upscale kids, in return, get the diversity benefit – hugely touted as a selling point by colleges – of meeting kids from a different background. It works all around.

Check the school rankings, if you insist. But if you want to put any weight behind the numbers, I think you first have to level the playing field.

Esmonde doesn’t detail what the hell he’s talking about. Which is it – redistributing poor kids into rich schools and vice-versa, or a unified Erie County school district? Since more kids in wealthier towns tend to come from families that value education, we should better integrate them with kids who come from homes with no such value in schooling, and what will happen, precisely? The kids who come from homes where no one gives a shit will somehow magically excel? 

If you present the problem as being one of fundamental socioeconomic divergence – whereby one population is rich, white, and cares about schools – and the other is poor, black, and doesn’t care about schools – what specific solution does Esmonde provide here, except to bus poor kids to rich districts and vice-versa? If the socioeconomic problem is so stark, shouldn’t we be talking about much, much more than a long bus ride? Aren’t there systemic, societal problems that go deeper than “sprawl” and ‘teachers are greedy’? 

Socioeconomic factors matter, but the worst school district has the 2nd best high school. How can that be possible?

Well, it’s possible because socioeconomics are just part of a larger, more complicated equation – not the sine qua non of school or student success, as Esmonde suggests. That equation is made up by home makeup, parental education (which is the most significant factor in predicting a child’s educational achievement), parental values and expectations, but also good teachers and quality programs. Programs that kids who come from poor or middle-class homes need more than the richer kids whose families can afford private replacements. 

A correspondent tells me that Amherst’s Windermere elementary school is a Title 1 poverty district, and 40% of kids there are ESL or in special education. Socioeconomics without parental involvement, however, aren’t a predictor of success, and that parental involvement is the bigger factor. By no means should anyone reduce or discard the importance that an inspiring teacher can have on a kid’s education and lifelong success. Without parental support, involvement, and valuing education, even the best teacher will fail. 

Buffalo itself is segregated into families that care and families that don’t. Does Esmonde recommend kids who did poorly in school or have a track record of being absent more than present come in to City Honors to maintain the equality he demands from suburban districts? No, of course not – City Honors is the school for Buffalo’s elite and Esmonde would never dare to upset them or their suburb-in-the-city existence. He is one of them. Imagine if someone had suggested they simply arbitrarily mixed in some kids from Burgard at City Honors, as Esmonde recommends? Why not? 

The key isn’t money – the key is whether the family values education as a path to lifetime success. Because what we’re talking about is social mobility and improving upon one’s family history, and to that end, Esmonde gives up on the poor from uneducated households and assigns to them a lifetime of failure and misery that could only be alleviated if you move them in with rich white people. What a cop-out. What a capitulation. 

My God, Donn Esmonde is an Ass.™

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54 Responses to “Esmonde Demands Magic”

  1. Mike_Chmiel June 17, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    Careful there Esmonde – you start preaching about class inequality and your new Tea Party friends are going to toss you out on your ass.
    And regardless of what side of this issue you fall on, Esmonde did indeed imply that all teachers (including his wife) are basically interchangeable drones that play little or no role in the success of their students.

  2. mikeinwny June 17, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    Busing + white flight = sprawl = current problems in city schools. Sprinkle in a large dose of federal and state bureaucracy, combined with virtually no educational choices, and you have the perfect storm.

  3. Jesse Smith June 17, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Seriously? You’ve never heard anyone say or imply that suburban teachers are better than city teachers? People are constantly claiming that the schools are “better” in the suburbs, and that they have to move to the suburbs so their kid can go to a “good school”. You even start to approach this towards the end, when you say that poor city students need “good teachers and quality programs”, implying that they aren’t getting them right now.

    “Since more kids in wealthier towns tend to come from families that value
    education, we should better integrate them with kids who come from
    homes with no such value in schooling, and what will happen, precisely?
    The kids who come from homes where no one gives a shit will somehow
    magically excel?”

    What would happen is that the test scores would average out and we could stop talking about “failing schools” that need to be closed. The individual students would probably not change too much, although there is a lot of evidence that poor students do much better when not concentrated with only other poor students, while the wealthy students don’t do any worse for sharing a classroom with poor students. So overall there would be improvement, but the biggest change, as I said, would be that entire schools would no long carry the stigma of “bad school”. We could stop with the distractions of closing schools, opening charter schools, etc., and get down to work on a more fundamental level to address the needs of students who are having more difficulties than others.

    Because you are so deeply invested in your “Donn Esmonde is an Ass” schtick, you reject his notion that the solution to “failing” schools is more socioeconomic integration, but what is your better idea?

    • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 10:49 am #

      So, busing into Williamsville and Clarence will magically make kids’ parents give a shit about schools. Understood. I happen to disagree. Strongly, in fact.

      No, I haven’t heard that teachers are better in the suburbs than in the city. I’ve never heard anyone make that conclusion and, in fact, I’ve only heard positive things about the teachers in city schools. I certainly would never demean myself to heap scorn and derision on the entire profession to the point where Esmonde doesn’t even factor the need for good and dedicated teachers into his equation.

      I reject everything that Donn Esmonde writes because he is a simplistic motherfucker. Perhaps that clarifies my position.

      • Jesse Smith June 17, 2013 at 11:00 am #

        “So, busing into Williamsville and Clarence will magically make kids’ parents give a shit about schools. Understood.”

        No, that’s not what I wrote at all. I said that we wouldn’t be having the endless circular discussion about “failing schools” if the failing students were more integrated with successful students. There would just be “schools”, with a much wider range of student performance within each one.

        I guess you have never read the comments on Buffalo News or various TV news websites, Buffalo Rising, etc. Whenever there is a story about schools, there is a tidal wave of criticism against lazy overpaid teachers that shouldn’t be qualified to teach, against Phil Rumore and the BTF, etc. I don’t believe I have ever heard a corresponding criticism of suburban teachers or their unions.

      • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 11:38 am #

        No, I don’t make it a habit to read the comments at the Buffalo News or at Buffalo Rising. I read the comments to my own posts, that’s it.

        The idea of “failing schools” is one that’s come up in the past 10 – 20 years, especially in the wake of NCLB.

        This morning, I did my final lit drop, reminding people about tomorrow’s vote and urging them to vote yes. One home I stopped at, the owner was in his car ready to leave. Instead of leaving the lit in his mailbox flag, I ran it up to him. Here’s how it went:

        Me: Hi, I’m just dropping off some lit reminding people about the vote tomorrow.

        Him: And how do you think I should vote?

        Me: Yes.

        Him: Why?

        Me: Because the revote budget is within the cap, and..

        Him: (interrupts) no it isn’t. The cap is 2%.

        Me: No, the cap varies every year based on many different factors. This year, it’s 3.79%, and the proposed budget has a 3.62%.

        Him: I pay enough taxes, and these teachers with their pensions are too much. What would you do with 3 kids in college?

        Me: I would gladly pay the increase to make sure the next generation gets an education as good as the ones my kids got.

        Him: What do you think about 75% of the budget going to teacher pensions?

        Me: 75% goes to teacher salaries, benefits, etc. Not just the pensions.

        Him: What’s in this for you?

        Me: Nothing, except I have two kids in the schools right now.

        Him: Where?

        Me: Clarence Center and the Middle School.

        Him: You’re not a teacher?

        Me: No. I’m a lawyer.

        Him: You don’t work for the union?

        Me: No. I work in the private sector, just like you.

        Him: I work hard for my money, and I pay my people a good wage. Why should I pay for these teachers and their pensions, we don’t get that.

        Me: Ok, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

        So, there’s your “no one ever criticizes suburban teachers or their unions”.

      • mikeinwny June 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

        Schools are failing, especially city schools. The public school system, as it is presently administered, is not set up to deal effectively with the inherent socioeconomic problems that are more or less unique to the city schools. Real school choice would very likely result in smaller, neighborhood schooling options. That, combined with the parental involvement in making a school choice, could have a significant impact on improving education. Currently, city kids are sent to schools that resemble large daytime warehousing for children. Those schools are to big to succeed. The layers of bureaucracy stifle the innovation necessary to overcome the socioeconomic problems.

      • starrrbuck June 17, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

        I don’t see anything in that exchange as you related it that looks like your neighbor “criticizing suburban teachers or their unions”.

        Perhaps he did in other things said to you, but in what you wrote he said pensions shouldn’t be as high as they are. That isn’t necessarily a criticism of teachers or unions for what they ask for. Per-teacher pension costs could be lowered regardless of what teacher unions want if a large enough majority of New York’s elected officials wanted it to happen.

        I realize that isn’t what Clarence is voting on, and your neighbor’s willingness to limit pension spending growth by further reducing the workforce (by rejecting any tax hike) would badly impact teachers who’d be laid off. But that isn’t the same as criticizing them or the union.

        It’s the same for people who criticize the health insurance contributions not being higher. NY could unilaterally make those higher by repealing the Triborough Amendment, then when current contracts expire start doing what many other states do to have benefit packages decided only by elected officials. That also happens for most federal employees.

        Teachers and unions aren’t ultimately in charge of how public money is spent. It’s possible to not be critical of them or their requests yet still favor reducing spending growth on their pensions and other benefits.

      • Alan Bedenko June 18, 2013 at 6:02 am #

        His tone was rather hostile and hateful towards teachers and towards me. He despises the teachers because of their pensions, to the point where he conflated their entire remuneration package with just their pensions. It was not a comfortable conversation at all.

    • Christopher Smith June 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

      “People are constantly claiming that the schools are “better” in the
      suburbs, and that they have to move to the suburbs so their kid can go
      to a “good school”

      I think there is a lot to unpack in this statement. It’s commonly said in WNY and it’s really the underlying argument in this set of competing articles by Alan and Donn. People move to the suburbs because they want what? Their kids to be around others of equal socioeconomic status? “Better” teachers? Better extracurricular programs? If teachers are equally talented in the city as opposed to Clarence, Orchard Park, or Amherst…and the curriculum is essentially the same, what’s the reasoning behind moving to a place with “good schools”?

      • Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

        Could it be that “good schools” is not the only reason people move to the suburbs?

      • Christopher Smith June 17, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

        I’m not trying to say or imply anything. I’m just asking a question that I think informs the underlying argument in this specific exchange.

      • Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

        I was being facetious – and failing apparently. Just trying to make a point about the ‘good schools’ argument….

      • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

        Why don’t you write what you really mean?

      • Christopher Smith June 17, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

        Is that intended for me or the other guy? If it’s me, I don’t really “mean” anything. I think Jesse made a statement that required further unpacking to have real weight in the conversation.

      • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

        The Lake Effect guy.

      • Jesse Smith June 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

        I cannot speak for the people who insist that they have to move to the suburbs to obtain a good education for their children (and by extension, that suburban teachers are better than city teachers). I was merely reporting that I heard this claim made frequently. Someone who agrees with this claim will have to “unpack” it for you.

      • Christopher Smith June 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

        I wasn’t asking you to explain it, I think it’s a topic that’s ripe for discussion.

      • Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

        I don’t believe ‘good schools’ is the only reason people move to the suburbs. There you go.

      • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

        What do you suppose the other reasons might be?

      • Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 4:09 pm #

        I’m not going to go there so you can play ‘gotcha’, thanks. I think we all know that people move to the suburbs for various reasons.

      • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

        Sorry. You brought it up. I thought you’d want to expand on it.

  4. Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    “anyone can pay a cheap tuition and send their kids to any public district in NYS at any time”
    Is that right? I beg to differ. Many people in Buffalo are struggling to get by. This would be a luxury item.

    • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

      I don’t know. I never lived in Buffalo, and I am not one of the people who grew up (or whose elders grew up) in Buffalo and “fled” to the suburbs. I moved here from another state and chose Clarence because it was the #1 ranked district in 2002.

      • Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

        You’re being defensive. I was not implying that you ‘fled’ the city at all. Why would I assume that you’re from Buffalo?

      • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

        Because the “flee”-the-city thing is so old and hackneyed.

      • Christopher Smith June 17, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

        Is it really? When the schools instituted busing in the 1970’s, what soon followed was a mass exodus of people from the city to the suburbs.Especially into the inner ring suburbs of West Seneca, Cheektowaga, and Tonawanda. Combined with massive corporate disinvestment, the city was left holding the bag to fund education and services for the poor with a limited tax base from which to draw funding. As people left and resources dwindled, problems in the city multiplied and it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that years of decline began to stabilize.

        There are legacy ideological costs to that series of events that still plague our regional difficulties today. Race and class have been major dividing issues in WNY (and within Buffalo itself) for decades. This is true in many cities, but it seems worse here because we lack a migratory class of people who might challenge some of these ingrained prejudices and biases.

        Sprawl is a regional planning issue which affects how and where we are able to spend our limited resources for infrastructure and services. I think we can agree that’s a problem, even though proposed solutions to it are diverse.

      • Alan Bedenko June 18, 2013 at 6:00 am #

        And not everyone who lives in the suburbs “fled” from a city. But if relitigating the sins of the 60s and 70s makes people feel better, I guess we’ll just keep doing that. We’ll just have to ignore that framing the issue in this way effectively turns people who live in the suburbs into villains. See how well that’s working out for regional planning efforts in WNY?

      • Lake Effect Rain June 18, 2013 at 8:03 am #

        You make a valid point, and there are plenty of smug city dwellers who make generalizations about the suburbs – it’s easy to be smug when you don’t live on the East Side. 90% of my coworkers are from the suburbs, and I’m tired of them bashing my city because ‘crime’, no parking (ha!) and ohmygod – you ride the BUS? So, good and bad on both sides.

        There’s a definite city/ suburb divide, and you’re right – it doesn’t help regional planning efforts. I believe what’s good for the city is good for WNY, and vice versa.

      • Alan Bedenko June 18, 2013 at 9:01 am #

        Thank you.

      • Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

        But my point was about busing in the 1970s, and I was just raising the question of ‘what if?’ it had never happened. Because I’m genuinely interested in the subject

  5. Colin Eager June 17, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Yes, people routinely say (or imply) that suburban teachers are better than city teachers. The argument generally goes something like “Buffalo spends as much per pupil as Clarence/Amherst/OP/wherever, yet they get worse results.” This argument is usually paired with some hate for Rumore, the BTF health plan, etc.

    When Esmonde suggests that results have a lot to do with the socioeconomic status of the student body, he isn’t arguing that teachers are superfluous. Teaching is always a difficult job, but it’s a lot easier when you have a room full of students who arrive at your door prepared to succeed. It’s an unavoidable fact that that preparation is linked to wealth.

    “Socioeconomic factors matter, but the worst school district has the 2nd best high school. How can that be possible?” It’s possible because City Honors chooses its students from the academic elite of the city. The excellence of that one school says nothing about the larger question.

    Also, sprawl is a real issue, regardless of whether you like Donn Esmonde or not.

    • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

      Right. Notice Esmonde has no problem with elites – as long as they’re HIS elite. He has a problem with people who “flee” to the suburbs, but if a city parents chooses an avenue not unlike the flight to the suburban district (school with admission test, charter), he’s ok with it. To call this motherfcker a hypocrite would be an insult to hypocritical people.

  6. jimd54 June 17, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

    The notion to integrate low achieving students with high achieving students is a horrible idea. The low achieving students disproportionately suck teachers time away. While the teacher has to rehash lessons, the high achievers become bored and lose focus. Having the good fortune to have had a kid in the top 5% of his class, I can tell you his mother and I fought and worked our asses off to maintain high integrity classrooms. And for what it’s worth, we are not wealthy people but we were actively involved in his schooling. So to me parents have to give a shit.

  7. Rebecca June 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    I agree with you that this column makes Esmonde look like a smug, ignorant jackass. And I’m sorry that Clarence kids are being forced to suffer cuts because WNY taxpayers as a whole cannot see the big picture… but one nitpick… you said “(Teachers in Clarence toil for 20 years before they even hit $50k per year).” Not so. A friend of mine who has been teaching there for only 17 years makes over $70K…

    • Alan Bedenko June 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      I know at least one 20 year veteran who hasn’t busted past 50k.

      • Rebecca June 17, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

        No Master’s degree, perhaps?

  8. Gordon Zola June 17, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    The key isn’t money – the key is whether the family values education as a path to lifetime success. Because what we’re talking about is social mobility and improving upon one’s family history, and to that end, Esmonde gives up on the poor from uneducated households and assigns to them a lifetime of failure and misery that could only be alleviated if you move them in with rich white people. What a cop-out. What a capitulation.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________
    Quite frankly, I think you and Donn have poor perspectives on learning. For Donn to give up on students based on socioeconomics, and you to simply state that social mobility determines a student’s educational career, both glaze over facts about how we learn.

    In learning theory, there is a term called and Affective Filter. Pretty much, it’s a filter that expands and contracts the ability to learn based on negative emotions. So, if a child lives through violence, gunshots, being scared often, lack of food, etc; it creates a large filter that impedes the learning process. If you compound that over 18 years, you have poor graduation rates, failing schools, and a higher likelihood for a perpetuation of cycle.

    So in regards to the affective filter, who gives a crap if Windermere is an example of success with poverty? How would the students there do if they heard gunshots nightly? Domestic abuse in their homes? Or, their parents decided to sleep in until noon, and never gave their kids breakfast? These problems are more closely related to poverty, not exclusively, but more so. And we do not read about these issues in the Amherst Bee the same way we do in the City.

    My point is that communities might have poverty, but Windermere doesn’t have the social issues that are prevalent in the City of Buffalo and else where. So it’s a joke of a comparative to make in the first place.

    Being poor isn’t the problem. It’s the violence, abuse, and neglect that comes out in large concentrations of poverty. And for you to place a student’s educational career on the idea of social mobility shows either how out of touch you are, or how out of touch you’ve become.

    • Lake Effect Rain June 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      ‘social mobility’ and ‘improving upon one’s family history’. It’s the American Dream! Sounds easy enough. What’s the problem? Everyone can pay ‘cheap tuition’ to have their child attend another school district!

      Out of touch, indeed.

      • Alan Bedenko June 18, 2013 at 5:54 am #

        Or work to improve the district itself. Of course, whether that happens is highly dependent on whether the parents give a shit. In Buffalo, by way of example, there is a glut of parents and students who don’t.

      • Lake Effect Rain June 18, 2013 at 8:33 am #

        OK, work to improve the district – sounds great. When, exactly are single parents who work 2 or 3 minimum wage jobs, for example, but who really DO ‘give a shit’, supposed to find the time or the resources to do this?

        It’s not quite as simple as ‘giving a shit’.

      • Ismaeal Naji June 18, 2013 at 9:51 am #

        how could a single parent who works “2 or 3 minimum wage jobs” afford to live in a place like Clarence in the first place?

      • Lake Effect Rain June 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

        I was talking specifically about people who live in Buffalo. But, as Alan said, there are single parents in Clarence – and everywhere else too, who are living paycheck-to-paycheck. My point was that social mobility is great in theory, but it’s not that simple.
        Anyway, that’s a whole other discussion. I agree with Donn Esmonde for the most part, but his cheap shot at Clarence teachers and their “$90,000 salaries” and pensions was disgraceful, and I don’t know what relevance it has to the larger point he was trying to make.

      • Alan Bedenko June 18, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

        It isn’t simple, but Esmonde rejected the very notion of it.

      • Lake Effect Rain June 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

        Point taken, and I think you make an interesting point re: the notion of levelling the playing field at City Honors. Why not, indeed? Donn does have a touch of the ‘limousine liberal’ about him at times.
        How about a public debate? You and Donn, in front of an audience of parents and teachers.

      • Alan Bedenko June 18, 2013 at 10:15 am #

        No, but it’s a start. I don’t know how a single parent working 2 or 3 jobs is supposed to work to improve the district, but we have busy single parents in Clarence who are working hard to try to fix what’s broken.

      • Christopher Smith June 19, 2013 at 9:13 am #

        Relevant: Economic mobility, The Great American Myth http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/equal-opportunity-our-national-myth/

  9. Ashley Fabian June 17, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    “Teachers in Clarence toil for 20 years before they even hit $50k per year” – Lie

    • Alan Bedenko June 18, 2013 at 5:54 am #

      Do those figures include stipends for extracurricular work?

      • Ashley Fabian June 18, 2013 at 10:41 am #

        They may, but I know that many teachers on that list are not involved with extra curriculars. .

    • Russ Andolina June 18, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

      What’s the fascination with trying to drag down people making a good wage for good work in this country?

  10. Son of BlackRockLifer June 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

    I think you are missing the point about socio-economic status and student achievement, which Esmonde admittedly does clearly state. It is not that educational outcomes are determined by the socio-economic background of the individual student, but that outcomes depend tremendously on the socio-economic factors of the school as a whole. In particular, highly concentrated poverty within a school has severe negative consequences for low-income and middle class students alike. We have known this for almost 50 years now; there is no way a moral person can defend a system that sends large number of students to schools with extraordinarily concentrated poverty.

    The “Coleman Report” (James Coleman, Equality of Educational Opportunities (1966)) that Esmonde cites did indeed find that out-of-school factors are more important than in-school factors, but that was not a new or controversial conclusion. Instead, the theory that Coleman injected into the debate was that the characteristics of the student body have a large impact on educational outcomes. That is, regardless of whether an individual student is poor, attending a school comprised of mostly low-income students depresses educational achievement. Esmonde is right that study after study has confirmed this intuitive idea. See here for a quick summary of the literature:
    http://www.prrac.org/pdf/annotated_bibliography_on_school_poverty_concentration.pdf

    Your outright dismissal of the idea that integrating low-income students into schools with a mostly middle-class kids will improve their educational outcomes is contrary to a large body of research. (“So, busing into Williamsville and Clarence will magically make kids’ parents give a shit about schools. Understood. I happen to disagree. Strongly, in fact.”). I have no idea why you would suggest that low-income students would not benefit from attending schools with a more stable set of peers, but you need not rely on intuition. This study, for example, concludes that for every percentage point increase in the middle-class composition of a student body, a low income student gains about a 0.7% in test scores:
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/Unifiedfinalreport.pdf
    That means that sending a low-income child to school with 75% low-income students costs the child twenty to thirty percent on standardized tests as compared to sending he same child to a school with 35% low-income composition.

    Importantly even middle-class students suffer when a school reaches a certain tipping point of highly concentrated poverty. But there is little evidence that modest increases in low-income student population have any significant effect on middle-class student achievement, and several studies suggest no effect at all:
    http://humcap.uchicago.edu/RePEc/hka/wpaper/Hoffer_Shagle_2012_school-poverty.pdf
    http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/winter1213/kahlenberg.cfm
    But even those studies that suggest a negative impact recognize “differential sensitivity” to school composition. Middle-class children face less severe impacts from the concentration of poverty. By segregating students by income, you hurt poor children far more than you are benefit the children of the better-off.

    Erie County had a poverty rate of 14.2% in the last census. If every school in the county had a poverty rate even remotely resembling the average, low-income students would see real benefits without detracting from higher-income kids. (The tipping point is usually estimated around 50%, but I have not seen any suggestion lower than 30%). So long as a school has a solid middle class majority, everyone generally does fine. This is because many of the inputs necessary for a functioning school are non-rivalrous goods. High-income kids don’t forget how to apply to colleges when they share a school with a few poor children; they obtained this information from their parents, and it has a way of spreading. Middle-parents don’t stop going to PTA meetings because their children’s school has 20% free-lunch eligibility instead of 5%.

    I believe that government has an obligation to offer rough equality of opportunity in its public school system. You cannot argue with a straight face that a child sent to a school with 90% poverty is being given an equal opportunity; we know otherwise and have for two generations. If you believe that separate can also be equal, than Western New York’s balkanized school districts are quite appealing. But as I stated above, I do not think any moral person can defend a system that isolates and concentrates the children of poor people.

  11. Michael Raleigh June 19, 2013 at 2:08 am #

    What school did Abe Lincoln go to? How much funding was there for music and art classes? What kind of field trips did he get to go on?

    Were there quizzes in gym class like there were at my highschool? DId he need to study the rules of badminton?

    What percentage did he score in the standardized math tests?

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