It's not East High's fault

| March 26, 2014

OK: the crisis in the Rochester school district has finally reached the level of absurdity. The academic problems plaguing the district's largest school, East High, have continued for so long that the State Education Department has ordered the district to... well, DO SOMETHING.

Turn the school into a charter school, close it and send its students to other district schools, turn it over to SUNY, bring an outside agency in to run it, close it and create some other kind of school inside the building: the district must do one of the above.

Why? Because the state had told the district previously that it had to DO SOMETHING. And things haven't gotten better. The graduation rate is low. The absenteeism rate is high. (The poverty rate is high, too. BUT THAT'S NO EXCUSE! says the state.) So now, huffing like an out-of-patience parent, State Ed has told the school district that it has to do something with East. MAKE A BIG CHANGE!

Raise your hand if you think East High School is the problem.

Any takers?

Of course not.

Because it isn't.

As ordered, though, the Rochester School District will do something to East High School. Because the State Ed Department says it has to. But the students who aren't doing well at East haven't been doing well for a long time.

This is not rocket science. The students have been passed up through the system, one grade at a time, whether they are able to do grade-level work or not. And the further up they're passed, the further behind they get.

We shouldn't be surprised that they skip school, fail tests, drop out. And let's be serious. Do we really think that extending the school day, adding art and music, and offering sports activities will make up for those years of falling behind? If students reach seventh and ninth grade and can't do third-grade work, do we really think that tutoring them in geometry and Shakespeare will get them up to speed? Get them interested in school? Restore their self-esteem?

Do we think that in-school suspensions and home visits by teachers will work miracles?

Years ago, we went through this kind of discussion about the old Madison High School, where grades and graduation rates were abysmally low. The Madison community put together reform plans. Jesse Jackson visited and got students, parents, and teachers all fired up.

Nothing changed. And the district finally closed the school. And tore it down. And sent the students to other schools elsewhere in the city. Franklin High School has a similar story, sans the teardown.

Many of us recognize that it's not just what happens inside a school that determines a student's success. Poverty, health, role models, a parent's education level: all are a factor, and the district can't do much about them. (Although, commendably, it tries, serving meals, bringing in tutors, pressing for school health facilities and social workers.)

Still, schools and teachers and principals are extremely important. There are things the district can do. It can train its staff, insist on excellence, hold people accountable.

And for heaven's sake, it can stop passing children up through the system. It could, for instance, determine whether every child in the early years of elementary school has enough basic skills to progress to higher grades. And for those who don't, it could bring in leaders of the larger community and insist that they provide enough resources to get them up to speed.

Not all of Rochester's education news is bad. We've at last begun to focus on the need for more pre-school programs, to help children get the language and social skills they need. But these are early days. Success will require money, effort, and long-term commitment.

Meantime, the State Ed Department needs to cut out the threats and get serious about what needs to be done in the early grades. Otherwise, we'll keep wasting money on futile efforts.

East High School is not the problem.


Comments (7)

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It is interesting that you note PreK is a potential positive and it will be if the program focuses on building the social, emotional and basic developmentally appropriate academic skills but the name of the game in the district now is Core Knowledge and NYEngage curriculum. Couple these two with the pressure of Common Core and we will likely see PreK students being taught using methods that would more closely resemble Catholic schools 50 years ago. Get it or get out. Nothing the district seems to do lately makes any sense so more resources may not mean a thing.

East as brick and mortar may not be the problem but the people in it as well as everyone who works for the district and the whole community are the problem. We all know how bad the schools are and yet no one is marching or banging on district doors. The people in East could have told their story but they are justifiably afraid of losing their jobs. Unfortunately fear driven complacency in the face of injustice is not acceptable. It is immoral and everyday the citizens of this community turn the page or look the other way we are condoning the injustice.

The district has the power and resources to make all of their schools better. They may not become the Harley School or compete with the best suburban schools but every Rochester City school could be dramatically better. There are well known organizational best practices that are found all around the world that we can implement but this is not done. Why not? Because innovation often requires autonomy and with this freedom comes confidence. School staff might wake up one day and ask themselves why they need a central office or union at all. This scares the hell out those currently in command.

There is no good reason at all that the district does not have a portfolio of alternative schools like Boston's Pilot schools. Leaders do not promote these because schools that have unique and more successful programs (SOTA, School of Inquiry, School Without Walls and others) also have engaged parents who are likely to hold teachers and administrators accountable. This is the other fear. Great schools often encourage and develop strong parents and nothing is more powerful than a few hundred angry parents.

You want to fix East? You want to make other schools better? Put an ad in the paper that challenges people in the community to take over schools but promise them there would be no ties to the unions and central office. They could pick and choose their support systems and the kinds of relations they have with other groups. The line would be from here to Buffalo. To fix the schools we need to remove all of the dirty cooks who currently control the kitchen.

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Posted by Gotta Say It on 03/26/2014 at 6:53 PM

How about a metro district with integrated schools?
Works in Raleigh NC.

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Posted by rocparent on 03/27/2014 at 3:04 PM

How about we hold parents accountable for neglect..lack of support or interest in THEIR child's education. Parents that don't respond to calls..letters or attempted visits from school staff..parents who don't check their child homework much less bother to look in their bookbagd with weeks or months worth of work and notices..parents that care more about fashion and cool gear rather than the fact that their child cannot read or do math at grade level..parents that refuse to accept that they have raised disrespectful..spoiled..lazy children that they can hardly handle yet expect teachers to turn classrooms full of them into geniuses...and let's not speak of those that will never miss a chance to scream obscenities at their child's pop warner football game yet will not show their face at a meeting for their child..THAT IS THE ROOT OF THE wonder why other programs and districts work?? Its not then money or lack of...its thay when you hold parents and children accountable first..all others will follow.

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Posted by midge1824 on 03/27/2014 at 4:41 PM

Maybe Maggie Brooks will help Lovely Warren break up the concentration of poverty. That ain't gonna happen.

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Posted by Mike Bruton on 03/28/2014 at 6:07 PM

Mr. Bruton,

Thank you for your REALISM. You are absolutely CORRECT, and I wish potentially dangerous , super-liberals, like Ms. Towler, would stop attempting to convince people to continue chasing pipe-dreams.

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Posted by Howard J. Eagle on 04/01/2014 at 9:17 AM

Dear rocparent,

Theoretically, "... a metro district with integrated schools" sounds good. Realistically, it's a very old "dog" that just won't hunt, especially in thoroughly segregated Monroe County. It's merely a pipe-dream, and we absolutely cannot afford to chase pie-dreams. In fact, even the Raleigh NC. experiment is dead. Check the article out, from this morning's Huffington Post (at the following link):…

It's NEVER going to work, and here's why:

Please see below, an essay, which I first penned more than 12 years ago. It is absolutely amazing that (12 years later) the content is more relevant today than it was at the time when I originally wrote the essay. If you have the interest and time to study it --- I'd be glad to discuss the content with you and / or others who may be interested.

The Struggle Continues...


The Myth Of Dismantling Racial Segregation Within
the U.S. Public School System: Chasing Pipe Dreams

By Howard J. Eagle

This slightly revised article (2004, on the 50th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education Case) was originally inspired in part by the work of several other authors, which I had read in Education Week during January and February of 2002, including a very lengthy, but limited analysis by a professor named Richard M. Merelman. The central theme of the above referenced authors is a mythical abstraction that they referred to as "resegregation" in public education. In my response, I had argued and maintain that --- although it had emerged (during the early months of 2002) as a topic of "scholarly" debate within some education circles --- there was and is no such thing as "resegregation" within the U.S. public school system. The plain, simple truth is that, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's Decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Case; thousands of citizens' protests, marches, and demonstrations in the streets; massive busing efforts; federal enforcement efforts, including the use of soldiers in numerous cases; sit-ins, teach-ins, and love-ins on the part of liberals, militants, and "revolutionaries" of every stripe, especially during the 1960's and 70's --- the U.S. never even came remotely close to achieving full (defacto, as opposed to dejure) desegregation within the vast majority of its public schools. In addition to numerous court cases, such as the Brown Case and many others, (some of which date back to the 1930's and 40's) the types of street action described above were clearly, largely responsible for helping to produce a relatively small degree of progress (considering the price that was paid) toward equal, public, educational opportunity for all U.S. citizens. However, in the main, such efforts failed to the extent that the exact same, ongoing, fundamental issue of inequitable resource distribution between predominantly white, middle and upper class, suburban, public school students vis-a-vis predominantly black and brown, poor and working class, urban, public school students, is as real and serious in 2004 --- as it was in 1954. This failure can be contributed to numerous factors. One of the most critical and outstanding factors is that accommodations were made for expansion of the black middle class in particular. Many of those who benefited most from accommodations and expansion --- had been former leaders, activists, and participants in the types of street actions referenced above. Amazingly, many of the same people became willing "victims" of calculated, cooptation. Thus, due largely to a great vacuum in leadership, caused by desertion on the part of people who had once lent their skills to organizing and fighting so fervently for justice and equality, (apparently only for themselves), sociopolitical movements that had been effective --- died.

Another part of the hard, cold, simple truth is that throughout the history of this nation --- the overwhelming majority of wealthy and middle class, white parents in particular --- have always made it clear that they are not willing to allow their children to attend schools with large numbers of poor, black and brown children. In fact, wealthy and middle class people of color have also generally chosen to educate their children separately from the poor, black masses.

It is probably important to pause at this point and remind readers of the fact that, with regard to public education, and specifically as it relates to academic achievement, ongoing discussions regarding the potential worth or value of desegregation and integration, are usually fueled by the underlying reality that (decades after the 1954 Brown Decision, and other types of actions mentioned above) generally, so-called "minority" students attending public schools, lag behind their white counter parts by leaps and bounds. Numerous scholars and others continue to insist that desegregation and integration represent important aspects of the solution that will eliminate this so-called achievement "gap."

The idea of desegregation and racial integration representing a remedy relative to effectively addressing the widening achievement "gap" between white students and students of color (anytime soon), is totally unrealistic. This vitally important issue is much too urgent for us to give serious consideration to theories that are seemingly based primarily on peoples' romantic wishes, dreams, hopes and prayers --- as opposed to some type of scientific approach and/or evidence. It is time to stop pretending and romanticizing about this life and death issue, and come to grips with the total reality that surrounds continued, pervasive, racial segregation within the U.S. public school system(s).

Clearly, an important part of the reality is that, while integration may be desirable for some --- there are far more people, especially middle and upper class whites --- who do not, never have, and probably never will support racial integration of public schools. Although this reality applies to considerably more white people, particularly parents, than any other racial group --- it is not (exclusively) a white phenomenon. For example, in addition to hundreds of thousands of white educators, there are many blacks and other parents of color who make their livings by working in predominantly black and brown urban schools, but would never consider sending their own children to the same school systems in which they work (even if there were no residency laws preventing them from doing so). More often than not, urban educators (both white and those of color) live in suburban areas. Although it hinges on sick thinking --- I am thoroughly convinced that it is not far-fetched to believe that many people of color who reside in suburban areas, would oppose full, racial integration of public schools.

The degree and depth of resistance represents the main reason why racial integration is not a timely, practical, nor realistic solution for addressing the hard core, entrenched, massive, educational failure experienced in economically poor, predominantly black and Hispanic, urban school districts throughout the United States. It is precisely due to the fact that large numbers of people, especially people of color, have come to realize and understand the depth and pervasiveness of resistance, that many are no longer willing to spend another 50 or 100 years fighting and struggling to achieve the unlikely and unrealistic goal of public school integration.

For decades, many African Americans have viewed the idea of integration as being a matter of chasing pipe dreams, or a waste of precious time and energy that would be better spent on attempts to improve their public schools now (regardless of the socioeconomic and racial compositions of the student bodies). The latter point represents a major reason why (as pointed out by professor Richard M. Merelman), organizations such as ... "the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which designed and executed the arduous legal strategy that [theoretically] won school desegregation in the courts, now has difficulty maintaining a public posture favorable to it against an indifferent and sometimes hostile membership" (Education Week, Feb. 6, 2002, p. 52). It is not likely that the majority of rank and file NAACP members are "indifferent" to the serious, deep-seated, widespread failure, and/or other problems that exist in poverty stricken, urban schools. On the contrary --- they are probably quite concerned. Yet, there is no denying that many of them are absolutely "indifferent and sometimes hostile" relative to the idea of continuing to pursue public school integration as a possible, immediate, or near-future solution. They have undoubtedly joined the ranks of millions who are very, very tired of chasing pipe dreams.

Indeed, there is a need to carefully consider what will happen to the generations of predominantly black and brown children who are currently left with no choices, except attending segregated, underfunded, relatively poor, urban public schools. One thing is certain: If their academic well being and progress is dependent upon the unlikely advent of racial integration --- such students will not become beneficiaries of significantly improved educational opportunities. Once again, it is impossible to overemphasize the fact that this unlikelihood is based on thoroughly pervasive, organized resistance --- fueled by irrational racist and classist values and belief systems, especially, but not exclusively, on the part of middle and upper class, wealthy, white parents.

For those who are convinced that integration is, in part, or totally, the solution that will 'fix' the urban education crisis --- current and long range strategy is the key, pivotal issue. This is the most notable area in which staunch supporters and advocates of public school integration fall short. With regard to addressing the crisis, some scholars and others insist that the solution, or at least a significant part of it, lies within the need to "break up concentrated poverty," which is another way of saying, there is a need to integrate public schools. Yet, these same advocates and supporters of integration are lacking, and in fact, totally deficient relative to development and/or implementation of practical, effective strategies and tactics that can be utilized to bring their proposed solution into fruition --- without having to wait another two or three hundred years, which is the worst possible thing that people who are most in need of change can afford to do.

In addition to those referenced above, there are many other people who continue to advocate and fight for urban, educational improvement, but for the most part (understandably so) --- in the face of widespread, predominantly white, well organized, and well financed resistance --- have given up on racial integration as a potential solution. This does not necessarily mean that such people are pro-segregation or pro-"resegregation" (if there is such a thing relative to public education in the U.S., which I maintain --- there is not). In order for something to be reinstated or reinstituted --- it necessarily has to exist first. Since desegregation, and certainly integration, has never occurred on any substantial level within the U.S. public school system, it is not really possible, nor is it historically accurate or intellectually honest to engage in serious dialogue or discussion about so-called "resegregation." Many people who clearly understand the desperate need for fundamental change and academic improvement within urban schools throughout the nation, but do not accept racial integration as a realistic or viable solution, often support the following, or similar position(s): As it relates to urban, public schools in the main, (vis-a-vis overwhelmingly, predominantly white, suburban schools, in which children are generally doing well academically and otherwise) the reality that massive numbers of socioeconomically poor, African American and Hispanic children in particular, are flunking out, dropping out, dying out, and/or being imprisoned at younger ages than ever before --- dictates the necessity of providing major amounts of additional, financial resources, human energy and commitment in order to produce significant, fundamental change and improvement within urban, public schools now! Those who support this or similar positions, often argue that we can worry about integration later --- if at all. They also often insist (correctly so) that it is mainly white Americans (as opposed to people of color) who need to be convinced of the morality, importance, and value of integration. Urban students, as well as all students --- don't necessarily need integration or segregation: What they need is adequate and appropriate education!

With regard to professor Merelman's above referenced Education Week Commentary, the essential argument that the scholar attempts (unconvincingly) to advance is that equitable, educational opportunities and significant academic improvement for economically poor, urban, public school children is totally dependent upon the wealth and deeds of white, suburban parents. He argues that... "white parents have more money than black parents to pay for schools, public or private. Parents are mainly interested in good schools for their own children, not for the children of others. It follows that whites will only support black students who happen to be in school with white children. Thus, only if they are sitting next to white children will black children benefit educationally" (p. 37). This is an incredibly shallow assertion, which seems to hinge upon acceptance of institutionalized racism. The argument completely ignores the fact that U.S. States are bound by their Constitutions to provide equitable educational opportunities for all children --- regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or any other variable. Perhaps the intended point that the author was attempting to make is that --- since predominantly white, suburban parents and communities (vis-a-vis predominantly African American and Hispanic, urban parents and communities) are generally far more wealthy and economically stable, as well as, a lot more organized politically --- the former group exercises considerably more clout and control over local, state, and federal legislative bodies, which are responsible for allocating resources to public schools. Herein lies one of the most critical factors embodied within institutionalized discrimination and injustice, which helps perpetuate the shameful, national, urban education crisis. That is to say, as it relates to resource allocation, nearly every state legislature in the Union has devised indecipherable financial aid "formulas," (usually based largely on property tax) which clearly favor predominantly white, politically well organized, parents and children from wealthy suburban school districts --- while blatantly discriminating against predominantly African Americans and Hispanics, as well as other parents and children from less organized, economically poor, urban school districts. Such legally sophisticated, institutionalized racism and classism has always been an inherent part of the U.S. economic and political systems. With regard to providing equitable (not equal, but equitable) funding and equal, public, educational opportunities --- the overall situation is literally a classic example of "robin-hood-in-reverse," i.e., literally taking from the poor, and giving to the rich.

Until and unless decisive, and probably mass action is taken --- professor Merelman is absolutely correct regarding his contention that... "poor black parents, underfunded [so-called] minority school districts, and low-tax-base, largely black cities [will] continue their losing struggle to come up with educational money they don't have." As noted at the outset of this treatise, U.S. history bears witness to the fact that the only type of action that is likely to be effective relative to helping to secure additional, much needed, and much deserved resources for economically poor, urban school districts is community organizing and civil disobedience, including, if necessary --- protesting in the halls of local, state, and federal governments --- as well as, in the streets. There is absolutely no question about the fact that the cause (demand for equitable public education funding, and equality regarding educational opportunities for all children now) is a just one! The cause is in fact the same one in 2004 that produced the well intentioned, but largely ineffective Brown Decision of 1954. As it relates to prospects for change and improvement, a critical missing element, which existed 50 years earlier, is the lack of bold, committed, courageous, political leadership, particularly within the nation's most depressed and oppressed communities. It is totally amazing that those who are considered and/or have been appointed as part of the official and unofficial, elected and non-elected leadership and "representatives" of urban constituencies --- have been able for as long as they have, (without a firestorm of public criticism and disownership by those whom they claim to represent) to get away with not initiating decisive and indeed radical actions --- designed to effectively produce significant, widespread improvement relative to the scandalous, national, urban education crisis.

Lastly, the remote possibility of racial integration representing part of the solution relative to the crisis in urban, public education, is an issue and question that is largely dependent upon the commitment of its advocates, especially white persons. For those who are serious about their belief in the morality and value of racial integration, and truly committed to bringing it into existence, huge numbers of white people in particular, must necessarily be willing to confront the deep-seated, irrational, racism harbored in the hearts and minds of their mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbors and colleagues. It is important to consider that, historically speaking, (in the main) people of color have not been guilty of establishment and maintenance of pervasive, organized, resistance to racial integration within the U.S. On the contrary, there is probably no example in the history of the world in which people have surpassed the efforts of African Americans and other people of color to integrate into a society that has repeatedly rejected them as equals. It would not be morally or ethically right, nor would it be logical to now blame African Americans and/or other people of color for being sick and tired of chasing that which certainly appears to be a pipe dream.

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Posted by Howard J. Eagle on 04/01/2014 at 11:44 AM


Dear rocparent,

My lengthy post below --- should not have read "this morning's Huffington Post ." City Newspaper's website is apparently configured in such a manner that if comments are not edited within a specified amount of time, apparently it's not possible to edit after the specified time. The article was actually written in 2011, but I am certain, based on conversations with friends in Raleigh --- fundamentally nothing has changed since 2011.

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Posted by Howard J. Eagle on 04/01/2014 at 12:18 PM
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