Student behavior and disciplinary issues are not the main reasons so many Rochester public schools are failing; ineffective teachers and problems with developing the curriculum are. And only 30 percent of poorly performing schools are functioning well enough to make the improvements they need to make.
Those were some of the conclusions that a group of educational consultants, most of them former superintendents, reached after assessing Rochester schools.
The consultants' findings were presented at the Rochester school board's Excellence in Student Achievement Committee meeting yesterday. District officials hired the consultants to examine Rochester's "priority" and "focus" schools: those that are performing in the lowest 5 percent statewide or are showing signs of reaching that level. More than half of the city's schools fit the criteria.
The consultants were asked to both diagnose problems in the schools and provide corrective recommendations to get removed from the state's "priority" and "focus" designations. The consultants spent 3000 hours observing classrooms in 49 Rochester schools. They assessed six areas: leadership capacity, school leader practices and decisions, curriculum development and support, teacher practices and support, student social and emotional health, and family and community engagement.
The major finding was the need for teacher improvement, Dan Lowengard, the former superintendent of Utica and Syracuse schools, said. Students were not engaged, he said.
"We didn't see discipline in the classrooms as a major problem," he said.
Too many teachers are isolated in their classrooms rather than working in collaboration with stronger, more effective teachers, Lowengard said. While many district teachers are exceptional, he said, many others needed professional development. And many of the teachers who most need the professional development choose not to pursue it, he said.
The critique drew sharp criticism from Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association.
"This is more of the fix-the-teachers narrative, and it implied that teachers are not accountable, when they're the most accountable people in this whole mix," Urbanski said in a phone interview earlier today.
The consultants said nothing about the district's problems with spotty student attendance, management issues at both central office and in the schools, or the ravages of concentrated poverty, Urbanski said.
"Their conclusion about student discipline would make most teachers in Rochester question what planet they're from," Urbanski said.
Some board members were also skeptical of the report's findings. Board president Van White said he was concerned that the report was too complicated to be useful. And he said that district's problems are not limited to teacher effectiveness.
Caterina Leone-Mannino, the Rochester district's executive director of school innovation, said the report's recommendations would be used to develop a plan for school improvement in each of the low-performing schools. And the plans, which have in the past been written to comply with the state's mandates, will be more of an interactive document used daily to measure progress and implement changes as needed.
In the past, such plans "sat on a shelf and collected dust," she said. "This is a shift for us."