Monday, May 20, 2013

School Budget VOTE Day

Tomorrow New York State school districts have their annual school budget vote and school board member elections. 

For every district in the state (except the Big Five cities), the vote is the culmination of each district’s planning process and the means for the community to select the people who will make district policy and other decisions on behalf of their communities.  The budget proposal is the end result of months of study and discussion but it cannot be finalized until the community passes judgment on the work through their votes.   

Sadly, typically only five to ten percent of the eligible citizens vote on their school budgets.  Lots of people don’t notice or even forget the vote is happening.  School elections are non-partisan; board members are unpaid; and board service is not perceived as a stepping stone to other political positions.  All of this means that school board budget votes and board elections are not accompanied by the high-profile media onslaught that characterizes elections for other levels of government. 

Ideally citizens should be able to act without constant communications prodding them to vote. People should note the district newsletters and calendars that announce the date of the vote, and then make casting a ballot a priority. 

If you live in a district with a budget vote tomorrow, find the time to vote.  Read your district’s budget newsletter (generally available online if you misplaced yours) and the statements of the people running for the board of education.  And then, as an informed citizen, vote. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Newsweek’s 2013 Best High Schools and Monroe County Schools

Newsweek has released their 2013 list of America’s Best High Schools.  15 Monroe County high schools are cited on this list.  These schools represent the diversity of the communities in our county.  There is a school from the city and a school from one of the smallest villages.  There are schools from solidly middle class towns and also from districts with high free and reduced lunch rates. 

It is worthwhile to note that in a state where the quality and cost of public education are often criticized by state leaders, the same leaders who regularly endorse the idea of charter schools, the Newsweek data tells a different story.

Of the list’s 2000 nationally ranked high schools, 194 are from New York State.  How does this compare with other states?  In this measure of high level academic performance, New York outshines the other states. California has almost twice as many people as New York but only 30% more schools on the list (253).  Texas, with 30% more people than NY, has fewer schools (165).  And a state often cited as an education powerhouse, Massachusetts, which has only 34% of the population of New York has a disproportionately smaller number of schools on the list, just 48 or 24% of New York’s number.  Many states, of course, have only a handful and sadly some have only 1 or less.

Schools on the list are identified as selective (students must pass selection criteria to be admitted), magnet, charter, or open enrollment.  Of New York’s 194 schools, only 1 is a charter school.  And while there are a number of selective or magnet schools on the list, the vast majority are open enrollment schools. 

And when one looks more closely at New York’s data, Monroe County’s school district’s accomplishments are notable.  New York is the nation’s third largest state with approximately 2,685,000 K-12 students.  Monroe County’s student population represents only 4% of the number of students in the state yet 8% of New York’s listed high schools are located here.

The Newsweek list is just one of numerous rating systems that organizations use to evaluate and characterize the work of public schools.  There are many ways to define excellence in education.

All this does not mean that there are not schools in New York where students are performing woefully below the level they need to be at to make good lives for themselves. These results in no way eliminate the need to constantly analyze what schools do so we can learn and improve our programs.  But it does mean that in a lot of places around New York State educators are doing a great job and students are benefitting from attending these great schools.