Well, she’s still on that old, tired, worn-out “concentrated poverty” kick—which I knew would be the case, even before reading her latest treatise. Yes, I’m talking about the latest opinion piece “Rochester school district awaits yet another study” (September 18, 2018) by Mary Anna Towler, Editor and Co-publisher of City Newspaper https://www.rochestercitynewspaper.com/rochester/rochester-school-district-awaits-yet-another-study/Content?oid=8036854.
Like so many other super-liberals Towler just can’t seem to come to grips with the issue of dealing with that which has produced, perpetuated, reinforced, maintained—for decades and centuries—and is continuing to reinforce, perpetuate and maintain “concentrated poverty”.
As opposed to merely pontificating, opining, and in fact pining for the pipe-dream of mystical, magical school integration, which clearly is NOT gonna happen—period; She should come to grips with the fact that it’s way past time to move beyond the pipe-dream.
Towler notes that “Some district critics have criticized State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia for appointing Aquino.” That would be us!
She also notes that “Elia’s job is to provide oversight for the state’s public school districts. When Rochester is doing as badly as it is, she has a responsibility to act. And she did.” Yeah; now let’s examine when she so-called “acted,” and how (specifically) she “acted,” and let’s use our knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence to determine the validity, and likely effectiveness of her so-called “action.”
First, let’s be clear that her latent (very latent), so-called “action” is racist in nature. That is to say, she would never pull anything even remotely similar within a predominantly lily-white suburban, or even lily-white rural school district—relative to the thoroughly ludicrous and categorically disrespectful stunt that she pulled by imposing a so-called “distinguished” educator (really just another high-priced consultant, at the tune of hundreds-of-thousands of local-budget-dollars) to the predominantly Black and brown Rochester City School District (RCSD) without even having the basic courtesy to attempt any form of dialogue or discussion with RCSD parents, families, and/or the taxpayers who are footing the bill.
Thus, to “act” in a certain manner (based at least partially on the fact that you can get away with it because those who are being acted upon are overwhelmingly poor, largely unorganized, Black and Brown folks) is indeed racist to the core… period!
With regard to when she “acted”, well, anyone who is paying close attention would probably ask why—since Rochester [has been] doing as badly as it is “for decades, and she has been Commissioner since 2015—it took over three (3) years for her to “act?”
And most importantly, what does our deep, broad, knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence dictate will be the likely outcome of her grossly inadequate, so-called “action?” For example, what in the world would make us think that Dr. Aquino, or any other individual (no matter how so-called “distinguished” he or she may be) has more knowledge or insight than all of us (combined) who have been attempting to help produced change and improvement in the RCSD for decades?
What (logically) would cause us to believe that he will uncover or discover something that we don’t already know? And ultimately—even if his recommendations are completely on-point—what would make us think (after scores and scores of studies, reports, and recommendations over past decades) that they will actually be IMPLEMENTED WITH FIDELITY THIS TIME AROUND?
What’s different now than in the past? Towler actually helps to drive the latter point home with questions like: “Why can’t we fix even the most basic things like taking attendance properly? Presumably this has to do with proper training and oversight, but we’ve known for years that recording attendance is a problem. Previous studies have said that it is.”
Frequently, people don’t obtain correct, logical and/or helpful) answers because they ask the wrong questions, or they frame questions incorrectly. For example, as it relates to attempting to understand/address the long-standing critical issue of super-high absenteeism, Towler asked, “Why do so many Rochester students skip school so often?” This is indeed (to a large degree and extent) a misnomer, i.e., the idea and probably widespread belief that super-high absenteeism is due simply, merely or mainly to “so many Rochester students skipping school often”, as opposed to a whole range of complex reasons and issues.
We know, for example, that huge numbers of those who are chronically absent are among the youngest Elementary students; so are we to assume that they are “skipping school”? The way in which Towler framed the question regarding attendance leaves (from her perspective) very limited, possible, “logical” answers (without the idea of NOT VALUING EDUCATION necessarily being at the center of her ‘reasoning’).
Also, as it relates to her assertion about us being “told [that] the supply of teachers of color is limited,” and her subsequent questions: 1) “what can the district do to [help produce] hire more;” 2) “how effective are the district’s programs to eliminate racism and change attitudes within its staff?” — IF she’s really interested — why doesn’t her fake-progressive, “alternative” news organ do an in-depth report regarding the work (via the district’s Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership -REAL- team), which some of us have been involved in for nearly a year now? Why doesn’t she utilize her journalistic-voice to help get the word out about what is being done (via REAL), and how it might be more effective if more people knew about it—so that they can offer support, and/or join in the work?
In addition to her pet-peeve-issue of “concentrated poverty”, Towler is famous for advancing rationalizations and excuses for many teachers. Frequently, including via her most recent treatise, she writes about teachers being abused. However, careful examination of her positions almost always reveals hypocrisy. For instance, in this particular case, IF “teachers and principals repeatedly have change thrown at them with little training” why don’t they speak out publicly (at the point and time of occurrence)? Why don’t they inform stake-holders (parents and the broader tax-paying community) of the specifics, and ask for support and help? We’re all in this together — right???
How is it that (for the most part) those who are considered as being the intelligentsia—the best and brightest among us—remain tight-lipped, and expect others to automatically adore them, and fight their fights? This is the type of foolishness that leads stake-holders to believe (for many, if not most) it’s all about the paycheck, and about not ‘rocking any boats’ and a desire to be as comfortable as possible, while continuing to collect—obviously, often at the expense of the very ones who are supposedly being served).
The author asks: “how much of all this [old, old, deep-seated, pervasive, systemic failure] is due to a lack of resources – not buildings and desks and books, but money to hire more well-trained [non-racist] counselors, social service staff, reading specialists?” This would be a fair question IF people could ask it with a straight face, while at the same time, remaining silent about the fact that, according to Rochester Board of Education Commissioner Beatriz LeBron, the RCSD: 1) is spending 15 million dollars annually on consultants (http://www.wxxinews.org/post/connections-candidates-rochester-city-school-board), probably not including Commissioner Elia’s $200,000 dollars or more, unilaterally-imposed, unfunded “distinguished”- educator mandate; 2) has the highest paid Board members in all of NY State–$27,033 per year, with the board president earning an additional $7,725; more than a full-time salary for many, and a Board budget of at least one million dollars—some of which is being used for “retreats” to help Board members figure out how to get along with one another.
In light of this type of horrendous fiscal waste and inefficiency, and with a nearly one-billion dollar budget ($915 million) it becomes difficult (to say the least) to make a credible case for additional resources.
Don’t get me wrong, we need to do all that we can to make sure we have the necessary, equitable, resources to provide whatever our children need in order to develop to their full potentials, which is currently not the case, and to be honest, in order to secure such necessary resources probably will require a fight (politically speaking).
We know that often those who need less actually get more because they are well organized and very effective advocates for their children (often exclusively). The other side of this coin is, we must make sure that the vast amount of resources that we do receive ($900 million-plus dollars) are being utilized efficiently and effectively, which obviously is not the case currently, and which raises another critical issue that we need to focus on—rooting out massive waste, and possibly fiscal mismanagement, malfeasance and corruption, which is currently occurring in the Rochester City School District.
Anyway, Towler is correct about one thing; significant, widespread, fundamental, academic change and improvement “won’t be done on the cheap.” Yet, again, we cannot continue to accept massive waste, and possibly fiscal mismanagement, malfeasance and corruption, while at the same time crying for more, and more, and more resources (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7AL44keDZw).
Towler goes as far as expressing doubt about the “possibility [of] creating high-achieving schools in [the] city”. Guess why? You got it; because we have “one of the country’s highest child poverty rates.”
So, for her, with regard to academic achievement, apparently, poverty is deterministic, which of course is NOT a valid position. One reason why we know this for sure is because of the phenomenal rate at which illiteracy was decreased during the U.S Reconstruction period (following the legal end of centuries of chattel slavery)—a time at which the poverty rate among Black folks made current, overall socioeconomic conditions look like child’s play: http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/07/28/african-americans-emerged-slavery-hunger-education/ideas/nexus/.
In spite of her unsubstantiated claim, I don’t hear anyone “unfairly blaming Rochester’s teachers, administrators, and school board members for not overcoming the impact of Rochester’s concentrated poverty,”; but I do hear lots of people pointing out “problems that [they] can control and should be able to fix.”
As is usually the case Towler’s final analysis and conclusion represents a ball-of-convoluted-contorted-conflation. She claims that “we’ve known about problems of training, oversight, racism for years”—which of course is true, but the kicker is her claim that if Dr. Aquino “can tell us why they persist [as if we don’t already know] the rest will be up to us”—as if it isn’t already up to us!
Howard Eagle is a longtime educator and local anti-racism advocate, known for his campaigns for the Rochester school board and prolific political and social commentary.
(The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)