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Are NY State’s Top Education Leaders Change Agents or Status-quo Gate-Keepers

Editorial by Howard J. Eagle

Howard Eagle

According to a 12/27/21 report, the New York State Board of Regents Chancellor (Mr. Lester Young), and New York’s Commissioner of Education (Ms. Betty Rosa) were interviewed recently by USA Today. Reportedly, one of the key issues they discussed is so-called “diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).”

Regretfully, considering that they were both longtime educators in one of the most challenging, and most racially segregated public school systems in the nation (for decades) before arriving in their current prestigious    positions, it is necessary to conclude, based on some of their reported statements, that both Young and Rosa are (at least to some degree and extent) engaging in hypocrisy. 

Without having deep and/or broad-based knowledge of public education, intelligence alone dictates that they must know better than to subscribe to some of the ideas contained in the above referenced report (see a link below). For example, they reportedly claimed that “the pandemic has exposed the inequities that separate students in different communities, creating what Young calls a ‘moral moment’ for action.” So, do they really mean to tell us that prior to covid (even though they both had worked in the NYC school system for decades), they were NOT aware that “inequities that separate students in different communities” existed? How disingenuous; how phony. 

Surely Ms. Rosa knew, when she breezed into Rochester in 2018, and declared that the ” Rochester school system [Rochester City School District, RCSD] is broken, and state officials don’t intend to let it stay that way. This is not acceptable.” At that time she held the same position that Mr. Young holds now, and she had declared, along with then State Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, that the RCSD, which  is just a few miles away from lily-white suburban districts that are among the best in the nation, was “in crisis.” This was after former Distinguished Educator, Dr. Jaime Aquino, who had been appointed by Elia and Rosa to investigate conditions in the RCSD, had issued a subsequent Report, outlining problems, issues, and potential solutions. Surely she remembers that _ after one year, Dr. Aquino quit and left the RCSD, after declaring that “Rochester is a community with low expectations for students rooted in a deep history of institutional racism.” So, considering, not only Dr. Aquino’s Report, but numerous others through the years, is the idea of a so-called “moral moment for action” something new, or is it decades old?   

Young’s declaration that “for the first time, in [his] recollection, in public school history, there is a recognition that we haven’t created a system that provided equitable opportunities for all young people ” _  is as disingenuous (to put it mildly) as it can possibly be.  After all, the race-based “opportunity gap” has been discussed throughout this thoroughly racist, white-supremacist-based nation-state (almost continuously) for nearly 70 years. Has the Chancellor forgotten what the famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Case was premised upon? And surely, he recalls the hell that recent, former, New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza caught for trying to desegregate NYC’s schools  (not in 1918, but in 2018-21). 

We can only wonder, if Lester and Rosa really believe that “all students, including white students, should learn from diverse teaching staffs,” what then are their plans to help move us in that direction, especially considering that (pre-covid) at least 80% of New York’s public school teachers were white, and the fact that, more than likely, the percentage is higher now? It’s one thing to theorize about philosophy and belief-systems. It’s quite another to help spur significant, tangible, measurable, permanent anti- racist change and improvement. Interestingly enough, there’s nothing included in the interview regarding the latter referenced, long-standing, and according to conclusive research, vitally important issue.  In fact, according to the USA Today report: “The state is not requiring districts to create DEI plans, leaving time and room for communities to address these issues in their own ways. But Young said a majority appear on their way to adopting DEI policies.” The latter quote is potentially very problematic for numerous reasons, with one of the most obvious being that there are hundreds, if not thousands of policies on the books, which in many cases never get implemented precisely because of the reason that is stated above e.g., because implementation “plans” are not required.

There’s no reason to believe that this would not be the case regarding this particular, longstanding, systemic issue and problem. That is to say, we know (without any doubt whatsoever), that many, if not most educators are not particularly interested in addressing so-called DEI, mainly because of the underlying issue of individual, institutional, and structural racism, which really is what the narrative should be about. However, the soft language of so-called DEI is much more palatable, especially for the overwhelming majority of white educators who work within schools and districts that have overwhelmingly, predominantly Black student populations.

With regard to other issues highlighted in the wanting report, the Black community in particular, must pay very close attention to the rhetoric about “New York [so-called] rethinking how it measures what students know and can do.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with so-called “alternative assessments,” e.g., so-called “portfolio” and/or  “performance-based” assessments, etc…, we must remain acutely cognizant of any potential efforts to lower standards. For example, regardless of the specific type(s) of assessment(s) being used, we must ensure that foundational knowledge and skills are intact. That is, our children MUST be able to read, write, and do math at or above grade level (all along the pre-K through 12th grade way) __ period. 


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. Eagle taught social studies in the RCSD for 23 years, before retiring in 2010, and is now an adjunct professor in the Department of African American Studies at SUNY Brockport.


(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.)