This is an important message from a local school board member–Damon Buffum– to the New York Board of Regents. To commend him for his straight talk and thoughtfulness, I add him to our honor roll as a champion of American education.
From: Damon Buffum (dbuffum)
Sent: Monday, October 13, 2014 11:27 AM
To: Norwood; Regent Bendit; Regent Bennett; Regent Bottar; Regent Brown; Regent Cashin; Regent Cea; Regent Cottrell; Regent Dawson; Regent Finn; Regent Phillips; Regent Rosa; Regent Tallon; Regent Tiles; Regent Tisch; Regent Young
Cc: Damon Buffum (dbuffum) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: Times Union article Re: Common Core Divides State’s Regents Board
Hello New York State Board of Regents -
My name is Damon Buffum and I’m a Board of Education member in the Fairport Central School District (Monroe County). I’m also a District Resident, father, grandfather and high tech Engineering Manager with Cisco Systems. The comments in this email are my own and don’t represent the opinions or policy of the Fairport BoE or Cisco Systems.
I wanted to comment on the recent article in the Albany Times Union regarding education policy and the views of the state Regents. First, thanks for your efforts. I know from my experience on the Fairport BoE, the time commitment to education in New York is immense and I can only imagine the time and dedication required to fulfill your roll on the state Regents Board. The main purpose of the note however, is to strongly support the views that Regent Rosa expresses in her comments in this article. She states, “They are using false information to create a crisis, to take the state test and turn it on its head to make sure the suburbs experience what the urban centers experience: failure”. I couldn’t agree more. In representing the Fairport education system I can firmly state that we have no crisis in the Fairport education system.
It’s disturbing to me to listen to Governor Cuomo, Commissioner King and the Board of Regents decry, universally, that New York schools are failing our children, that we spend more money than any other state and that our state government is providing more funding to public education that ever before. All of these statements have context, but are ultimately not true. I believe that you understand this. I do consider it a fact that we have certain districts that are in crisis, but I’ve also done personal analysis and know that there is a DIRECT link of education performance (whatever academic metric you chose) and student poverty. This is not a vague connection, but a direct connection. To divert attention away from this link to poverty and broadly paint this as a nationwide or statewide education failure is both misleading and incorrect. Using our sparse and valuable resources to attack this problem through inappropriate curriculum for early grades, over testing and data collection, high stakes testing, curriculum changes and the need for increased (overwhelming) investment in technology, new text books, teacher development is irresponsible and wasteful. I won’t go into the associated, unquantified, costs to these reform policies, but I have a firm belief that these are moving New York education in the wrong direction and will ultimately cost our state dearly in terms of an educated workforce and a healthy economy. We sadly do have a crisis in many urban and rural communities. We have a poverty crisis, a social structure crisis, a health crisis and economic opportunity crisis. These are the FUNDAMENTAL issues that have to be recognized and dealt with. A child spends roughly 17% of their time in schools. The best teachers, curriculum and tests won’t fix a problem if 83% of a child’s time is being impacted by other areas that are in crisis. This is where Governor Cuomo should be focused. Schools and teachers can do amazing things, but the children have to be safe, fed, healthy and ready to learn.
In my home district, the Common Core and associated testing (3-8 state testing, field testing, SLO testing) have caused an immense distortion of our child-centric focus and ensuring the education of the whole child. I understand that the CCSS are only standards and not curriculum or a test, but it’s naïve to think that the immense quantity of time and impact of these tests to do not have a direct link to the curriculum, funding, focus and morale of our education system. I’ve personally toured every building in our District and spoken with administrators, staff and students. We have a 95% graduation rate, our kids have a healthy education experience that includes the arts, history, the sciences, athletics, robotics, community service, diversity and inclusion. We are proud of our kids and our schools. Again, for me personally, I consider the New York state reform agenda to be a direct attack on the education community we have.
I know that I haven’t told you anything that you haven’t heard or known already. However, I am asking you to get real here. Let’s recognize the REAL problems that we have in New York and start attacking those. We need to stop proclaiming ALL education systems as failures and support the best of what we have while addressing the gaps. We need to support these activities with funding – and giving support and then taking it away through the GEA is absurd. The current Common Core implementation in New York is creating chaos. We have our Superintendents divided in terms of impact, the states teachers union initiating a lawsuit around a testing gag order, multiple Districts adopting declarations against high stakes testing, tens of thousands of students and parents opting out of state tests, schools being closed and we have total political dysfunction. Our kids are paying the price for this as they only experience their education a single time. We entrust you with our state education policy. Please put our schools and kids first (above a political or corporate agenda) and put education back in the hands of educators.