At Governor Andrew Cuomo’s insistence, New York has compiled a list of the state’s low-performing schools that have been given an ultimatum: improve significantly in one or two years or go into “receivership.”

in this post, Buffalo board member Dr. Barbara Nevergold describes State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s intense interest in Buffalo schools. She has visited Buffalo twice and held numerous meetings her second time. She was especially interested in two schools: Burgard and South Park High Schools.

Dr. Nevergold writes:

“The Commissioner was blunt regarding her assessment of the situation at Burgard and South Park High Schools. She came armed with data regarding teacher effectiveness ratings and student performance as measured by standardized tests. Wasting no time, she told Burgard and South Park staffs that she discerned a “disconnect” between these two measures. She said that while the majority of teachers, in both schools, were evaluated as effective or highly effective, student achievement was not correspondingly ranked. In other words, students with effective teachers are expected to receive test scores that mirror their teachers’ ratings. How did they explain this discrepancy, she queried? The staff members were hard pressed to respond. Her assertion about this disconnect and her question left no doubt that the Commissioner believes that there is a “connect” between these two measures. Although, not a subject for in-depth discussion, the pointed attention given this issue communicated the Commissioner’s support for the hotly contested teacher evaluation system pushed by the Governor and the Legislature.”

Clearly, the Commissioner believes that there is a direct connection between student test scores and teacher ratings. In this, she mirrors Governor Cuomo’s (uninformed) views.

Not everyone agrees with Elia. Buffalo teacher Sean Crowley hits her upside the head for trusting test scores as measures of teacher quality. He criticizes her for blaming teachers who persevere in two of the state’s toughest schools, where teachers have been attacked by students.

Crowley writes:

“Her contempt for the dedicated teachers at South Park and Burgard couldn’t be any more obvious. I spent my first 5 years teaching at Burgard and the day I broke up a knife fight in a hallway during lunchtime I went home and wrote out my request for a transfer. The knife wielder has since been incarcerated for a fatal knife attack during a home invasion. He stands a chance of being paroled next month too by the way. I accepted a position for the following year at South Park the school where a security guard had been shot by a student in a hallway a few months earlier. I guess I was using the lightning can’t strike twice in the same spot logic. MaryEllen Elia’s fuzzy homecoming stories about Sweet Home don’t cut it when you talk about the environment of these two schools. And what’s really amazing about them both is the number of hard core dedicated teachers you’ll find at Burgard and South Park shaking off the adversity coming to work, handling everything that gets thrown at them. And yes things like staplers, chairs and books are among the items thrown at them.

“MaryEllen Elia has Buffalo in her sights. She has no time for the realities of the communities that produce so many kids who don’t do well on standardized tests. She has no insight or compassion or respect for the teachers who spend their days with kids from unbearably adversarial homes and neighborhoods. She doesn’t want to hear it. She has no place in her head or her heart for this data. In Elia’s head these teachers don’t deserve to be rated anything above ineffective if their students don’t score well on tests that are purposely created to be too difficult in order to create the illusion of bad teaching and failure. She is sticking to her script. We all know the endgame of her script is to fire as many teachers as possible and weaken teacher’s unions enough that the forces of privatization can be sent in to “save the day.” They won’t of course but that’s not really the objective here anyway.”

situation and the dissension on the board. Although she doesn’t mention it, Carl Paladino is a member of the school board; not only did he run against Cuomo in his first race for governor, but he is a charter school owner and real estate developer. Conflict of interest?

Dr. Nevergold writes:

“The designation of 25 Buffalo schools as “persistently struggling” or “struggling” by the New York State Education Department is the most recent decision that has a major consequence for the District. The District has one year with the 5 schools identified as “persistently struggling” and 2 years with the remaining 20 to demonstrate progress. During this period, the Superintendent has been named the Receiver for these schools. In this role, he has broad powers to institute changes, including staff, curricula and schedule. However, if NYSED determines that the changes are not significant than the Commissioner will appoint an outside receiver to run these schools. The Receivership Law gives the Superintendent the discretion to make decisions about these schools without the approval of the Board. And while some individuals believe that the Superintendent will use this power to totally circumvent the Board, I don’t believe that it would be prudent or in the best interests of these schools for him to act as a solo entity. However, this is a discussion that must take place so all parties are clear on the future direction regarding these 25 schools. The Board has the responsibility to ensure there is clarity.”

New Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has promised to crackdown on the Buffalo schools. This will be a test case of her skills and leadership.

Does anyone believe that “persistently struggling” schools can be turned around in one year? Common sense suggests that genuine change would require additional staff and resources, intensive tutoring, wraparound services, and other investments. Or a school could kick out the lowest scoring kids and claim a pretend victory.