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Show some outrage; Community needs to come together to improve Buffalo's failing schools

Maybe it's time for Buffalo residents to borrow the tactic of the Occupy Wall Street movement and Occupy Our Schools in an effort to improve the dismal academic achievement and embarrassingly low graduation rate.

Protesters can get tents and march down to the nearest school in the third-poorest big city in the nation prepared to shout, sing and generally make a spectacle of themselves. Chants along the lines of "fighting for the rights of our kids" would be appropriate.

It's really not just the kids who are failing; the adults are failing the kids.

State Education Commissioner John B. King was in town the other day and wondered aloud why people aren't outraged. He's right.

Thirteen of Buffalo's schools, nearly one in four, have been designated as persistently lowest-achieving. In the next several weeks, more of the city's schools will receive the designation.

"That's a death sentence for the community -- a community can't survive with failing schools," King told The News. He also suggested that people ought to be camping out in parks over the performance of their schools.

For one example of the problem, take a look at Lafayette High School -- one of the persistently lowest-achieving schools. The school was eligible for turnaround funds this year and last year, but did not qualify either time. If the School Board doesn't submit an acceptable turnaround plan for the school by Jan. 1, the commissioner says he will revoke the school's registration and recommend that the Board of Regents close it. The students, most of whom are not native English speakers, would face the disruption of being reassigned to other schools around the city.

Why not march on those failing schools and demand that common core standards be achieved?

King used an apt analogy -- the slowly cooked frog -- to describe the reaction to the gradual decline in education in Buffalo. According to that story, if a frog is placed in hot water it will jump out; but if it is placed in cool water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the threat and will be gradually cooked to death.

The School Board, management and labor all bear some responsibility. It's time for parents, other residents and leaders of the business and philanthropic communities to raise their voices the way the Occupy movement is protesting economic inequality.

Such outrage is long overdue when it comes to our failing educational system, and it's not just in Buffalo. Poorer school districts everywhere are facing an uphill battle to educate our young people.

Leaving many of our youngest at the bottom of the heap, unable to properly read, write or do arithmetic, will eventually drag our country down. It certainly will be the case here in Buffalo, where the bioinformatics, medical and technology fields will all need well-educated workers to continue growing.

A well-prepared work force will attract more employers, which will create more jobs that will keep young people from moving away to find work. But it needs to start with a successful school system. Perhaps the appointment by King of a "distinguished educator" to assist Buffalo, and later the hiring of a new superintendent will signal the beginning of change.

But in the meantime, it's not too late to show some outrage.

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