I’ve spent 10 of my 11 New York State public school system teaching years in the Buffalo Public Schools. When I entered a college preparation program to become a New York State teacher, it was known that we had the best teachers. Students came here to become teachers and then left to teach in other areas of the country.
Now, in less than 20 years, we have gone from having the best teachers to a teacher evaluation system bent on proving that our once revered teachers are ineffective, incompetent and not deserving of the respect and place of honor they once held in our society.
You ask, “What can be done about Buffalo’s failing schools?” I say, “nothing,” because the schools aren’t failing. Students are failing tests that are new, untested and not developmentally appropriate. And they’re failing them everywhere, not just in Buffalo.
The schools are doing the best they can to be a beacon in a very dim reality – a reality that the dictatorial and egocentric CEOs and the governor don’t understand.
The problems schools are faced with are vicious, infectious and multifaceted, similar to the battle Hercules waged with the Hydra; you can cut off one head, but another will grow in its place and, while you’re watching, another one is trying to eat you alive.
Allow me to explain. When I was in school, my parents made it clear to my siblings and me that school was our responsibility. High standards were set and the expectations to meet them were held.
Schools everywhere are facing societal problems, including extreme poverty, homelessness, hunger, fear, child abuse, violent and disruptive students, apathetic parents, students who don’t speak English, parents or guardians who don’t speak English, gang violence and lack of parental involvement.
Schools everywhere are facing internal problems, including corrupt, abusive, vindictive, out-of-touch or incompetent administration; too much administration; large class size; teaching time versus preparation time; not enough teachers and substitute teachers; lack of support staff (counselors, psychologists and social workers), relevant professional development and supplies; and testing.
Are charter schools the answer to all this? How could they be? They would be and are faced with the same problems public schools are encountering. Some charter schools are as corrupt and dysfunctional as public schools, and some public schools are as successful and vivacious as charter schools – City Honors, Olmsted, Hillery Park, Discovery, etc.
However, what I can say for certain is that I would be up for this experiment: Next year, the charter schools will recruit students from the public school system in Buffalo and elsewhere. However, the charters must keep every student they take. No more returning a violent and disruptive student back to public schools, all the while keeping the financial assistance for that student. This is a real problem that could be solved quite easily. Put an end to the “catch and release” philosophy; I say, “finders, keepers.”
It has become a demoralizing effort to come to work every day with a smile on my face and be told I’m to blame. It is time to start holding parents and central office administrators as accountable as teachers in our schools. When that happens, you will see improvement.