Power of Ten Special Update:
New East Ramapo Monitor Announced
With the announcement of a new monitor for the East Ramapo school board, it seems to be an appropriate time to review what has been happening in the district.
The announcement by the state education department about the new monitor contains a review of “notable accomplishments by the district”:
- improved fund balance and improved reports from auditors and comptroller
- capital improvement projects underway
- full-day kindergarten for all students
- elementary arts programming
The impact of these accomplishments on the lives of children in the district is admirable and should be applauded.
Information about the work of the monitors is available at: https://eastramapomonitorupdate.wordpress.com/
None of these accomplishments would have been possible without the work of hundreds of activists. Students, parents, clergy, education professionals all worked to demand action from Albany. They formed groups such as the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice, Save Our Schools, Padres Unidos, and Strong East Ramapo. They’re the ones who caused monitors to be appointed, they’re the ones who caused a new superintendent to be hired, they’re the ones who caused the state to increase aid.
The school board fought these changes tooth and nail, just as they fought the NYS Education Department’s oversight of illegal special education placements and the NY Attorney General’s criminal investigation into fraud in the sale of the Hillcrest elementary school.
Increased State Aid
Increasing educational programming costs money, and the accomplishments that the monitors report could not have been realized without increased state aid. The following table illustrates changes to district revenue from the 2014-15 school year (before the monitor law) to the 2016-17 school year (the latest data available from the state website)
One of the objectives the monitors set for themselves in 2016 was to “set clear performance objectives for students”. It does not seem unreasonable that an organization with a budget of a quarter billion dollars per year, and whose mission is so vital to the community, should be able to demonstrate quantitatively and qualitatively that it’s fulfilling its mission. However, after this one mention in September of 2016, the word “performance” does not appear again in the monitor’s blog.
The statistics available on the state education department web site present a mixed picture:
- Scores on state tests have been improving overall, with the exception of math scores of Latino students, which have remained flat compared to the state average since 2014.
- Even after modest improvements, only about one quarter of our students are deemed “proficient” by the state, as compared to about half of students statewide.
Graduation rates are not yet available for the school year ending in 2018; they dropped overall between 2014 and 2017:
- African American students in East Ramapo graduated at about the same rate as others in New York State.
- The graduation rate for Latino students has fallen further behind, down to 37 percent in 2017!
Factors which are known to be associated with lower educational outcomes:
- Elementary class size in East Ramapo is higher than the average in New York State.
- Children with special needs are less likely to be placed in a regular classroom in East Ramapo than the state average.
- Children in East Ramapo often lead separate lives from their peers of other races (de facto segregation).
The Most Vulnerable
A public education system cannot be measured only by the achievements and opportunities available to those who excel. It can’t offer math only to those who excel at math or art to those who display talent or gym to those who are physically fit.
There are laws in place which force educational institutions to provide education for all, because there is a long sordid history of educational institutions neglecting students with disabilities, those in need of remedial services, female students and students of color.
There are three groups of students who are the most vulnerable to educational neglect in East Ramapo today. These are: preschool children, students with interrupted formal education, and students in some yeshivas (Jewish private schools).
- Many preschool children in East Ramapo are not exposed to a modern early childhood development environment. The main barrier is economic. Parents do not earn enough to pay for quality, licensed childcare or for transportation to pre-K programs. The children don’t understand that this is not their fault. The result is that the district will spend years trying to undo the damage to the child’s self-esteem. Knowing the tremendous impact that lack of preschool education is having, the district (and the monitors) should be addressing this issue, starting by stating publicly that it is a problem and proposing plans to address it.
- Every year, families move into East Ramapo with school age children. Some of these children have experienced difficulty and hardship, including missing school, sometimes for years. The technical term is “students with interrupted formal education”. The district has just as much responsibility to these children as to any other child in the district. The failure of the district to adequately address the special needs of this group is a major factor in the higher dropout rate over the past two years. Many of the dropouts are going to work in the same underground economy as the parents who can’t afford early childhood education, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty in our district.
- Years ago, the administration of the East Ramapo school district made a deal with the operators of some of the yeshivas. The school district would not enforce the state truancy law which requires that all children receive an education regardless of placement, and the yeshiva parents would stay home on school budget day and not vote the public school budget down. This secret arrangement was covered up for decades until some of the children who had attended yeshivas began to realize they had been cheated out of an education. They found themselves unprepared for the job market and unable to provide for their families.
Reading Between the Lines
What do you see between the lines when you read reports from the NYSED monitors? What are they not saying about the most vulnerable? What are they not saying about the governance of a public school system where most children attend private school?
The monitors will either serve the children or they will serve those who profit from the status quo. They do not have veto power over the school board, but you, dear reader, have veto power over the monitors through your elected representatives in Albany.