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The Choices We Have to Make for Long Island's Students

Long Islanders have two choices: Either we show our children that society is willing to invest in them or we place the futures of our children in the hands of those looking to profit from them.

This week's post is written by Danielle Asher, the Statewide Early Childhood Education Campaign Coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education and the Lead Organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

We have a tradition in this country of giving apples to our teachers to show appreciation for the work they do day in and out educating our children. Well, according to Wall Street Journal commentator Andrew Coulson those red deliciouses would be better replaced with pink slips.

This past Tuesday, the Journal ran an opinion piece by Coulson, of the right-wing Cato Institute, entitled "America Has Too Many Teachers." While one day I might try and have my piece, "America Has Too Many Conservative Think Tanks," published in the journal, for now I'll settle for a refutation of his flawed arguments.

Despite Coulson's imaginative title, he rehashes the same tired anti-teacher arguments that privatization advocates often make: that public schools have “warehoused three million people in jobs that do little to improve student achievement” and that these educators would be “working productively in the private sector if that extra $210 billion were not taxed out of the economy each year.”

I'll be the first to admit that Coulson is right on point that U.S. student achievement is lackluster. While there has been steady research published in the past few decades showing how our students lag behind other nations, let's just take one example.

According to the Department of Education, only 15% of Americans are fully literate. That's 264 million Americans who have some kind of shortcoming in "understanding and using" information from prose, documents and basic math, according to the DoE's comprehensive 2002 study. Worse yet, a large portion of those millions are "functionally illiterate", or unable to critically process written information given to them. If you accord weight to Thomas Jefferson's argument for free public education that "Democracy can not long exist without enlightenment", then these numbers should be enough to keep you up at night.

So if we agree it's critical to improve education, we're presented with some choices. Coulson's thought is that by bringing the profit motive into education, we can achieve greater results using fewer resources. Well, recent history provides us with some good example of how schools cope with reduced funding. 

In recent years, New York State has drastically cut school funding, in spite of being required by the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to provide additional funds for the neediest schools districts. Unsurprisingly, these cuts disproportionately affect low-income students. The Alliance for Quality Education found that in 2011, poor school districts had their funding cut by an average of $843 per student versus $269 per student for the wealthiest districts.

Less funding means fewer teachers, and fewer teachers means bigger class sizes. What's strange is that Coulson's article completely ignores the proven link between smaller class sizes and improved performance. Firing three million teachers would result in larger class sizes and weaken public education nationwide. In the school term of 2009-10, the percentage of school districts nationwide which fired personnel increased from 11% in 2008-9 to 44%. During that same year, the percentage of districts increasing class size more than tripled from 13% the year before to 44%. In light of these facts, Mr. Coulson’s proposal that we remove nearly half of America’s educators from our public schools is a prescription for the outright sabotage of public education.

While larger class sizes hurt all students, they hurt those from low-income families the most. For example, the Tennessee STAR Project found that while students in smaller classes reaped the greatest learning gains, this was especially true for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. Additionally, the American Psychological Association has found that students from schools in low-income areas face additional challenges, leading them to enter high school an average of 3.3 grade levels behind students from higher income areas.

When Coulson points to private education as a model for public school to follow, noting the higher achievement of students in these schools, it is precisely because they're able to provide small class sizes, and cater to students from higher-income communities. By refusing to acknowledge this, Coulson and other supporters of a for-profit school system are willfully distorting reality.

We have to decide as a society what we want to prioritize. If people like Andrew Coulson truly believed education is a priority, they would put their money where their mouth is. Giving all children a solid education means giving additional funds to poor school districts where the children face additional hurdles. These additional funds can primarily be used to provide additional teachers, giving disadvantaged children the proven benefit that a smaller class size can provide. In our state, Educate NY Now, a project of the Alliance for Quality Education and other groups is working to help focus the state's priorities back on education.

Long Islanders have two choices: Either we show our children that society values them and is willing to invest in them; or we go against all available research and place the futures of our children in the hands of those looking to profit from them. We can't afford to have two Long Islands, where stark differences in education between places like Wyandanch and Roslyn make it hard to believe they're in the same country, let alone twenty miles apart. So, when faced with this reality, what choice will we make? 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Vincent July 25, 2012 at 10:39 AM
Goin' Commando: You sound like a very unstable person.
EG July 25, 2012 at 11:53 AM
@Chris Good Post. I also believe that class size is not the major issue when students are placed in the proper academic or non-academic track. An interested student is not generally a disruptive student and even in a small class, the learning environment can be ruined with just one frustrated disruptive student. On the other hand a class of well behaved students with similar ability can easily exceed 20 students.
Preliator July 25, 2012 at 12:26 PM
What party supports the wholesale slaughter of the unborn: Democrats. In the great traditions of history's leftist; Hilter, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, mass murder has been a tool of the left and who better to kill than those most defenseless. 50 to 70 million souls thrown out like trash since the passage of Roe vs. Wade and you have the gall to compare Conservatives to Nazis/socialist; take a long hard look at history and you'll find that liberals/democrats/progressives have a hell of a lot more in common with the worst evils in history than any Conservative/Republican.
Chris Wendt July 26, 2012 at 10:43 AM
@DadofThree: "Those radical right and radical left losers only care about ideology, not America or its citizens." That statement is totally un-American, totally contrary to the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was founded. Sure, anyone if free to line-up people on a single, long continuum and put labels on them, starting at either the far right or the far left, and call the ones you have labeled differently from your own label, "losers". But, we all exist, and we each have our own ideology, meaning a wide range of ideologies exist as well. The challenge is learning how to live among one another as members of such a diverse society. The secret to doing that successfully is not calling everyone who does not believe exactly as you believe, "losers", nor is it hanging insulting labels on other groups of people. To say it more simply, it takes one to know one.
DaddyGuru July 26, 2012 at 11:43 AM
nonsense religion thinking is dangerous to society it does not hold to any real hard evidence ,you can not go through life basing your beliefs on your feelings, or what you think you see or hear or feel, you need hard core proof that is repeatable ,you must learn to reason ,for when needed ,prim example is all suffering, death, torture ,suppression of knowledge that this nonsense has caused man kind, they become capable of believing any thing and or doing any thing, hence they become a threat to you and me and society ,if they can not reason they are unreasonable ,and all we can do is try to point out the facts and information, which usually will not work because nonsense believers do not have the capacity to reason thing out , if they could reason they would not believe this nonsence in the 1st place ,this all we can do the spread of this type of thinking to others, and our children ,it is our duty to confront you for the survival and advancement of mankind!
Preliator July 26, 2012 at 01:17 PM
The only nonsense is that mess of a paragraph you call a cogent thought. Not to be mean but go drink some coffee, take a moment to wake up and try it again.
ergodic July 26, 2012 at 08:09 PM
A few notes on more mundane matters; (1) Cold Spring Harbor School District is in Suffolk, not Nassau. (2) A "basic" Regents Diploma requires that the student pass five particular exams with a grade of at least 65; the Regents Dip.with Advanced Designation requires a passing grade in 7-9 exams (which must include the five basic exams). For example: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/gradreq/2009GradReqDetails.html. There is no indication that "break points" are used or applicable; ditto for "grading on a curve". (3) The % of grads on LI receiving Regents Dip.in 2011 was 92.4%; those receiving Regents with Advanced Desig. - 54.1%. (4) There is no such as "Dix Hills School District" (5) The total enrollment of LI public schools in 2012-13 is 455,003 (rather than 400,000). (6) Several comments mention average spending/pupil of $16,000 (you wish !). Based on nysed data: for 2012-13: NYS-$20,982; Nassau-$25,962; Suffolk-$23,319. (7) Spending/pupil in Wyandanch in 2012-13 will be $27,003-well above the averages in para (6), and also above the average spending rate in Western Suffolk ($23,144) and LI ($24,497). For the record, the 2012-13 spending rate in Roosevelt ($31,116) and Hempstead ($26,959). (If you're wondering : Jericho - $38,105) and Roslyn - $31,077).
Vincent July 27, 2012 at 10:13 AM
ergodic: As this is the Mineola Patch can you tell me what is the spending per pupil in the Mineola School District?
Chris Wendt July 27, 2012 at 10:29 AM
re: " Cold Spring Harbor School District is in Suffolk, not Nassau." That is incorrect. The CSH district lies in both counties, and under state law, has chosen to be officially designated by NYSED as a Nassau school district, and thus a member of Nassau BOCES, and of Section VIII, the Nassau County interscholastic sports confederation. That choice, to be designated as a Nassau school district, is irreversible. Re: " There is no indication that "break points" are used or applicable; ditto for 'grading on a curve'." You have not been keeping up with your reading on the topic of grading Regents exams on a curve, and using breakpoints to determine the raw passing grades for each exam. Both situations are true, and have been for years. Re: "The total enrollment of LI public schools in 2012-13 is 455,003 (rather than 400,000)." The 400,000 was indicated as being an estimate when it was published. Question for you: does the 455,003 number you quoted include only those students enrolled in and attending LI public schools, or, does it also include the thousands of students whose home district is an LI public school district, but who are attending out of district private schools due to IEP's, being funded by their home districts? Does it include BOCES students, either full or part time or both?
Chris Wendt July 27, 2012 at 11:14 AM
http://www.p12.nysed.gov/mgtserv/propertytax/docs/2012-13PTRC5_10_12_Budget_Data_Post.pdf $31,193 last year, according to SED data. $31,108 this coming year, projected.
Mac July 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Vincent just to prevent you from making this statement again. You are reading this article in the Mineola patch but it is published in all the Patches that they have here. I see it in the Levittown patch.
Vincent July 27, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Mac: Can you tell me what Patch is it that I can ask that question and get an answer to that particular question? I hate being redundant. Thanks.
Mac July 27, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Didn't Chris answer your question? I am now looking at the farmingdale patch. My point was certain articles appear across different "patches".
ergodic July 27, 2012 at 11:19 PM
(1) Information published by nysed on public school Districts & Buildings usually use a code identifier to organize the data. The nysed code is 28xxxxxx for Nassau school districts and 58xxxxxx for Suffolk school districts. The specific nysed district code for Cold Spring Harbor CSD is 58-04-02-06-0000 (and 28-02-23-03-0000 for Wantagh UFSD) which indicates that nysed considers Cold Spring Harbor CSD to be a Suffolk district (if this matters to anyone). This ID code also appears on the NYS Report Cards issued to each district. An example of such a nysed table: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/mgtserv/propertyt/#DATA. It is also noted that the Newsday database on LI school performance groups Cold Spring Harbor data with other Suffolk (not Nassau) districts - consistent with nysed. Boces and sports is possibly another matter ??
ergodic July 27, 2012 at 11:58 PM
(2) As regards scoring of Regents exams: refer to http://www.p12.nysed,gov/apda/concht/scoring-regents.html. The regents develops exam scoring via "several rounds of field testing in classrooms across the state." prior to administration of the tests. This includes establishing cut or anchor points (break points ?) which are used to determine if the exam is passed (65), or passed "with distinction(85)". The latter has nothing to do with receiving a Regents Dip. with Advanced Designation -which only requires passing grades. It is a stretch to consider the Regents scoring process as "grading on a curve"; that term is usually associated with ex post facto not a priori, action. (3) The data on LI enrollment was computed from info previously referenced (see: para (1) of above 7:19pm comment), The conditions are therefore in agreement with nysed rules. More specifically, these rules are stated in the "Accountabiity & Overview Report" section of the nysed Report card issued to each district. This atates in part " Students who attend BOCES programs on a part-time basis are included in a district's enrollment. Students who attend BOCES on a full time basis or who are placed full time in an out-of-the-district placement are not included in a district's enrollment. Students classified by districts as "pre-first" are included in first grade counts.". .
paul July 28, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Any post that starts off with: " Alliance for Quality Education and the Lead Organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition." Is really a view not worth reading because it is a super liberal, occupy wall street loving, Obama ass kissing, more government loving, take from the rich give to the poor, I hate banks, and people who make a profit waste of words..... The writer has ZERO common sense and an I want it free mentality....
paul July 28, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Look out for these people. They can be dangerous thinkers. Lisa Tyson and Danielle Asher and others. See link: http://lipc.org/about-our-staff/
Dad of Three July 28, 2012 at 04:42 AM
For Mr Wendt, America has had the misfortune to also record in its history the influence of radical fringe groups such as the KKK, the German American Bund, the Communist Party, the Black Panther Party, and various nihilistic and anti-government organizations. My tent is very, very wide, but I will not include in that tent the most radical elements of either the right or the left. You may do as you choose, but I will not allow you to tell me whom to consider lunatics, and, by definition, whom I must patiently endure. The preservation of this great nation is far more important than your belief that any view, no matter how radical or dangerous, is acceptable. And thanks so much for your infantile final comment.
Argile July 28, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Like I've said before, "progressives" are hypocrites. They desire $$$ just as much as corporate America. Take $$$ out of the equation and you would have a group of people that are either going to die off or riot.
Nassau Taxpayer July 28, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Unlike you, they have the capacity to think. Think about it. (If you can.)
John Gruber July 28, 2012 at 02:30 PM
and republicans aren't hypocrites? and republicans don't have money? this makes no sense since both parties have a gross amount of money, and both are made up of politicians who only look to serve themselves and their party. Don't kid yourself in thinking republicans are holier than the rest
Eliza Kay July 28, 2012 at 03:16 PM
@robkoz. Taking a political position on this issue proves you have nothing practical to contribute. Get a life. Promoting a viable educational system for our kids is paramount and what we "all" want. Because the national discussion about teachers is so negative, you will see more teachers falling in line and teaching to the standardized test....why? because their jobs depend on it....... producing robots that score as well as their international counterparts?.....ready for college, career and citizenry?.... doubtful. To all you arm-chair academics who are long on criticism and short on solutions...get this, when kids are force-feed, they check-out. When adults are force-fed, they check-out.
Eliza Kay July 28, 2012 at 03:30 PM
@Paul -??? That is scary. I am moving to Syria.
Argile July 28, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Never said they weren't John. But to mock another party one has to look in the mirror first. What's that saying about the pot calling the kettle black?
John Gruber July 28, 2012 at 05:42 PM
you're the one calling progressive hypocrites, I wasn't mocking anyone, just pointing out both parties are equally shameful. So who's the hypocrite?
Goin' Commando July 28, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Oh my, Vincent, you clearly don't understand sarcasm (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sarcasm). Now, that doesn't particularly surprise me, but it is troubling. When faced with idiotic comments by radicals, I often resort to sarcasm; and as to stability, I'd be happy to undergo any psychological test alongside you, knowing that I would be deemed a reality-based individual, while you would probably be deemed a fantasy-based individual. Or, are you simply afraid of elderly nuns? Have I struck a chord from decades ago in your life? Nuns today are not what they were in the 50's and 60's, so please remain calm; all will be well.
Alicia Palifka July 28, 2012 at 06:44 PM
@Nassau Taxpayer....If you are suggesting that Paul is not a thinker...You are certainly quite a fool ..
Chris Wendt July 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Dad, your post: Dad of Three-12:24 pm on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 was not referring to the KKK, the German-American Bund, the Communist Party, or the Black Panthers. Your appelation, "losers", was pasted on people you identified as being "radical right and radical left" based on ideologies that are different from yours. The discussion is really not about getting into your tent, as you put it. We all live on this planet, and labeling other people as "losers" based on YOUR ideology is as ignorantly intolerant as it is, bluntly, inaccurate. Unless you are running for some elective office, then I don't care or need to know what your ideology is, any more than I care about whether you are Mets fan or a Yankees fan. However, therein lies true grist for some more relevant back-and-forth about "losers" and winners, or, the differences between a team, a franchise, and a DYNASTY!.
Happy Daze August 08, 2012 at 09:02 AM
Bringing this one back. Progressives at work..... http://dailycaller.com/2012/07/27/obama-backs-race-based-school-discipline-policies/
Robert V. Rose, M.D. (retired) August 12, 2012 at 08:40 PM
With the economy the way it is, there is no doubt that teachers' unions must learn that enough is enough. If we give vouchers to the families of all school kids, say at 80% of what a public student's education costs, we taxpayers would save oodles of money!

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