Nine schools in Central New York have been recognized by the NY State Ed Dept as some of the best in the state based on their ELA and math scores two years in a row. The schools, called reward schools by the state, are eligible to apply for a $100,000 grant.
Congratulations to the teachers, support staff, students and parents in each of these high performing schools. It’s great to hear good news about NY schools (we don’t hear enough from NYSED or our governor). But with all the criticism of NY’s reliance on high stakes testing, news like this raises a lot of questions about just what makes a high performing school. Let’s take a closer look at these “high performing” schools.
The nine schools in the CNY region ranking among the best in state include:
- Fremont Elementary School, East Syracuse-Minoa
- Fayetteville-Manlius Senior High School, Fayetteville-Manlius
- Marcellus High School, Marcellus
- New Hartford Senior High School, New Hartford
- Skaneateles Senior High School, Skaneateles
- Skaneateles Middle School, Skaneateles
- State Street Intermediate School, Skaneateles
- Westhill High School, Westhill
- West Genesee Senior High School, West Genesee
The student poverty rates in these districts should come as no surprise. As a point of reference, it should be noted that the student poverty rate in Syracuse City School District is 42.2%. Utica City School District comes in with a 41.7% student poverty rate. Our high performing districts on the other hand have much lower rates (see student poverty rates by district here).
- East Syracuse-Minoa – 12.8%
- Fayetteville-Manlius – 4.8%
- Marcellus – 7.5%
- New Hartford – 7.5%
- Skaneateles – 9.1%
- Westhill – 6.4%
- West Genesee – 8.3%
Another characteristic of these high performing schools is their size. Syracuse City School District is charged with educating over 22,000 students, Utica over 10,000. The largest student population among the high performing suburban districts is West Genesee with 5,228 students. East Syracuse-Minoa has just 3,378 students. In fact, Syracuse City School District has a higher number of impoverished students (9,350) than the entire student population of West Genesee and East Syracuse-Minoa combined. Skaneateles Central School District has just 1,673 students in their entire district. These numbers are staggering.
So, does poverty matter? Are kids better off attending schools with low poverty rates, smaller class sizes, and increased opportunities in the arts and other academic electives? And if they are, which most sensible New Yorkers would argue, how do we break down the entrenched, decades old economic and geographic segregation that exists in our urban centers. Some would argue that charter schools are the answer, but there is little evidence that charter schools do anything but siphon off taxpayer money with little to no transparency or oversight. What charter schools do well is concentrate small groups of students into laboratory schools who may already be benefitting from a high level of parental engagement, something that does have an impact on student achievement.
It’s time the politicians and bureaucrats in Albany, and the press corp that nips at their heels, started paying real attention to the impact poverty has on our schools. Don’t just mention it once a year in a statement or article. Bring it up at every chance. Ask the tough questions of our elected officials, challenge them with the facts and figures about poverty in our schools, and demand that they consider real solutions (including fully funding urban and rural poor school districts) to the challenges New York’s students, families and schools face. Start taking a closer look. Our kids deserve it.