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Long Story Short: This is only a test


Courtesy of HHLArchitects


NYS Teacher evaluations: A step forward into muddy waters

When New York State Commissioner of Education Mary Ellen Elia was first appointed to that position, I emailed her office requesting a brief interview. When I did not get a response, I followed-up with a call. Still nothing. I thought I had the inside track on this, because the year MaryEllen Schwartzenberg (as she was known then) began teaching, I was one of her students. I reminded her of this via email and through her receptionist, but it held no sway. 


I really only wanted to pose one question, and this is how it would have gone: When I was in high school, I was not a good student. I didn’t study. I avoided homework. When I turned in my history book at the end of one year, my teacher said he opened it and the binding cracked. Probably true. So, here’s my question: If I failed your class, Commissioner Elia, was it your fault?


A bad policy

The truth is, I liked Elia’s class (which she co-taught with another teacher), so I got an A. But the question was relevant, because at that time, the State’s Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) was being used to evaluate teacher’ effectiveness. For many educators, this meant that fifty-percent of their year-end evaluations were based on a single state-mandated test, resulting in a teacher rating of Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, or Ineffective. Consequently, classroom teachers were focusing excessively on test-prep, and stories of exceptional educators receiving Ineffective ratings were commonplace. I wanted to hear Commissioner Elia decide whether it was my lack of effort or her failure as a teacher that might have caused me to fail her class. I knew the answer.


From the start, educators and researchers knew the APPR was destined to fail (I wrote articles in Spree that were critical of this policy in 2010 and 2015.) Many parents knew it too, and out of concern for their children and teachers, they started the Opt-Out movement, in which about eighteen percent of eligible New York children in grades 3 through 8 elected not to take the annual state assessments. In 2015, Governor Cuomo's Common Core Task Force recommended a moratorium through 2019 on the dependence on state tests for teacher evaluations.


A step forward…

Last week, the New York Legislature officially ended the mandatory link between teacher evaluations and student performance on state tests. Districts regained control of the teacher evaluation process. It’s a victory for schools and the teacher’s union. It’s been referred to by Senator Shelley Mayer, chairwoman of the Senate’s education committee, as “righting a serious wrong.”


Unfortunately, there’s more to the story that you may not have heard.


…into muddy waters

The new guidelines do restore local control over teacher evaluations, but continue to require that fifty-percent of that evaluation rely on some union-negotiated student test. State tests are not mandated for this purpose but are optional. However, state assessments in grades 3 through 8 will continue regardless. If districts opt for some other form of student testing for teacher evaluations, classrooms may have more, rather than less, high-stakes testing.


Where to now?

Legislators say they can adjust the policy in the future. For now, though, they continue to rely, partly, on failed policies put into place ten years ago, with President Obama’s ill-conceived Race to the Top initiative. State Assemblyman Edward Ra of Nassau County, speaking on the Assembly floor, asks the following: “How many times are we going to change this? How many times are we going to make our districts and teachers go back, negotiate a new system, deal with the expense of implementing it, and still have something that they don’t think is going to accurately measure what they do and their effectiveness at doing it?”


Opt-Out organizers are calling for parents to continue keeping their kids out of meaningless state tests, as well as any new district-based high stakes testing, which contribute nothing to education, while failing to measure teacher effectiveness.


That’s one call Commissioner Elia will have to respond to.



Doggone it!

Just what kind of a scumball do you have to be to dump a dog in a garbage tote, letting it starve and freeze to death? Hopefully the SPCA will get a lead from its anonymous tip line at 875-7360, and we’ll find out.


The details:

A Buffalo sanitation worker was emptying a tote last Tuesday in the Bailey Walden area, when he noticed the garbage was moving. What he found was a cute-as-hell male pit bull terrier, emaciated and near freezing. The dog was so weak it was unable to stand, and it was covered with scars and sores. The tote was from a private residence, but the owner claims to be unaware the dog was in there. That seems likely, since dumping a live dog in your own garbage tote is pretty damn stupid, even for the kind of person who would do such a thing. There is an ongoing investigation, though, so who knows?


The SPCA is hoping the dog will make a full recovery, but it’s a slow process, and they don’t yet know the extent of physical injuries. Though no one is saying so, it’s likely that this animal is another victim of organized dog-fighting, which is practiced by heartless imbeciles in many cities, including Buffalo. Just last May, Buffalo Police broke up a local dog fighting ring. Dog-fighting participants treat man’s best friend like disposable canine gladiators.


If you know of any such activity, show some compassion and report it.



Dumbest sports tweet of the week

Adam Schefter is an American sports writer and television analyst—with a short memory. Last week he tweeted the following: “Minny Miracle last year, the no-call this year.....There hasn’t been an NFL team that ever has suffered more devastating back-to-back postseason losses than the Saints.” His Twitter followers seem to largely agree. “Same thing I was thinking,” says Invisible Man. Some mentioned other devastating post season losses: “Not the 86 & 87 Browns?” asks Muggsy Nycz. “Must not remember the Packers 2015-2016 postseason games,” replies Tom Herbert.


What?!!! Are you all forgetting four straight Superbowl losses?


Sure, the New Orleans saints had two frustrating playoff exits, but at least they’ve won a Super Bowl. Buffalo Bills fans, on the other hand, had to watch their team go down four Super Bowl games in a row, the first one on a missed field goal in the final seconds. This is quantifiably more devastating twice over, and immeasurably more emotionally devastating. “Wide right” has even made it into the Urban Dictionary. You can Google those two words, and up comes a page-and-a-half of our collective suffering. The phrase, “four losses,” produces slightly fewer reminders, but no less pain. Five years from now, the Saints and their fans will have forgotten their current suffering. Ours is an open wound that never heals.  



A shed, a boat, and a vision

Not all Zoning Board Green Code variances are bad. The ones recently granted for Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation’s (ECHDC) Canalside "longshed" facility, seem perfectly reasonable. They include a request for a lower interior height, reduced window transparency, and yard dimensions that allow for free movement and the safety of pedestrians. After a few tweaks, the project has been approved. 


The details:

The plan is to build a long, narrow, 6,000-square-foot timber frame structure across from the Buffalo & Erie County Naval Park building, matching a building that stood on that site in the early 1800s. Then, the ECHDC will use the structure to build a replica of the 1825 packet boat that transported Governor DeWitt Clinton from Buffalo to New York City, marking the official opening of the Erie Canal. No word on whether it intends to ship a barrel of water to the ocean and dump it, as Clinton did.


The ECHDC says it will build the vessel through an educational boat building program for children. This would be a hands-on way for kids to learn Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) principles. The boat will then become a permanent tourist attraction commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of the completion of the Erie Canal. After that, the longshed may serve as a "public artisan factory,” for historical and educational programming, and be used for large social gatherings. The plans include much-needed bathrooms and possibly a restaurant.


This is the first, of what is hoped will be many, historically accurate structures intended to recreate the early character of the canal. The project goes to the Planning Board today for a site-plan public hearing, and then it goes before the Buffalo Common Council. If it passes those hurdles, the ECHDC hopes to have the state-funded structure completed in a year.



Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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