10/03/13 2:00pm
10/03/2013 2:00 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen at the meeting to appoint him last June.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen at the meeting to appoint him last June.

In 2001, Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as No Child Left Behind. At the time there was strong bipartisan support for the idea that no children in the U.S. should fail to receive a sound public education, especially the poor among them. Who wouldn’t support such a noble cause? Twelve years later, however, we contend with the effects of the implementation of this law, which are nothing short of lamentable. In New York, this national initiative is spearheaded by the Board of Regents, a non-elected body of 17 citizens who control all education policy in the state and oversee the State Education Department, whose leader is the commissioner of education, currently Dr. John King Jr.

In a March 2012 presentation to the New York State School Boards Association, Dr. King outlined the Regents Reform Agenda. According to Dr. King, who follows in a long line of school “reform” advocates, there is a general crisis in public education. Most high school graduates, Dr. King tells us, are not “college and career ready.” Children do not get the education they need to supply U.S. businesses with skilled workers, according to the Regents, because the state does not have high academic standards, and because our schools lack effective instruction and supervision. Looking to get $700 million from the federal government’s Race-to-the-Top initiative (a one-time payment of about 3% of total annual state spending on education, half of which was earmarked to create a data system), the Regents agreed to tie every local school district’s curriculum to national learning standards, known as Common Core Standards. The Regents also agreed to base the evaluation of teachers and principals on standardized tests in English and mathematics (grades 3-8) that all students are required to take, including students with special needs and those who do not speak or write English as their native language. This Reform Agenda diminishes subjects other than English and mathematics: history, science, art, music, occupational education, and athletics apparently are no longer essential parts of a high-quality education. The Common Core Standards themselves are based on a rigid view of childhood development, forcing all elementary children to learn at the same rate. And the Reform Agenda has squandered a staggering amount of instructional time and money to create a “data driven culture” rife with technical and equity problems.

But there is no “general” crisis. The Regents bases its Reform Agenda on an incorrect diagnosis. And this mistake leads to bad public policy. Contrary to what the Regents claim, there are many excellent public schools and public school districts in New York and the nation. Many of these districts graduate well over 90 percent of their students. Many high school seniors are accepted to, and flourish in, the nation’s best universities (Long Island, if considered as a separate state, would have the best public education system in the nation.) Most significant, if one considers family income, American students perform as well on standardized tests as students in any country in the world. The Regents Reform Agenda is wrongheaded because it does not focus first and foremost on providing poor children with the material and emotional support they need to focus on learning in school (22 percent of the children in the U.S. live in poverty, 45 percent in low-income families). To no one’s surprise, scores on the most recent state tests correlated highly with the incomes of the families of the children who took them. Unfortunately, the Regents Reform Agenda distracts teachers and principals in successful schools from doing what works, while poor students do not get the support they need to focus every day on “school” learning. (To be sure, poor children learn a great deal, but their real-life curriculum does not follow the Common Core.)

Beyond these concerns with the Regents Reform Agenda lies another, perhaps even more disturbing, story. Most of the Regents send their own children to private schools, so they, unlike the rest of us, have no personal stake in the roll-out of their ambitious, but untested, “reform” program. (In fact, the private schools to which they send their children do not embrace this Reform Agenda!) And although “reformers” do not like us to notice, many of them have personal ties to companies that profit from selling educational materials to public schools, creating an unwise conflict of interest. (There is an annual $500 billion market in public education in the U.S., generated from school taxes.)

ON TOPIC: Editor Michael White column on Common Core

“Reformers” also insist that superior alternatives to locally controlled public education exist — charter schools. However, they are reluctant to admit many troubling facts about these schools: charter schools are funded by public school taxes, but many of them also receive large donations from private foundations and from individuals who have interests in companies that receive public school taxes; many charters have produced test results that do not compare favorably with their public school counterparts; many charters appear to offer superior education because they do not accept students with disabilities, or students who speak languages other than English, or because they encourage students who do not conform to the charter’s rules and expectations to drop out of school. Too many charters divert resources from local public schools, whose revenues are now, more or less, fixed by the new tax levy limit law, while they receive generous donations from businesses and foundations that seek to privatize public education.

Perhaps the Regents should consider some new ideas to “leave no child behind:” first, insist that the governor and Legislature ensure that all children in the state live in safe neighborhoods, that their parents have good jobs, that they have prenatal care, early childhood education, and adequate medical and social services; second, put aside the expensive and faulty APPR initiative, and instead use audit teams of professional educators to issue written reports of all school districts every several years; third, extend the probationary period for teachers and principals from the current three years to six years, to provide an apprentice period as well as sufficient time to make informed decisions about the potential of young teachers and principals.

Bring all children, especially the poorest, to school every day, ready to learn. Evaluate and support teachers and principals in meaningful ways based on detailed analysis of each teacher’s and each principal’s strengths and weaknesses. Assess school districts in depth, from student work to teacher training to Board of Education leadership. If the Regents were to consider these changes, and reject superficial data and calls to privatize this essential public institution, all children might come to school eagerly, districts (and the teachers, principals, and yes, superintendents, who work in them) would be assessed realistically by legitimate and competent external authorities and be provided meaningful direction for improvement, and all new teachers and principals would have to meet a threshold of professional competence that is demanding and fair before they would receive tenure. The Regents Reform Agenda creates problems where none exist, and fails to meet genuine challenges.

It’s time the Regents considered other paths to defend this fundamental democratic institution.

Steven R. Cohen, Ph.D., is superintendent of schools for Shoreham-Wading River School District.

09/24/2013 12:02 PM

JOE WERKMEISTER FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River High School.

The Shoreham-Wading River school board will vote on a resolution calling on state and federal officials to end the over-reliance on standardized testing at tonight’s Board of Education meeting. The board is also expected to vote on a resolution asking state and federal officials to re-examine New York state’s accountability systems.

Recently, both the Riverhead and Southold school boards took similar action.

The Shoreham school board is also expected to discuss a security improvement proposal at tonight’s meeting. In January, the district hired two security guards after a SWR parent raised concerns at an open forum on district security, Superintendent Steven Cohen said at the time. A head security guard was also chosen this winter to review the district’s security policies and improve them.

Tonight’s board meeting takes place at 8 p.m. in the high school library.

ryoung@timesreview.com

SWR School Board Agenda 09/24/13

09/21/13 5:25pm
09/21/2013 5:25 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School Board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse is the East End Women's Network 2013 "Woman of the Year."

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead School Board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse confirmed that the district made a contract offer to its teachers.

The Riverhead Board of Education may vote on a new teacher’s contract at its Tuesday meeting after the district made an offer to its teachers, who have been without a contract for just over a year.

Board of Education president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse confirmed today that an offer has been made.

“It’s my understanding that the teachers will ratify it,” she said. “But nothing has been formalized yet.”

She said the leadership of the teachers’ union held meetings with teachers in various school buildings Thursday and Friday. Another meeting is set for Monday.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said that if the teachers’ union ratifies the agreement, it will likely be voted on at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Lisa Goulding, the new president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, which represents district teachers, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Ms. Cotten-DeGrasse said that while the district has made an offer, she is not at liberty to disclose any details.

The district’s last teacher contract ran from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2012. (The school’s fiscal year starts in July.)

That contract gave teachers a one percent increase for the first six months of both years with no step/increment increases, and another one percent increase for the second six months of both years, with step/increment increases.

The step/increment raises are in addition to the base salary raises teachers get annually according to the terms of their contract and are based on experience and other factors, such as whether they have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and how many graduate credits they have.

The last Riverhead teachers’ contract had a salary scale with 30 steps.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/09/13 12:30pm
09/09/2013 12:30 PM
First day of SChool in Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Teacher Emily Chizever comforts a tearful kindergartner, Charlee Koke, on the first day of school Monday.

Longtime Riley Avenue Elementary School principal David Enos walked up and down the school’s new sidewalks with security guard Tom Crabb, directing parents and children to the school’s newly built drop-off area Monday morning.

Under a bright blue and nearly cloudless sky, Mr. Enos waved and yelled “Happy New Year!” to the arriving students.

He’s headed the school since the mid-1990s, but greets each year as if if were his first.

This year, some 600 students, from kindergarteners to the fourth grade are enrolled at the school in Calverton.

“I’m so excited because the kids are arriving to a brand new fabulous upgraded renovated school, Mr. Enos said, in reference to construction work that was completed this summer and came as part of a $78.3 million construction bond. ”The reconfigured parking lot and separate drop-off area for parents is an improvement for safety. The parents and buses no longer intersect.”

“Wow look at that. A new library!” one student said to a classmate while walking past the school’s new cafeteria/gym, library and computer lab.

09/08/13 3:00pm
Riley Avenue School, Calverton, North Shore University Hospital

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Nurse practitioner Sheila Davies shows Riley Avenue first-grader William de Lauzon and his classmates a plastic model of a human heart in 2012.

There has been a great deal of press about the Common Core curriculum, testing and what schools will and won’t be doing to improve the education system. News-Review editor Michael White’s column raised some excellent points and concerns about whether these efforts will actually help all children.

Angelo Truglio

Angelo Truglio

As a retired teacher and grandparent, I am concerned. What can teachers, parents and caregivers do while the decision makers plan their next move? We must preserve the curiosity and love for learning that our children have at birth and not lose or stifle these traits in the scuffle.

I have spent the last seven years, reading, tutoring, meeting with teachers and creating I Can Do That! Kids, a web and printed resource that helps children stay motivated and excited about learning. I have found that there are some simple, proven ways to help children stay energized, persevere and achieve their “personal best” — even as schools raise the bar.

We read “The Little Engine That Could” to a child when they are very young to inspire them to say, “I think I can, I think I can” when faced with a challenge. As they grow up they need to learn, “How I can! How I can!” strategies and actions to work at something difficult.

There are some easy ways parents and caregivers can help children know what to think, say or do when faced with a challenge. Put aside the back-to-school ads. Here’s a different way to get your child “ready for school” with these five tips.

1. Talk about “hard stuff” — challenges. Ask your child to tell you about something difficult that they recently accomplished. Explain that kids have to do lots of “hard stuff,” called challenges. Obstacle courses are a challenge, but are fun. Video games are challenging and that’s why kids love playing them. Make the connection that doing “hard stuff” is really like an obstacle course or a video game and rather than think, “Oh no, this is too hard!” think, or say, “This is a challenge that I can’t do … yet!”

2. Break it down. “There’s too much to do.” Help a child work at a challenge by starting with a small, doable piece. Think of it as a large puzzle with pieces that need to be assembled. When they have a page of math problems to solve that seems overwhelming, get a blank sheet of paper. Say, “Find the one that you think is the easiest to begin with”, and then cover the others. Help them focus on just one piece of an assignment at a time.

3. Increase ‘think time.’ Don’t jump in too quickly when you hear, “I don’t remember what to do.” Provide them with time to stop and think. Suggest that they look for clues or ask them to explain what they are unsure about. Delay giving them hints or information until you are certain that they have exhausted their resources. You will be providing an opportunity for them to think for themselves and to realize what they are capable of achieving.

4. Making mistakes is good! The surest way to succeeding is by working through mistakes. We tend to make a very big deal about achievements and not enough emphasis is put on the fact that mistakes will happen. It’s normal; everyone makes mistakes and they actually help us get very good at something! Mention the most recent mistake you have made, how it felt and what you did to eventually succeed.

5. Use ‘process praise.’ Acknowledge how your child is achieving, rather than just the achievement. For example, say, “That was a lot of work. I really like the way you stuck to it and didn’t give up!” Or, “You finished your homework and I’m impressed that you didn’t let anything distract you from getting it done!” Research has proven that children who are praised for how they accomplish a task build confidence quicker and are more willing to take on difficult tasks that come their way.

These are a few ways to build a child’s feeling of “I am capable!” Post this column on the fridge. Remember and use these tips. When a child comes home from school, you may find yourself on automatic pilot, saying or doing what you have in the past to help motivate them. These tips will provide you with an opportunity to do something different and perhaps challenging. It means you will experience what your child is experiencing.

Southold resident Angelo Truglio is an education consultant, music educator and founder of www.icandothatkids.com. Follow Mr. Truglio’s postings at www.angelotruglio.com. He can be reached at angelotruglio@icandothatkids.com or 631-765-8033.

09/08/13 12:00pm
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |  Work on the new Riley Avenue Elementary School facade as of last week. The window wall marks the school's expanded cafeteria and auditorium.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Work on the new Riley Avenue Elementary School facade as of last week. The window wall marks the school’s expanded cafeteria and auditorium.

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to roll out changes to curriculum, faculty or initiatives, and in Riverhead Town public schools, the 2013-14 school year is no exception.

From new computers at Shoreham-Wading River to 30 new staff members in the Riverhead School District, the two local superintendents each shared a list of four things that will be new or different in their districts this year, as well as their hopes for the next nine months.

Nancy Carney

Superintendent Nancy Carney

• The district has hired over 30 new staff members, including over 20 new teachers to replace retirees.

• Construction work is complete at Aquebogue, Phillips Avenue and Riley Avenue elementary schools. There are new parent drop-off areas and bus loops, renovated libraries, classrooms and computer rooms, a new kitchen at Aquebogue, two new classrooms and an expanded cafeteria at Riley Avenue and new playground surfaces at all the schools. At Riverhead High School. There are new bleachers in the gymnasium and the library and auditorium will be completely renovated this fall. Construction will continue at the high school over the next two years with the addition of new science rooms and a new weight room.

• The district has installed new physical education equipment at Pulaski, Roanoke, Phillips Avenue and Aquebogue. Equipment at Riley Avenue will be installed this fall. Riverhead is the first district in New York State to be awarded a Project Fit Grant, in collaboration with Peconic Bay Medical Center.

A new curriculum is being implemented in the physical education program as part of the grant.

• Riverhead will continue to take delivery of new propane-powered buses to replace older diesel models.

“This continued overhaul of our transportation department will be complemented by a bus garage committee that will begin work this fall to oversee the design and location of a new bus hub,” Ms. Carney said. “We are looking for community members who are interested in joining this effort. Please contact me if you would like to participate.”

Steven Cohen

Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen

• The district is implementing a technology initiative in all five buildings. This includes new computers throughout the district, as well as Smartboards.

• The faculty will be strengthening its new professional development program.

• The district will be adding more security measures to all the schools

• Officials are continuing to strategically plan for the future of the district’s facilities while developing a five-year plan for programs and fiscal plans to preserve the high quality of education in Shoreham-Wading River.

ryoung@timesreview.com

08/22/13 6:00am
08/22/2013 6:00 AM
BILL LANDON PHOTO  |  The Riverhead High School Class of 2013 celebrates graduation Saturday morning.

BILL LANDON FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead High School Class of 2013 celebrates graduation in June.

To the editor:

“College and career ready” has become the favored phrase used by corporate education reformers.

Ironically, New York State is sending record numbers of its students to college, and we’re all still looking for the long list of 21st century jobs and careers awaiting our high school and college graduates.

Steve Shrey, New York Mills, N.Y.

To read more letters to the editor reacting to Michael White’s column on Common Core State Standards, pick up a copy of this week’s News-Review or click on the E-Paper.

08/16/13 12:00pm
08/16/2013 12:00 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside

FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside is the most diverse school in Riverhead.

Here’s a not-so-bold prediction on an uncertain future.

State officials are going to have to backtrack mightily on the Common Core State Standards now being used in public schools to, supposedly, better prepare all American children for college and “21st-century employment.” It’s going to be quite a drastic reversal and, for many outspoken officials, an embarrassment. But like the Department of Transportation having to count a certain number of fatalities at an intersection before erecting a stoplight, there will have to be victims first.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

And those victims will likely be the poorest among us.

Consider that many children in poverty-stricken areas will still be living in single-parent or no-parent households in our new, Common Core world. They still won’t be eating or sleeping properly. They won’t be getting proper medical attention for physical or emotional issues that interfere with school. They won’t be getting help with homework, or even having their homework checked at home. In fact, extra attention for such students will be increasingly funneled away from them, as the focus shifts to teaching to the Common Core assessments.

For these kids, school’s simply getting harder, with no significant amount of funding set aside to provide them better access to school supplies, computers and internet access, or any plans to expand the school day or school year or bulk up after-school enrichment programs. With higher test failure rates, there’s also sure to be a huge spike in students in need of additional support through mandated programs such as academic intervention services. Where does that money come from?

State officials keep arguing that we must adopt Common Core because America’s education system lags behind those of other industrialized nations. But they never acknowledge that much of the disparity is accounted for by the performance of students in poor and non-English-speaking immigrant communities, which aren’t as prevalent in more homogeneous nations like Finland and South Korea.

While the performance of top-scoring students may improve under the more vigorous Common Core standards — they and their parents and tutors are up to the challenge! — students in many poor and working-class households will see scores dip. Eventually, as these children grow increasingly frustrated with school, dropout rates will rise. This will lead to higher unemployment and incarceration rates, prolonged cycles of generational poverty and a widening disparity between rich and poor.

Let’s use some common sense to break this down.

Trust that most kids from Long Island’s Jericho, Syosset and Commack school districts, for example, will be fine in college — no matter how they perform under the Common Core. And many of them will be just fine after college, too, no matter how they perform in college. This is thanks to engaged parents — and many of those parents’ connections to people already established in their child’s career field of choice.

The aforementioned districts and others like them will likely see their state assessment scores rise across the board, though without much real-world benefit — other than maybe having graduates attend marginally better colleges.

In the economically diverse Riverhead School District, the state has revealed that for the 2012-13 year, 74.7 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 failed to meet the state’s math proficiency standard, and 73.8 percent failed to meet the ELA standard.

Those numbers will change very little moving forward (at least not after some initial curriculum adjustments). Here’s why. In Riverhead, scores will increase somewhat for wealthier students but will fall at about the same rate, with potentially disastrous results, for those who don’t have the same support systems at home. Those in the middle will break one way or the other.

When these disparate results between wealthier districts and the rest of the state become apparent — especially in New York City — the backtracking on these numbers-driven policies will begin.

Yes, it’s my prediction Common Core will be reversed. But it’s also my hope. My fear is that so much money will be tied up in pricey books, testing materials and other increasingly entrenched funding sources for this initiative that the politicians and policymakers won’t ever budge.

Meanwhile, our teachers will remain handcuffed and will continue teaching to tests, and more and more students who lack either a natural aptitude for learning or parental support will disengage from the classroom and the educational process in general.

Eventually, we’ll be wondering how we slipped even further behind Finland and South Korea.

Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at (631) 786-5708 or mwhite@timesreview.com.