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


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.

07/27/13 3:00pm
07/27/2013 3:00 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Senator John Flanagan, left, and Senator Ken LaValle at the annual Longwood Regional Legislative Breakfast in February. Mr. Flanagan announced Friday he will hold a series of hearing throughout Long Island to review the effectiveness of recent state education reforms.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Senator John Flanagan, left, and Senator Ken LaValle at the annual Longwood Regional Legislative Breakfast in February. Mr. Flanagan announced Thursday he will hold a series of hearings to review recent state education reforms.

State Senator John Flanagan announced Thursday he will host a series of public hearings throughout the state to review the effectiveness of recent state education reforms.

Mr. Flanagan (R-East Northport), who chairs the senate’s Standing Committee on Education, said the first hearing will take place on Long Island in September. His office said Friday dates and locations of the hearings are being finalized.

This past school year, English and math state assessments included elements of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The common core standards are a new set of national benchmarks to help public school students master language arts and mathematics. It requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

The results of the new assessments are also tied to the state-mandated annual professional performance review plans, known as APPR. The teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after New York was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For school districts to qualify for part of the grant, the state required them each to implement their own APPR program this year.

While the state Department of Education has claimed implementation of common core aims to better prepare students for college and careers, many parents and educators have criticized the move because they believe teachers are being forced to abandon true learning for “teaching to the test.”

In addition to discussing state assessments and common core standards, the hearings will also focus on reforms implemented by the New York State Board of Regents. In 2010, the Board of Regents released policies designed to prepare students for college and 21st century careers, close the achievement gap and instill a lifelong love of learning in children Regents Reform Agenda, according to a press release issued by Mr. Flanagan’s office.

“As these reforms are implemented by the Board of Regents, questions and concerns continue to be raised about the impact these changes will have on students throughout the state,” the press release states. “While the reforms were initiated by the Board of Regents, it is critical to Senator Flanagan and the Education Committee that the state review the new policies and maintain an open dialogue about the future of state education policy.”

Mr. Flanagan said in a press release the hearings will focus on finding out “which policies are working well and which ones may need improving.”

“These hearings will provide the public with a thorough examination of current state education policies and the impact on our students,” he said. “This timely discussion will give parents the information they need and deserve and move the state education system forward in a positive direction for the benefit of our students.”


05/08/2013 6:00 PM
At Tuesday's school board meeting, Shoreham-Wading River High School students unveiled a mural they will send to Newtown, CT.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Shoreham-Wading River High School students unveiled a mural they will send to Newtown, Conn.

Less than six months after December’s deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., art students at Shoreham-Wading River High School are preparing to send a large mural there that they spent weeks creating.

The mural, which was unveiled at Tuesday evening’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting, was commissioned by high school principal Dan Holtzman and supervised by art teacher Shannon Lustig. It will be shipped to the Connecticut town at a future date.

“Mr. Holtzman wanted to do the mural so he came to me and asked if I was interested in participating,” Ms. Lustig said. “He wanted something uplifting and happy. I brought it to the students’ attention and we decided we wanted to do a landscape.”

The finished project features a woodland scene with a meadow and the words “Hope. Love. Dream.” Ms. Lustig’s students also painted 26 butterflies to represent the 20 children and 6 adults who were killed in the shooting.

Ms. Lustig, 33, said that the eight students who worked on the project donated “countless hours” to create the mural, which was started after winter recess and completed last week. She said the Home Depot in Coram donated about $150 in supplies for the project.

“This mural represents respect and admiration for the 26 people that were prematurely taken from this earth in Newtown on December 14, 2012,” Ms. Lustig said.


05/03/13 7:59am
05/03/2013 7:59 AM

MIKE GROLL/AP PHOTO | Gov. Andrew Cuomo (center) leaves a 2011 news conference after announcing passage of the 2 percent tax cap with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (left) and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The biggest disservice New York State lawmakers did to themselves — and to local school districts — when they passed the tax levy increase cap in 2011 was to call it a 2 percent cap.

It is not a 2 percent cap.

Exclusions, mainly related to pension costs, give schools the flexibility to increase the district tax levy by upwards of 4 percent in a given year. This year, only one of the seven school districts on the North Fork is increasing taxes by less than 2 percent — that would be Oysterponds, which has actually proposed a tax levy decrease. The other six districts are all raising the tax levy between 2.29 and 4.1 percent.

This is in line with districts across Suffolk County, where the Empire Center for New York State Policy says the average proposed tax levy increase is 3.5 percent for the 2013-14 school year. The average proposed increase across New York state is 4.6 percent, the nonprofit reports.

A June 2011 press release issued by state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the “tax levy cap would shift the focus from total spending to the actual property taxes levied to support school district and local government expenses.”

But one unintended consequence might be that while districts are focused on making sure they stay within the cap, many are actually spending more.

In the two years since the cap was passed, the North Fork’s seven school districts have increased spending by a combined $19.21 million, while spending increased by just $10.22 million in the two previous years.

That’s not to place the blame for this gimmicky legislation on school administrators, who, given the choice, would prefer not to have a tax cap.

The problem with the law is that 2 percent means very little, it’s just a number that looks nice in a headline. The reality is you’ll not be voting on budgets that will raise your taxes by less than 2 percent this year.

The cap was the easy thing to do, but it might just lead to bigger headaches down the road.

For lawmakers to truly curb government spending across New York State they need to get public school teacher and administrator salaries, as well as the five- and six-figure payouts many of them receive upon retiring, back into the realm of what’s normal for middle-income earners.

Lawmakers should never even have considered passing this 2 percent tax increase cap without an accompanying public workers’ compensation overhaul.

01/07/13 12:27pm
01/07/2013 12:27 PM

NYS EXECUTIVE CHAMBER COURTESY PHOTO | Governor Andrew Cuomo in Albany Wednesday during his first cabinet meeting of the new year where the New NY Education Commission released its preliminary action plan.

Consolidate small school districts, develop a “bar-like” teacher exam and extend the school day and year are some of the recommendations a commission convened by Governor Andrew Cuomo has made in a report released last week.

Mr. Cuomo has said there’s a need for education reform because New York graduation rates lag behind most states, even though it spends more per pupil than any other state. Although New York spends over $18,600 on average per student, about 74 percent of students graduate from high school and nearly 36 percent are college ready, according to the 92-page report titled, “The Preliminary Education Action Plan.”

While the commission recommends that small school districts consider consolidation in order to increase savings and services, it recognizes the pitfalls of such a move.

“More than half of New York’s nearly 700 school districts educate fewer than 2,000 students, and yet many have their own administration and back office functions, often leading to unnecessary and expensive duplication of services,” the report states. “However, there are obstacles that stand in the way of school district consolidation, including potentially different tax rates between communities and the desire to maintain a sense of identity in small communities.”

Prospective teachers looking to enroll in preparation programs will need at least a 3.0 GPA and would have to pass a “bar-like” exam before entering into the education profession under the state’s preliminary plan. The new standards aim to ensure educators are ready to teach the Common Core Standards, which is a program that integrates learning in different subject areas while focusing on the literacy and mathematics skills needed for problem solving throughout educational settings.

As for the school day and year, the commission found New York should no longer operate its schools on agrarian and factory traditions.

“We must fundamentally rethink whether students need six months off from school every year,” the report states. “New York can, and must, do better to ensure that we are supporting students by providing quality, extended learning time in order to improve student achievement.”

The report also stresses the importance of providing pre-kindergarten programs and creating community hubs in school facilities by integrating local health and social services.

In addition, the commission recommends the state create more competitive grants for technology investments. The monies would be award to school districts that propose innovative ways to use technology, according to the report.

In April, the governor established the “New NY Education Reform Commission,” comprised of education, community and business leaders, tasked with developing an education plan from pre-kindergarten through college and career. Since then, officials said the commission has held public hearings throughout the state and has received thousands of written comments from students, parents, educators and residents.

The 25-member commission includes state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), senate education committee chairman; John King, state education department commissioner; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. The commission is chaired by Richard Parsons, former chief executive of Time Warner Corp.

Officials said the commission plans to further develop its recommendations and is expected to submit a final version of the reform plan this fall.

Scroll down to view the complete report. Read more in the Jan. 10 issue of The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.


NYS Education Action Plan, 2013

09/17/12 4:00pm
09/17/2012 4:00 PM

(L-R) Sister Linda Joseph, Senator Ken LaValle, Legislator Ed Romaine and Town Councilman John Dunleavy honor the school’s 50th birthday.

St. Isidore School celebrated its 50th anniversary with a reception for former students, parents, teachers and parishioners Sunday afternoon.

The celebration featured old class photos, a vintage school uniform and refreshments after Sunday mass at St. Isidore Roman Catholic Church. Dozens crowded into the school’s basement as Senator Ken LaValle and Legislator Ed Romaine honored the school with proclamations.

The school was built on Marcy Avenue in 1962, and teaches pre-kindergarten students through eighth grade.

“When you graduate from Catholic school there’s more of a sense of a child that’s going to promote social justice,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, whose wife works at the school. “I think that’s definitely a very good part of what St. Isidore’s brings back to Riverhead.”

Sister Linda Joseph, principal at St. Isidore for the past 20 years, said each year brings challenges but it’s the children that make it worthwhile.

“The children are my be all and end all,” she said.

Current students also attended the reception, many of them dressed in school uniform. One parent, whose daughter is in kindergarten, said the school instills the right values in its students.

“You see for yourself, it’s like family,” said Tom Mielnicki. “This is something different. It’s a feeling in your heart.”


11/04/10 2:48pm
11/04/2010 2:48 PM

Riverhead High School is turning out some fresh-faced rocket scientists, literally. Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation and Adelphi University, about 43 freshmen students are now taking Regents physics courses, a class normally reserved for juniors and seniors. And on Friday, the freshmen were building rockets at the Long Island Science Center in downtown Riverhead.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is set the hook,” said science teacher Greg Wallace. If kids get interested in science at an earlier age, they’ll be in a better position to go further in science during their high school years, he said. And showing them the practical applications of physics through fun activities like building rockets, as well as entering them in a “Rube Goldberg” competition, makes kids more likely to develop an interest in science, he said.
On Friday, each student was given the same basic materials to use in creating a rocket: a cardboard tube, a plastic nose cone, two balsa wood fins, glue, scissors, sandpaper, tape and, of course, instructions. Mr. Wallace said students will launch their rockets at the high school Monday, Nov. 22, when they will also receive the final key ingredient: a solid rocket booster that goes in the tail end of the rocket.
“These can go 200 to 300 feet in the air,” the teacher said.
The students will use trigonometry to determine how high their rockets went and will apply the principles of gravity and motion to determine how fast their rockets were moving, Mr. Wallace said.
“It’s really fun, but it can be really challenging, too, because it’s a 12th-grade class and we’re freshmen,” said student Kelly Capobianco.
“[Mr. Wallace] told us we’re actually going to be rocket scientists,” said student Sydney Gobrick.
The district got involved in the project through the efforts of Dr. Sean Bentley, an associate professor of physics at Adelphi University.
Dr. Bentley was able to get the National Science Foundation math and science partnership grant through Adelphi, and originally ran the program at Westbury High School in Nassau County, which worked in connection with the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.
This year, two more schools became involved, with Riverhead being the only one in Suffolk County. Riverhead High School has been working with the Long Island Science Center and students have visited the science center about five times this year.
“Delia Gibbs, the director of the science center, has been very supportive,” Mr. Wallace said.
Math teacher Rob Maccone also is on hand for the class to help students with equations, Mr. Wallace said.
“We’re trying to promote interest in science at a younger age,” Dr. Bentley said. Nationwide, only 20 to 30 percent of students take any physics in high school. Students who take Regents physics in their freshman year can take Advanced Placement courses in physics and chemistry later on. If they wait until 12th grade to take Regents physics, they have little chance of ever taking those more advanced courses, he said.
In addition to making rockets, the physics students will also enter a “Rube Goldberg” competition, for which they will design and build machines or gadgets that take many steps to achieve a simple goal. The high school’s own “Rube Goldberg” competition will take place Dec. 22. The winners of that contest can advance to a regional competition Feb. 12 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum and, if they succeed at that level, to a national competition on March 19 in Michigan.