More Diverse Schools can Create WIN-WIN for All

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Donald Pryor If Great Schools for All had a mantra, it would be WIN-WIN. We don’t have to accept as inevitable huge gaps between winners and losers, where students’ success or failure is pegged to their zip codes and family income.

In a WIN-WIN environment, our community would rally around educational reforms and systemic changes that would reduce these disparities. That’s what GS4A is all about.

All children are capable of learning and succeeding academically, regardless of where they live, and we’re all aware of examples of bright, motivated kids who have risen up from impoverished backgrounds to succeed, despite the odds. But we also know, from decades of research, that the deck is stacked against students in high-poverty schools. When the poverty population of a school tips past 50 percent, the odds of success are statistically much lower.

And every school in Rochester far exceeds the tipping point, with predictable academic consequences in most. So why is our community willing to accept this situation?

The city has many successful students, and a number of successful, popular schools. But what if we could find ways to strengthen those schools, retaining current students, but expanding the socio-economic diversity in each? What if we could open more slots in these schools and offer them to more affluent students, to create a more diverse student body? Or replicate the most successful schools based on the initial models? We could create a WIN-WIN situation by offering, on a voluntary basis, well-regarded city programs such as School of the Arts, School Without Walls, Montessori, World of Inquiry expeditionary learning, and the International Baccalaureate program at Wilson Magnet School to students who have few or no such options even in well-off suburban districts .

And what if we were to create additional voluntary magnet schools across the county, based on models that have proven successful in other urban communities, offering opportunities that would not be available within most individual school districts, and that would be so exciting and unique that both urban and suburban students would want to attend?

The research makes clear that poor children perform much better in schools that are economically mixed than they do in high-poverty schools. And their success does not come at the expense of the middle class students in those schools. As one example, in Raleigh/Wake County, N.C., where 35 economically-diverse magnet schools have been created, subject to policies capping proportions of low-income students at roughly 45 percent per school, graduation rates for low-income and racial-minority students have steadily increased in recent years to more than 70 percent — some 30 percentage points higher than for comparable students in the more economically segregated Rochester schools. Meanwhile, the more affluent Raleigh suburban student graduation rates have increased slightly during those same years to more than 90 percent—rates comparable to Monroe County suburban rates. Disparities in rates have not been eliminated, but have been significantly reduced in Raleigh.

What is not to like about such a situation, and how would that not represent a WIN-WIN for all in Monroe County if we could move in such a direction?

In addition to enhancing academic performance, creation of more voluntary diverse learning environments would also expand cross-cultural understanding among all groups of students, and better prepare them—urban and suburban, black, Hispanic and white, well-off and poor—for the far more demographically diverse workforce that awaits them in the future. Students would have more academic choices than could now be provided by most individual school districts, and the economic vitality of our community would be enhanced by a larger pool of better-educated workers to populate our future work force.

Under more diverse voluntary-choice school scenarios, there is an immense upside potential for our community, with no obvious losers. Clearly the details of how this happens will be critical, but why would we not embark on this journey to explore a variety of possible solutions to reduce our odds of failure and significantly increase the odds of WIN-WIN outcomes for our community?

All of this is a work in progress. GS4A intends to talk with school district officials and survey parents and community leaders across the county concerning these issues over the coming weeks before any proposals are finalized. Anyone interested in joining the process, please email at contact@gs4a.org.

Previously posted on GS4A

The Role of Public Labor Unions in Serving the Public

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Donald PryorPublic Union Impact:  Past and Future

Recent and ongoing work by CGR in several counties throughout New York has placed a spotlight on public employee unions and their impact on the cost of governmental services.  In particular, the future status of county-owned nursing homes is directly affected by high labor costs and especially high benefit levels that have historically been negotiated with public unions, to the benefit of public employees and at the expense of taxpayers.  County nursing home benefit levels, including retirement pensions and health insurance costs, are typically at least double the corresponding level in non-public facilities.

In decades past, county nursing homes were providers of last resort for the poor.  While county homes continue to accept some residents that other facilities are reluctant to admit, as Medicaid has become a source of support for the long-term-care needs of both the poor and the middle class, nearly all nursing homes, both private and public, depend on Medicaid funding for a substantial share of revenue. Where county-owned homes are no longer the only facilities caring for the poor, they compete more directly with privately-owned homes.   In this more competitive context, counties are questioning how much longer they can ask their taxpayers to cover the employee cost differential created by collective bargaining agreements—especially as counties face increasing fiscal stress, and as nursing homes face the prospects of probable declines in reimbursements looming in the near future. Read more »

Cross-District Approaches to Urban Education

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Donald PryorA previous CGR Policy Wonk blog, Transforming Urban Education: From Despair to Hope? discussed Raleigh, North Carolina’s countywide solution to addressing urban education issues.  The Raleigh experience offers a model for breaking down barriers of poverty and uneven resources and opportunities that help create widely-divergent outcomes across city, suburban and rural boundaries in our community.

The Raleigh model, while promising with its documented levels of success, would also be practically and politically difficult to implement locally—not least because of the multitude of school districts in most counties across New York (18 in Monroe County).  Merging two school districts in Raleigh/Wake County, while not easily accomplished, seems like a walk in the park compared with changing the current educational landscape in Monroe County.  As several responses to the original article suggested, we need the type of strong cross-sector leadership around this issue that surfaced in Raleigh.  Is that realistic locally, given our entrenched multi-school-district profile? Read more »

Transforming Urban Education: From Despair to Hope?

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Donald PryorI’ve been reading Hope and Despair in the American City:  Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.  And, like many others, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our urban schools in Rochester and elsewhere and how we “fix” them.

In areas around New York and nationally, there seems to be precious little hope for resurrecting our urban schools and kids —and far too much despair.  Dedicated people, much smarter and more creative than I, have been writing about and wrestling with this dilemma for years.  Despite years of reform, study and advocacy, the problems remain, as most of the available solutions are constrained by limited resources available only within city boundaries—when community-wide solutions and resources are called for. Read more »

What Options are Open to Counties with Nursing Facilities?

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Donald PryorHow’d you like to be a county executive, legislator or member of a board of supervisors and have to decide the future of a financially-troubled county-owned nursing home? Often one of the area’s major institutions and employers, it provides an important community service, even though typically costing the county taxpayers significant amounts of money.  No matter what you decide, you’re likely to be criticized from one or more directions.  That is the unpleasant reality currently being faced by public officials in counties throughout all regions of New York State.

As recently as 2005, more than 40 counties outside New York City owned and operated public nursing homes containing some 9,900 beds.  Now those numbers are closer to 35 counties and 8,100 beds, and those totals are likely to dwindle further over the next few years.  Why the sharp declines in such a short period of time?  Rising costs and declining revenues combine to force county taxpayers to plug steadily-rising deficits. Read more »