The Long View on Student Testing: Ups and Downs, but Achievement Gap Persists

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergSummer’s finally here, but just weeks ago students in schools across New York completed state tests that carry bigger stakes than ever before. This is the first year that test scores will feed into teacher evaluations, and with the tests now aligned with the new Common Core curriculum, many observers believe passing rates will decline.

The push-back against testing and increased accountability has grown, and it’s easy to see why. Students, families and schools have seen passing rates decline, felt more pressure to increase performance and wondered whether testing now gets too big a space in education. It’s worth revisiting why and how these changes came about, and examining the long-term trend in performance.

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The Challenge of Saving Money on Police

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Scott SittigPolice service is often the most cherished and visible municipal service—and inevitably one of the costliest. When it comes to balancing local government costs and quality of life, law enforcement increasingly is part of the public conversation.  Too often, the immediate reflex is to equate cost savings in law enforcement with compromising public safety.  That need not be the case.

A dichotomy drives the challenge

First, there’s emotion involved.  We like the sense of security that comes with knowing an officer is patrolling our street.  Whether responding to emergencies and criminal activity or getting to know residents on a first-name basis, police form bonds and fill roles that many residents consider vital for their community.  Recently I learned some youths in my own neighborhood had accosted one of my neighbors. When I found out how intimately the police officers know the community and possible perpetrators, I could turn my attention away from being fearful for my family and instead focus on community advocacy and intervention.

Second, there are dollars and cents involved.  Local governments across the country are more constrained than ever by limited resources and rising costs.  In New York and New Jersey, for example, pension and other negotiated benefits are driving mandated annual increases that result in many governments bumping up against their state’s 2% cap on the growth in the tax levy. Plus in New York existing police union contracts are further insulated from certain cost pressures by law (i.e., Taylor Law, Triborough Amendment) and unions can exercise a binding arbitration process that has historically produced favorable outcomes for their members.

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In Defense of Complex Regulation of Energy Extraction

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerAfter my last column on hydrofracking, I was asked to participate in a forum at the University of Rochester sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa. In my intro, I quipped that I was the guy invited to defend the despoiling of the earth and destruction of the climate. Nobody laughed.

This issue has stirred a level of religious fervor that is reminiscent of both sides of the abortion debate. Yet common to most consequential policy questions, the hydrofracking issue (like Oscar Wilde’s truth) is neither pure nor simple. I understand the appeal of clarity and simplicity—we would prefer that fracking be either boon or bane. Complexity makes our heads hurt.

Let me make the case for complexity. Read more »

National Technical Institute for Deaf Boosts Rochester Economy & Visibility

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerHigher education is a major contributor to our region’s prosperity. Home to 18 colleges and universities, total employment in the sector rose steadily during the recession and totaled nearly 35,000 last year, up 16% since 2007.

Yet Rochester higher ed stands out for more than just job and payroll totals. The community is home to a number of distinctive institutions that set the region apart. One of these, the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute for Technology, may be better recognized outside Rochester than inside. NTID is the world’s first and largest technological college for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Established by Congress in 1965, the first students entered in 1968.

A recent CGR study of NTID concluded that the Institute is responsible for more than 1,000 jobs, both direct and spillover, and over $50 million in labor income. Moreover, due to its national scope and reputation, it captured $84 million in outside funding (75% federal) over the 2006-11 period. NTID has done its part to strengthen higher ed in Rochester, boosting enrollment by 24% from 2007. Read more »

Princeton Approach to Setting Priorities is a Model for New Leaders

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Joseph StefkoElections bring change – an opportunity to “reset” the policy agenda. Any newly elected governing body brings with it new policy priorities – some collective priorities shared by multiple members, and some unique ones espoused by individual officials.

The key challenge of any new governing body is effectively managing those priorities. Doing it well positions a new government to deliver results; failing to do so invites distraction to the governing process, treating all issues equally and encouraging less-than-strategic governance.

The challenge was magnified in Princeton, New Jersey this year. Its transition to a new governing council in January coincided with the launch of a newly consolidated municipality, the state’s most significant in more than sixty years. Thus in Princeton, the new ideas and priorities that typically accompany new governing bodies existed alongside consolidation-related issues and transition matters that, in some cases, required more urgent attention. Read more »

Monroe Community College Tackles Skills Gap

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerWorkers cast adrift by technology. Last week we learned that the economy added 236,000 jobs in February. Better than a sharp stick in the eye, to be sure. But it still isn’t enough. Average job growth over the past six months has been about 190,000. At this rate, it will take the economy 5 years to absorb the increase in the ranks of the unemployed since 2007, plus new workers entering the labor force. And don’t forget the 8 million working part time who would prefer full time employment, 3.6 million more than in 2007.

How do we square persistently tepid job growth with the other big economic news of the week, that the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit new highs? Why can corporate profits be strong while employment growth remains weak? This brief essay will address only one of the many reasons: This recovery has simply left many workers behind. Read more »

The Marva Collins Quest: Replicating Successful High Poverty Schools

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerIn 1975, Marva Collins founded Westside Preparatory School in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, a place of persistent and concentrated poverty. Renamed Marva Collins Prep, the school targeted disadvantaged students, many of whom had been classified by the public school as learning disabled. She was able to spur them to achieve at levels comparable to students in high income neighborhoods. Collins’ success was profiled by CBS’s 60 Minutes in 1979 and became the subject of a movie in 1981 starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman.

This example (and others like it) proved that concentrated poverty, while predictive of low academic achievement, does not assure it. The Holy Grail of education reform has been the “pursuit of Marva Collins.” For many years, it appeared that you couldn’t replicate Marva Collins’ success without Marva Collins—i.e. someone who combined unusual gifts of charisma, dedication and energy with exceptional teaching and leadership ability. Read more »

Imagine a Very Different Public Library

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

If you live in Monroe County NY, and especially if you reside in Rochester, you have an immediate opportunity to weigh in on what you want your public library to be. Take a brief survey, developed by CGR, about how to shape Rochester Public Library’s future: www.cgr.org/RochesterPublicLibrary .

Kirstin PryorJust what do we want from a bricks and mortar public library in our digital age? Just over half of Americans, age 16 and up, visited one in the past year, according to the most recent Pew Internet & American Life national survey, and 91% of visitors called libraries an important part of their community.

Further, they said they value, in order of importance, books to borrow, reference librarians and free public access to computers and the Internet. Clearly, most of the traditional aspects of libraries—that quiet hush, the many stacks, the quintessential librarian, and (for some decades now) the rows of computers, matter to a great many of us.

The question communities everywhere are grappling with is how to balance the traditional library with digital world realities. What used to require a reference librarian is now often a quick Google or Wikipedia search. Many of our book recommendations come from booksellers’ “customers who bought, also liked” features or Facebook posts. And countless books, articles and newspapers that used to be print only are now downloadable to e-readers and smartphones. Read more »

NYS Waits a Decision on Fracking

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent GardnerOn Jan. 3, the Gannett News Service Albany Bureau reported on a draft environmental impact statement from 2012 on high-volume hydrofracking (http://goo.gl/F2bjy). The state Department of Environmental Conservation assessment concludes that “by implementing the proposed mitigation measures identified and required in this (report), the department expects that human chemical exposures during normal HVHF operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern. Thus adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations. When spills or accidents occur, the department has identified numerous additional mitigation measures … so that significant exposures to people and resources on which they rely are unlikely.”

DEC officials told Gannett that these findings were preliminary and did not constitute “final DEC policy.” Fair enough-this is a draft.

Yet these findings are consistent with the text of a briefing paper on high-volume hydrofracking from the Environmental Defense Fund, which concludes: “In short, natural gas could be a win-win benefiting both the economy and the environment-if we do it the right way. The right way means putting tough rules and mandatory environmental safeguards in place that protect communities and reduce methane pollution.” See http://goo.gl/NbiUP. Read more »

We’re on a Long Trek to Fix Urban Schools

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Rochester Business Journal.

Kent Gardner

The 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk underscored the gap in educational outcomes between the nation’s disadvantaged and the rest of society, while challenging the nation’s confidence in the entire K-12 educational system by unfavorable international comparisons. We have made little progress in closing either the gap between America’s rich and poor, or the gap between our students and those of other nations.

Since 1983, we’ve been looking for a quick fix solution, the one Big Thing that would close these gaps. This is ultimately fruitless. Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas seems to have taken this lesson to heart. As noted in a recent City Newspaper interview, he studiously avoids the temptation to predict speedy, miraculous success by imposing bold new policies bundled up with a clever name. Read more »