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Commissioner: Why all students have to be counted on teacher evals

Buffalo has been embroiled in a raging debate over teacher evaluations for months now.

What sparked the whole thing was the question over whether the performance of chronically absent students should be counted toward a teacher's evaluation.

In news stories, online discussions, radio shows, Facebook conversations, Twitter exchanges and more, plenty of people have weighed in.

We've heard from individual teachers. From the teachers union. From parents. From district officials.

John King at ed boardOne person, though, has been conspicuously silent on the issue: state Education Commissioner John King.

He's the guy who made the decision that all students had to be counted, regardless of attendance.

Yet all the while the debate raged on in Buffalo, King consistently declined to talk about it.

It seemed to me if this was a central piece of his plan for teacher evaluations, he would be interested in explaining to the community why it was so important.

But he would not comment for news stories.

He would not participate in a live chat on the topic, so that he could answer reader comments directly.

The bottom line was that he just wouldn't go on record discussing the issue. Instead, King -- through a spokesman -- cited concerns about the possibility of the Buffalo Teachers Federation pursuing litigation.

That changed last week.

On Friday, King finally answered my question: Why is he requiring that all students' performance be counted toward teacher evaluations?

Here is his answer, in its entirety:

On the issue of attendance, it's very clear. I believe that every student is entitled to an excellent education. Any policy that would render students invisible is not acceptable -- there have been proposals that would render the majority of students in a building invisible, proposals that would render the majority of students in a subgroup invisible.

While I accept that attendance is not solely the responsibility of educators, I reject the notion that educators do not contribute to student attendance.

I ran a school. I was a principal of a school in a very high-needs community. [King was founder and principal of Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston.] We had systematic strategies to ensure students came to school. One was academic engagement, making sure students are learning and excited about learning. Two was reaching out to students' families and engaging them with the work that's going on in school, showing them why school matters for their children's future. But also being incredibly persistent about attendance. I would call relentlessly, go to students' homes -- do whatever it took to make sure that families saw the importance of having children come to school.

What we have to be careful of is that in this discourse about teacher evaluations, that we do not engage in a culture of blaming -- whether it's a blaming of educators or a blaming of parents. We are all adults responsible for all of the students.

The bottom line is, all students need to count. All students need their teachers to take responsibility for them.

As a kid, after my mom passed away, when my dad was incredibly ill, my fourth-grade teacher could have written me off. He could have said, 'Well, John's from a family where he only has one parent. That parent's very sick, and he's an African American-Latino kid from Brooklyn -- what chance does he have? But he didn't do that. He took responsibility every day to make school a place where I wanted to be. And I believe every child is entitled to that.

King, it's worth noting, told me he would be willing to do a live online chat about teacher evaluations in a couple of weeks. If you ask me, it's several weeks too late -- but I suppose it's better late than never. I'll keep you posted once we set a time and day for the chat.

In the meantime, check back here tomorrow, when we look at some of the other things King had to say regarding teacher evaluations.

- Mary Pasciak

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee |

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes |

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone |

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB |