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The NAACP letters: Mesiah and King

Last week, local NAACP leader Frank Mesiah wrote a letter to state Education Commissioner John King about teacher evaluations that count all students, regardless of attendance, saying that "the intended goal of the State Education Department is to destory the Buffalo Public Schools, the morale of the Buffalo teachers and the Buffalo Teachers Federation."

This week, King responded: "As educators, we cannot abdicate all responsibility for students who are chronically absent. Instead, we must work with them and their families to help them get back on track. These students have been forgotten too many times already."

Here's the full text of both letters.

May 10, 2012

Dear Commissioner King:

It is my understanding that one apparent issue between the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the State Administration is an attendance clause within an evaluation agreement impacting on the teachers.

Further, it is also my understanding that 60% of such evaluation will be based upon the principal's evaluation. Twenty percent, 20% of the NYSED growth measure used in a teacher's evaluation will be determined by standardized tests/Regents tests. And the final 20% local component will consider the student test scores in the teacher's specific tenure area.

MesiahIs it true that the 20% NYSED and 20% local component of the teacher evaluation segment may be scored in the negative even if a significant number of students, in that teacher's class, missed seven weeks of instruction? It seems the SED department is saying it has a flawed evaluation model that punishes teachers for failing to teach students who are regularly absent from class; and it is the intended goal of the State Education Department to destroy the Buffalo Public Schools, the morale of the Buffalo teachers and the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

Where is the fairness logic behind this selective evalution design of teachers? How can a teacher be held responsible for the evaluation of students who missed seven weeks of instruction? This would be like holding the arson squad in one city responsible for the arson fires in another city of which it has no responsibilities.

Based upon the above, how in good conscience can school funding be denied our children when that funding is based on such a flawed evaluation design?

I write this letter not only as President of the Buffalo Branch NAACP, but as a former NYS teacher certified to teach K-6, and with a School District Administrators Certificate.

Your response to the issues discussed above would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Frank B. Mesiah
President
Buffalo Branch, NAACP

And King's response:

Dear President Mesiah:

Thank you for your May 10, 2012 letter, in which you express your concerns regarding New York State’s teacher and principal evaluation system and its implementation in the Buffalo City School District. You specifically ask whether it is true that the 20 percent State growth subcomponent and the 20 percent local measures subcomponent “may be scored in the negative even if a significant number of students, in that teacher’s class, missed seven weeks of instruction.”

Although there seems to be some misunderstanding, the attendance issue with respect to evaluations has been resolved: the State Education Department has already approved the substance of the Buffalo City School District and the Buffalo Federation of Teachers submission regarding factoring student attendance into the evaluation process. The Buffalo City School District’s March 23, 2012 submission, signed by the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF), required several technical changes and corrections to comply with federal and State laws and regulations. None of the changes have a substantive impact on the provisions regarding the factoring of attendance. The substantive provisions of Buffalo’s March 23 submission are consistent with the Department’s position on the attendance issue.

John King at NYSUTThe Department’s position is clear: attendance can be included as an adjustment factor in the evaluation plans. However, it should be just that – a factor, not a reason to exclude an entire segment of students (particularly large numbers of low-income students and students of color) from the evaluation process. As educators, we cannot abdicate all responsibility for students who are chronically absent. Instead, we must work with them and their families to help them get back on track. These students have been forgotten too many times already. If there is no accountability at all, they will likely be condemned to a lifetime of poverty and desperation. Buffalo has endured too many generations of forgotten students; I cannot approve an evaluation plan that allows another generation to slip away.

I join you in urging the Buffalo School District, the BTF, and the leadership of the City of Buffalo to launch a community-wide discussion of how best to improve student attendance. The future of the City of Buffalo depends on closing both the achievement gap and the engagement gap that are obstacles to student success.

As you note, the Buffalo City School District has submitted evaluation plans containing attendance provisions for purposes of 2011-2012 School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding. Buffalo’s initial submissions were unacceptable because they contained a blanket exclusion of students based on attendance rendering large numbers of students invisible. However, Buffalo’s March 23, 2012 submission contained attendance provisions – that adjust expectations for chronic absenteeism – and needed only minor technical corrections (that did not impact the substance of the attendance provisions) to meet federal and state law and regulations. The April 18th submission that includes both the attendance provision and the technical changes required to comply with federal and state law and regulations was signed by the Superintendent and the bargaining unit for principals, but not the BTF. I have repeatedly indicated that I will approve the April 18th plan – which accounts for chronic absenteeism and complies with the law – if the BTF will sign it.

We all have the same goal: to give students the best possible educational opportunities and the best possible chance to succeed in college and careers. Unfortunately, for far too many students of color in Buffalo, that goal has been a promise unfulfilled. An evaluation system that helps educators improve teaching and learning is a critical step toward providing the opportunities students need.

For decades, Buffalo schools have offered discouragement instead of hope. I want to change that. Growing up in Brooklyn, there were countless times my teachers could have written me off because I was an urban African-American and Latino male or because my parents passed away and weren’t there to provide me with support. But my teachers didn’t write me off, and school became my refuge, a place that gave me the opportunity to grow and learn. I will not write off the students of Buffalo, even those struggling with chronic absenteeism. They deserve the same chances I had. The school district, administrators, teachers, families and the community must all take responsibility for working together to ensure that happens. I know you share that same commitment.

Sincerely,

John B. King, Jr.
Commissioner

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/MaryPasciak    mpasciak@buffnews.com

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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.

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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 | tlankes@buffnews.com


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 | stan@buffnews.com


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 | dswilliams@buffnews.com

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