Over the weekend, on Facebook, the president of the Rochester City School District board of education posted pictures of various high school graduations he attended, and crowed, “We have so much to be proud of in this District!”
It enraged me.
Because neither the school board president nor the superintendent of this district should be anything but ashamed of themselves and their performance.
I posted a comment of my own on his page.
“For every 4 graduates you saw, there were 6 kids who dropped out. For every 1 young black man you saw, there were 9 who dropped out. No one can be proud of that.”
Predictably, I was called a “racist.”
But I’m a realist, and amidst the celebration of the well-deserved honors of the minority of students who graduate from Rochester schools there needs to be some acknowledgment of the absolute crime committed against their failed classmates.
Graduation weekend isn’t a happy time for most Rochester students, it is an unmarked milestone in lives of descent and dysfunction. Most kids don’t get the cap and gown and diploma, most just get the shaft.
While an incompetent superintendent pockets his mammoth salary and an absolutely clueless school board abandons its most fundamental of duties.
The New York Constitution guarantees youngsters a quality education. By no stretch of the imagination do any more than a tiny number receive anything like that in Rochester.
And that’s not because of concentrated poverty or white flight or neo-segregation or whatever other excuses the editorial page thinks up, it’s because of a school administration that serves as little more than a way to give big wages to small people. Those at the top stuff cash in their pockets while students and parents get short shrift.
And that is never truer than on graduation weekend.
Of the five biggest school districts in New York State, only one has falling graduation rates. Only one is at the bottom. Only one is Rochester. All have concentrated poverty. All have high minority populations. All are in larger communities where residential patters cluster along racial lines. But only one has Bolgen Vargas and Van White.
And union President Adam Urbanski, for that matter.
Rochester has those three.
And the other districts have improving graduation rates.
Urban education, in communities of failed families and cultural antagonism toward achievement, is very difficult. But it is not impossible. And in cities all across America, with conditions every bit as bad or worse, a higher percentage of kids graduate from high school.
And they do it with far more valuable diplomas.
Because not only does Rochester only graduate 43 percent of its students, of those who do graduate, just 5 percent are considered – by state standards – “college and career ready.”
That means less than two and a quarter percent of Rochester students who get to the ninth-grade will graduate able to take an entry-level college course or understand the employee manual at work.
“We have so much to be proud of in this District!” the board president wrote.
Must be he hasn’t spoken to the parents of young black men. The stunning statistic there is 9 percent. Nine percent of the 5-year-old black boys who start kindergarten in Rochester will eventually graduate high school.
That means more than 90 percent of them won’t.
That means the young black men who come of age in Rochester will start out behind an almost insurmountable obstacle. They are almost doomed by educational failure to lives of difficulty and disappointment – with repercussions for young women and the community.
It is a slavery of ignorance and the chains are forged at Central Office.
No one is underestimating the woeful impact of the death of the urban family, or of a growing culture of disorder and rebellion that makes most urban schools a bedlam. But other urban districts do better. Almost all urban districts do better.
Urban-impoverished graduation rates across the country are in the 60 and 70 percent range. Only three states are in the 50s. Rochester is 43. Detroit is 64 percent and Cleveland is 66. Buffalo recently fired its superintendent, with the 53-percent graduation rate being one of the reasons cited.
The educational challenges of urban America are real. But hope and ability are helping youngsters overcome those challenges.
Just not here.
Rochester is the worst in New York and among the worst in the United States.
And the superintendent and the board president must be held accountable. The board president should be chastened, and the superintendent should be fired.
They seem incapable of realizing the severity of their failure or the seriousness of the situation.
Even as the state orders the district’s largest high school closed for chronic educational dysfunction, the superintendent and board president blow off repeated deadlines for formulating a plan forward. They had three years to improve the school and develop a contingency. They did neither. And with the new school year just two months away, no one even knows if East High will be open or who will be leading it how.
That is an example of administrative incompetence. It is also a horrible and uncertain chaos forced upon students, parents and teachers.
All because the people at the top are too stupid to do their job.
“We have so much to be proud of in this District!”
That’s not optimism, that’s delusion.
Worse, it’s a con being foisted on the parents of Rochester and the taxpayers of New York.