MOUNT VERNON - We have A PROBLEM -Our Schools 2 of 3
In Part 1 of this series, we talked about how Mount Vernon is a corporation and, if we expect to see our investment in that corporation to grow, we had better demand things like transparent leadership, fiscal discipline, and competent management from those who are running the place. Without it, we just going to continue to watch our investment (that is, our home values) continue to dwindle to nothing.
In Part 2, we’re going to talk about schools. Before we do that, though, I am aware that the remarks I made in Part 1 have ruffled some feathers over at the School District, so let’s clear up a few things. My primary point is that our school system is failing our children. I called it a “catastrophic” failure, in fact. One of the accepted definitions of that word is “unsuccessful.” I still think that is the case.
It’s getting better, but it’s got a long way to go. We’ll go into that more later. To the extent I implied that the schools were asking for more money every year, I apologize for that. I like and respect Dr. Hamilton, and I know that he’s doing the best he can with a difficult hand. Importantly, he’s doing it with the qualities I mentioned above. For that, he should be commended.
My comments are not made in a vacuum. One of my businesses involves educating young adults to get good-paying jobs in the construction industry. They learn skills they will need to provide for themselves and their families. I’ve placed over a thousand students into construction jobs, many of them with union benefits. Their hard work coupled with the skills they learn give them a solid foundation for a career. When they come to me, they are coming fresh out of our school system. Unfortunately, they are completely unprepared. Things like basic math, basic measurement, and critical thinking elude them. Forget the more complicated algebra and trigonometry they’re going to need to work successfully in the construction business at a higher level. They often don’t know what a ruler is or how to read it. In the construction business (and in life), that’s a huge problem.
When I say our schools are failing our children, it comes from that experience. It’s not just the School District’s fault. As a community, we need to take some responsibility, too. We are also failing the kids. Our community expectations are so low, these kids don’t know what success is supposed to look like. We make excuses for bad behavior, bad results, and bad outcomes. Let’s stop doing that. The only ones NOT to blame are the kids themselves. I know all kids can learn and can learn almost anything. What they often cannot do is overcome the indifference of the community as to whether they succeed academically.
My last article talked about the “investment” we all make in our City and how that investment is undermined by certain factors like incompetent governance, reduction in services, and sky-high taxes. Well, it turns out, the performance of schools is a huge factor, too. One of the primary drivers of house value and interest in home purchases is the success – or lack thereof – of the schools. Even for people who do not have kids in school, a good school system increases the value of their homes. The opposite, of course, is also true.
In that sense, the school’s leadership must understand and appreciate that time is not on their side to make the improvements needed to this school system. If people lose all value in their homes, there’ll be no tax base on which to make future improvements. For potential home buyers in Mount Vernon, quick internet searches do not help, either. According to GreatSchools.org, to take just one popular example, Mount Vernon ranks just 1-out-of-10 for college readiness and 2-out-of-10 for test scoring. That’s what people see when they look to buy a home in Mount Vernon. That’s not going to be good for anyone.
I’ve been looking at a lot of school numbers recently. The New York State Department of Education publishes a ton of information. You are free to check out the data yourselves for Mount Vernon (from there, you can look at any other school in the state) at https://data.nysed.gov/profile.php?instid=800000035289. Our school’s system does not get a glowing recommendation there, either. With a graduation rate below the state average, 2-out-of-4 with regard to college, career, and civic readiness, and state assessment results that are way below average, we’ve still got a long way to go.
Some people say that it’s a problem of money. But, the numbers don’t support that theory, either. Did you know that Mount Vernon, on a per school, per student basis, spends more money than Scarsdale, a community with excellent schools? The class sizes are generally smaller in Mount Vernon and the attendance rate is very comparable. The results, of course, are radically different. If you want to check out the report card for Scarsdale’s schools, look here: https://data.nysed.gov/profile.php?instid=800000034921. Just looking at the success they have in AP courses alone tells you they are preparing students for college-level work (80-100% passage rate). Mount Vernon doesn’t even publish those numbers.
There are other issues that tell the story, too. These are things the School District cannot fix. Things like income levels, home environments, student motivation, parenting, and discrimination and racism. That’s why, as a community, we must deal with realities, not hopes and dreams. The School District will tell you that things are getting better. The reality will tell you that “better” is still a good way from “decent” or even “acceptable” and a long way from “excellent.”
Our reality must guide our policy. We need to stop listening to empty promises from our leaders, those who talk a lot and deliver very little. As I said before, Dr. Hamilton is doing his best in the face of a city government and a community that is failing its school system. Our teachers need to do better. That’s a reality. Our parents need to do better. That’s also a reality. Our community needs to demand more. That’s a fact.
We’re all in this together. No one is above fault. But, if we deny reality, we do so at the expense of generations of kids who will enter this world completely unprepared to succeed, survive, or subsist – forget about compete. When the entire City of Mount Vernon is living in no-tax affordable housing projects like the South Bronx, where do you think our schools will be then?
That’s where we’re headed. What are we prepared to do about it?