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Whitaker Should Look At Preventative Action At JPS

“The potential trajectory of the district is what excites me,” said Jamestown’s new superintendent of schools. “We have incredibly talented kids, we have incredibly talented staff, we have a supportive community, we have foundations, the community college and the opportunities those things all allow and bring. It means that the sky is the limit.”

Of course, these are words the community is eager to hear. Not so fast, though. We have been here before. Each newly-hired superintendent made similar, seemingly obligatory, statements, most without fulfillment.

Although Geneva is half the size of Jamestown, the two districts share many characteristics. Both have high economically disadvantaged populations and high percentages of students classified as disabled. Both have inordinately high failure rates on grades 3-8 state standardized tests. Geneva’s graduation rate (81%) exceeds Jamestown’s by 10 percentage points.

If “the sky is the limit” for Jamestown with its high failure rates on grades 3-8 standardized tests, one wonders why, similarly, the sky wasn’t the limit for Geneva students? The average failure rates for the seven-year period 2013 through 2019 were: English Language Arts: Jamestown, 77%; Geneva, 80%: Math: Jamestown, 78%; Geneva, 81%.

High failure-rate data for individual grades for both districts reveal the following:

¯ although teachers were teaching the curriculum, learning did not occur for students;

¯ essential learning starts in kindergarten; high failure rates for grade 3 indicate weak K-2 curricula and inadequate learning;

¯ as students progressed from one grade to the next, they did not overcome their deficits as failure rates remained high;

¯ grade 8 math failure rates demonstrate students were unprepared for higher-level math courses in high school;

¯ there is a correlation between high failure rates in grades 3-8 on state standardized tests and low graduation rates; and

¯ students who pass from grade to grade with deficits accumulating, who are unprepared for high school, fall into Whitaker’s category of “disengaged with their school and school community,” whether they are Latino or other.

Yet during these seven years, it was Whitaker, appointed by Geneva in 2013 as assistant superintendent of school improvement and accountability, who apparently had oversight responsibility. He comes to Jamestown with a data track record that is worrisome.

That being said, we want Superintendent Whitaker to succeed in Jamestown. We strongly urge him to take on a mindset of preventative action, one centered on teaching that produces learning that is visible, both to teacher and to student. A research-validated preventative approach, in contrast to the tertiary program implemented by his predecessor, encompasses the majority of students and bypasses fads, which formerly predominated. It has the added advantage of lowering the number of students labeled “learning disabled” and who enter special education.

Common Core curricula lack any research support. It is disastrous for teaching and learning. We were warned about its many weaknesses prior to implementation. The Board of Regents and the New York State Department of Education refused to listen. Federal money blinded them. Statewide implementation resulted. We see the outcome in high failure rates on standardized tests even after eight years.

The preventative approach also should focus strongly upon educating students about their country, its founding, its exceptionalism, and the many liberties granted to American citizens, liberties not granted to most other citizens in the world. When students remain ignorant of their own history, we see the disastrous results played out across our country.

It is necessary to foster a feeling of patriotism among students. Saying the Pledge of Allegiance daily before a classroom flag, learning and singing patriotic songs, learning about patriots, learning the stories of history, all serve to engender positive feelings about one’s country.

“I am not okay with staying in the dugout and never stepping up to the plate,” Whitaker stated. We are pleased to hear such words. We hope this means that the superintendent will be open to learning about research-validated curricula that have proven results on student learning.

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