Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Modest Proposal to Commissioner Elia and Kriner Cash

Pony Up Doc

It appears the Board of Education has made up its collective mind and plans to install Dr. Kriner Cash as the next Superintendent of Buffalo Schools. Dr. Cash never even applied for this position. He was recommended by Mary Ellen Elia, the Commissioner of New York State Education Department. As if by some executive order the process seems to have been put on the fast track to put Cash into position as quickly as possible. While they've held a meet the public night with some softball questions and allowed Cash to do a little bit of Vaudeville schtick for a few laughs, he hasn't been grilled or interrogated as much as feted and fawned over.

 Mrs. Elia, likewise, was recommended for her job by Regents Chancellor Tisch and also installed post haste with an unusual early morning meeting of the Board of Regents. This was done quickly before any of the state's other stakeholders -- teachers, parents, taxpayers, etc. had a chance to scrutinize Elia's previous job performances, her references and her history as a working partner within a school system. If it seems as if someone is following a script it's because they are. They are following the corporate ed reform script that hires its own with few to no questions asked and as little public input as possible. The hirees know what is expected and they know to whom they must answer. Hint: it's not to the public. 

If anyone had a chance to look into Elia's performance in Hillsborough County, Florida they might have asked about 2 student deaths that occurred on Elia's watch.

Isabella Herrera had a neuromuscular disease that made her neck muscles weak. She was supposed to have her head back as she sat in her wheelchair, but she tilted forward and it blocked her airway. When it was discovered, the driver called dispatch and the aide on board called Isabella's mother.
By the time Lisa Herrera arrived and dialed 911 herself, her daughter was blue and unresponsive. She was pronounced dead the next day. 

But Superintendent MaryEllen Elia didn't make the news public. 

She relied on a sheriff's office investigation that she said found no criminal wrongdoing, and appeared to let it go at that. During an interview last week, I asked why she didn't release the news. She fell back on the sheriff's report.

 If you're the parent of a special-needs student, though, you would have liked to know there was a problem. I should say, is a problem. There have been three other issues with special-needs kids just this year, including the recent death of a student with Down syndrome who wandered away unnoticed and drowned. The Herrera family filed its lawsuit a few days after that — about nine months after Isabella died. 

Now we have a task force, and a policy change allowing bus drivers to call 911 if the situation warrants. As school board Vice Chairwoman April Griffin told The Tampa Tribune though, "It goes way, way deeper than that. But I think it's a start." This would be a better start: Expand the task force to probe the circumstances of why it took a lawsuit to bring this to a head. This isn't a witch hunt, but there has to be accountability. What happened in the aftermath of this tragedy was at best a case of bureaucratic bungling. 

When a child dies, a leader doesn't fall back on official reports and policy excuses. 

A leader gets to the bottom of things and then lets everyone know what went wrong so it doesn't happen again. A leader asks uncomfortable questions about the culture in a school system that values policy and procedure over good judgment and common sense. That didn't happen here. And if not for a lawsuit, no one would have known.   Full Story Here.

"Accountability" is a favorite buzzword of the blame the teachers crowd. Ironic though how someone like Elia does not have her feet held to any fire. Instead she is given in excess of a million dollars to leave town and then is recruited by Meryl Tisch to come to New York where she will be rewarded with the top education job in the state. Is Mary Ellen Elia under any threat to improve anything in New York the way teachers in Buffalo are being threatened with school closings and job losses? No, I haven't heard anywhere that Elia has any deadlines hanging over her head. I haven't heard she will lose her job if Y,Y or Z schools don't improve. In fact she's making threats now to punish school districts with high test refusal numbers. With little to no accountability of her own to worry about she's already setting a course of coercion and bullying in New York. Teachers and parents in Florida accused her of creating an atmosphere of intimidation and coercion. Too bad nobody had a chance to look into that before she was installed. 

And what Sword of Damacles hovers over the neatly coiffed head of Dr. Cash? As the receiver of the schools in receivership are we to believe he too will have some skin in the game of chicken that NYSED and Elia are playing with Buffalo Schools, students, parents and teachers? I sure haven't heard he'll be docked if A,B or C school doesn't improve its test scores by X%. Not to open this can of worms right now but has NYSED even spelled out exactly how the improvement is going to be measured and what amount of growth will determine the school's fate, exactly? Last I heard they still had a set of portable goalposts they were going to move backwards at the last second.  As mentioned here the other day in all of the hooplah and corny jokes about doing laundry on Elmwood as Board member Belton Cottman eyed the heavens, wondering how we ever got so lucky to land this guy, a real basic question is being studiously avoided by everyone who's hellbent on signing Kriner Cash: How is he going to improve test scores and save the schools in receivership?

I also covered the glaringly unpleasant reality that Cash has no history of improved test scores anywhere he was put in charge. In fact, the Buffalo News of all sources even pointed out the fact that Kriner Cash has a history of "inconsistent academic achievement." Yet in spite of his actual track record Mary Ellen Elia tells the Board of Education here that they should hire him. 

Based on what? Wanna know what? Based on the fact that he has ties to the Broad Foundation, like Elia, he likes to accept money in the millions from Bill Gates, money with all kinds of ed reformy strings attached of course. He's one of the in crowd in the halls of ed reform. That's why Mary Ellen Elia thinks he'll be swell here in Buffalo. In looking out for Cash, she's looking out for Arne and Obama and Eli Broad and Bill Gates and The Waltons and every other billionaire who wants to see public education turned over to privateers who can make a hefty profit while their own kids are safe from testing and Common Core in places like Chicago Lab School and Sidwell Friends School. And in making the above mentioned happy by placing one of their guys, Mary Ellen Elia has advanced her own career and upped her value in the eyes of the above should she be out of work any time soon. I suspect too that she will be looking for work before too long as she has no experience manhandling the kind of affluent and pissed off Opt Out parents she's going to meet on Long Island. She won't do any better in West Seneca either come to think of it. 

Just to show us she's a mensch and that she stands by her man I think it's only fair that Mary Ellen Elia's position as Commissioner of NYSED should be contingent on Kriner Cash's evaluation here in Buffalo. Likewise, following the accountability flow chart we believe exists in the so-called "real world" it's only fair that Dr. Cash's contract should be tied to the fate of Buffalo's receivership schools. Unless she sent Cash here to fail purposely and throw open Buffalo Public Schools to a feast of crows for privatizers we must believe that Mary Ellen Elia has every faith that Kriner Cash is going to pull a rabbit out of his hat and save Buffalo Public Schools from extinction. I mean she must think that right? Why else would she recommend a guy with zero history of academic success and improved test scores to step in at such a critical time?  

It makes no sense for only the people of Buffalo, their kids and their teachers to have all the skin in this game. If we are going to welcome outsiders to give us advice then follow their advice and hire their friends it's only fair that they too are invested as we are. If Commissioner Elia wants us to hire her friends based on her recommendations she and Kriner Cash both need to pony up. Anything less than a pound of flesh from each of them is a sucker bet. 

Question to the Board of Education: Are you players or suckers? 


  1. This is some great background information to have and a great look into what's happening in education in NY and Buffalo.
    Can I suggest that you go back and correct "MaryEllen" Elia's name? It appears as "Mary Ann" throughout.

  2. Thanks for the correction. My daughters middle name is Ellen so I think I was trying to separate her from an unsavory connection.