Monday, October 22, 2007

The New Eugenicists

Jerri Kaiser, a member of the Democrat and Chronicle’s Editorial Board, has posted an entry on the D&C’s editorial blog about claims that special education students are driving down the test scores in area schools.

"When society states that special needs kids are a burden I submit that it's a new form of eugenics."
We agree with Ms. Kaiser.

And who are the “New Eugenicists” who have singled out special needs kids?

Say hello to …

County legislative candidate Carmen Gumina and Democratic Chairman Joe Morelle.

You see, the Rochester Business Journal publishes a "Schools Report Card" listing data about Monroe County schools.  It includes each school's record on standardized student tests.   Test score results are provided by the State.

The RBJ prints the data that the State provides.

Candidate Gumina is principal of a school in Webster.   The campaign of the man he’s trying to unseat, Legislator Dave Malta, noticed that Gumina’s school ranked last in Fourth Grade test results for English, Math and General Science.

That’s all the RBJ’s test score report card tells you.   And that’s all a recent Malta campaign mailing said about schools and test scores.

We know, because a friend in Webster showed it to us over the weekend.

The Malta mailing said nothing whatsoever about anything having to do with special needs students.   The mailing contained no hint, suggestion, implication or connotation about special needs students.  Zero.  Zip.   None.  Nada.

Neither did the test data published by the State, which, as published by RBJ, is what the mailing referred to.   The Webster Superintendent of Schools confirmed this, in a letter to residents:

"New York State does not separate 'general' education from 'special education' when reporting test results."

So in complaining about the Malta piece it’s candidate Gumina who’s invoking special needs kids.

It's fair for Gumina and his surrogates to point out a significant factor regarding the test scores, if they feel they must:  that when you assign all of a district’s special needs students to one school, you have to remember that the needs of many of those kids have to do with learning disabilities.   And that could affect the school’s aggregate test scores.

However, what we find both objectionable and dishonest is the main thrust of the Gumina campaign’s response:   that Malta is somehow criticizing special needs students.   The Malta mailing made no reference to such students, either directly or indirectly.  How could it have?   The State's published test data says nothing whatsoever about special needs students.

This morning’s Democrat and Chronicle editorial wonders why the Malta mailing hasn’t been brought before the Fair Election Practices Committee.   The reason is because Malta's mailing contains only truthful information, since all it does is to repeat the State of New York’s own data on school performance.

Actually, on second thought, there is something in Malta’s mailing that's untruthful and misleading.

It’s the part that calls Carmen Gumina a “nice guy.”


Jerri S. Kaiser said...

As the mother of a special needs student what I found upsetting about the Malta literature is the implication of it, not what was in obvious print. It said "nice guys finish last," which indicated to me and many others, as evidenced by the outpouring of disapproval for Malta's mailer, was that Gumina was being nice to special ed kids and therefore the school is finishing last. It implies that special ed kids bring down the rest of the school. Tests therefore become more important than the individual. It ignores the benefits of having diversity in the student body. It also implies that everyone else then suffers as a result. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines.

Philbrick said...

Ms. Kaiser, we appreciate your comment, but disagree that there was any such implication.

Consider this: your newspaper has published stories citing the City of Rochester schools as having the lowest test scores in Monroe County.

May we infer from this that the Democrat and Chronicle is singling out for criticism economically disadvantaged students, or that the paper is hostile to the interests of those students?

I hope you agree that such a conclusion would be ridiculous. Yet that's the very absurdity the critics of the Malta mailing are promoting.

The point of our piece was that no one looking at the test scores alone would have had any reason to think that Gumina's school had a high proportion of special needs students relative to other schools.

If Malta knew about the special needs students when he sent the mailing, then he'd deserve the criticism he has received. But it beggars belief to to think that a candidate for office who knew that would send out such a mailing.

A candidate who knew it would send out a mailing that goes like this: "Carmen Gumina took on a special responsibility when his school became the center for educating our community's special needs children. They, especially, deserve his undivided time and attention. But Gumina puts them in second place -- behind his personal political ambition."

We do believe that there was an unseemly coarseness to the "nice guys finish last" theme of the Malta mailing. But not that it related in any way to special needs students.

Jerri S. Kaiser said...

First of all, Malta should know the student body make up if he is going to criticize the school.

Secondly, what does "nice guys finish last" refer to then? That Gumina is being nice to underperforming kids? Should Gumina be swayed to "get tough" with kids whom Malta knows nothing about?

Malta, by claiming he didn't know, is making himself look ill-informed and I don't think that reflects well with his grasp of the issues.

Jerri S. Kaiser said...

Also, the D&C did not publish their stories about city test scores with the phrase "nice guys finish last." The marginalization of the vulnerable starts out vague and then it gets bolder, history bears this out. It is a gradually then suddenly phenomenon, something Hemingway wrote about effectively in The Sun Also Rises ("How did you go broke? Gradually then suddenly").