Niagara Gazette

October 11, 2013

HAMILTON: Our fine failing schools cost more than we may think

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — We have many things to be proud about in our Niagara Falls school system, but the quality of education just “ain’t” one of them. 

With the Porter Road high school being state-of-the-art and, when it was first built, the finest high school building in the state, the rebuild of Niagara Street School, the work that is being done on the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) laboratories at some of the elementary-level schools and the city being on tap to soon have some of the finest athletic fields in the state, none of these things have or will make our schools a world-class system.

Sadly, despite these accoutrements, our kids are not leaving any of these facilities being any smarter than any of the other districts’ that have none of these opulent trappings. And if you are drinking that bottled swill that it costs little to nothing to local taxpayer, then you are drunk on the poor education that you likely received from the same system. The reason will be explained in a minute.

But on a brighter note, the city’s school system has some of the most experienced classroom teachers in the state; and with that you’d think that the product that the production of these fine facilities would not be in the bottom 10 percent of all Western New York systems. You would think that they would be in the top 10 percent — nearer to the top 5 percent pay ranking of these quality classroom teachers.

So then, what could be the disconnect with these finest facilities, best teachers, but poorest results?

Don’ get me wrong, we compare favorably among other bad districts. But we can do better than even many of the better districts.

My belief, and the belief of some of the teachers, is that the problems are the elements on the periphery — the students/parents and the administration/board. It is a sandwich made with good meat, but with bad bread; and both of these elements breed each other.

These experienced school teachers have not lost control of their classrooms, they are simply hampered from teaching those who like to learn because that control has been taken from them. I admit, a part of the problem is in the politics of their union, a union that supports state representatives who will go to Albany to better fund them, but they also tend to be representatives who empower the student over both the parent and teacher. Both of the latter pays the price for it, as well as the city, in that these types of students tend to be an excessive burden on our social and public safety systems. That is how we all pay our local share of the no- to low-cost of those facilities.

Furthermore, in addition to disempowerment, significant parts of many parents’ disengagement from the education of their children arise from the fact that the child is bused from low-income housing projects in the city’s North End to LaSalle-area schools. What this means is that a low-income, car-less mother would have to spend more than $20 each way in a taxi to attend a parent-teacher conference — and she just ain’t got $40 to be as participatory as the parent in LaSalle who can walk to the neighborhood school.

And speaking of neighborhood schools, most of the kids in the LaSalle district have that; while in the downtown area, many, if not most, of the kids in a single neighborhood are bused to four or five different schools. This disengagement from both parent and neighborhood is evident in the differences between the quality of the LaSalle and downtown neighborhoods. That difference causes the LaSalle property taxpayer, in essence, to be subsidizing the downtown neighborhoods and it gives little incentive for real improvement in those downtown neighborhoods.

So then, when we factor out the fine facilities and the fine classroom teachers and we begin to understand the dilemma of the disengagement of the parents and that proverbial “village” neighborhood that it takes to raise both the children and their educational achievements, the cause of our system has to be that there is something wrong with the administration and board of education.

So then, what should we do about it; because, despite it being the best of things and the worst of things, it is costing all of us a lot more than we think!

Contact Ken Hamilton at