Rochester should consider the Raleigh, NC county-wide school system

This year the Rochester Area Community Foundation published The State of Black Rochester, 2013. The comprehensive, blue-ribbon report is a compilation of essays from prominent community leaders and experts, such as RCSD Superintendent Bolgen Vargas, and includes current data compiled by ACT Rochester. The conclusions and recommendations of the study should be taken seriously by policy makers and the general public, especially on issues of education and concentrated poverty.

Dana Miller’s (Vice President, Advancement, RACF) summarizing commentary on education and poverty makes a strong case that Rochester and Monroe County must actively consider a county-wide school system in which the Raleigh, NC system is presented as successful model.

As described by Miller, the city of Raleigh (one with some similar demographics as Rochester) put in place a radical solution to the problem of concentrated poverty and segregated schools.  Raleigh created a county-wide district in which no school had more than 40% of its students below the poverty line (Rochester currently is ranked 7th in childhood poverty).  In doing so, despite spending less than state and national averages, the district narrowed minority achievement gaps.  Students exceed national averages on AP tests and do well on college entrance tests.  The district’s goal of 95% of its students passing state exams is well ahead of No Child Left Behind.

Recently, we have heard increased calls for a county-wide system. Current trends are only amplifying the argument. As explained in Gary Keith’s October 6th Guest Essay, “Improve city education to bridge poverty gap,” Rochester has the 11th widest city-suburban poverty rate spread among the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. Neighboring Buffalo and Syracuse had similar poverty dynamics, with city-suburban differentials that were second and 10th widest among the top 100, respectively. democratandchronicle.com/story/opinion/2013/10/06/guest-essay-improve-city-education-to-bridge-poverty-gap/2925483/

These disparities only make it more difficult for the city of Rochester to advance as a job creator and a place where the urban middle class wants to live.

Imagine if Rochester could match the success of Raleigh. Not only would students receive better educations, but Rochester and Monroe County could leap frog above their Western New York competition into a regional leader bringing with it economic and political benefits. A county-wide school district is a big idea that can be a winner all around.

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