Posts Tagged ‘education’

President Obama addresses college affordabilty in Buffalo

College costs. Chart: The White House. Click to enlarge.

College costs. Chart: The White House. Click to enlarge.

In western New York today on a bus tour to promote new initiatives in financing higher education, President Obama gave a speech at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His address, lasting approximately half an hour, outlined a number of steps to make college education a better bargain for families, and more widely accessible to families of limited means.

A complete transcription of the president’s address is available on the White House website.

Tune in tomorrow to The Eight O’clock Hour for more coverage of the president’s travels in New York, his education plan, and his stops in Syracuse and Binghamton.


Tech gadgets and social media – what’s healthy, what’s not?

Texting in class. Photo: Andy Nguyen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Texting in class. Photo: Andy Nguyen, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

This past Friday the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario voted to ban the use of cell phone in classrooms. According to CBC news:

The new rules state that mobile devices should be turned off and stored during school hours, unless special permission is given.

Justification for such a ban was set forth on the union’s website in April of this year.

“A province-wide ban on cellphones and other personal electronic devices would do a great deal to support teaching and learning in our classrooms,” said ETFO President Emily Noble.

Noble stressed that cellphones and other personal electronic devices have no place in Ontario classrooms.  “They disrupt classes, distract students and can lead to cyber bullying and harassment of school staff and students,” she said.

Every generation of parents and educators gets to wrestle with the pros and cons of new tech toys and what limits should be set. (My mother would insist the radio must be off while doing homework, while I argued it was only too easy to listen to music and finish that task at the same time.)

For some reason this topic has generated a spurt of recent coverage. Monday’s edition of The Takeway with John Hockenberry had a segment on a summer camp that tries to teach good tech balance. (This is detailed further in a story by WYNC.)

Here’s a look at three new books on the topic of children and their relations hip to technology by Dwight Garner in the New York Times: “Resisting the Siren Call of the Screen – 3 books Offer Ways to Cut the Cord, If Only Briefly“.

The books discussed are: The Distraction Addiction by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang; The Big Disconnect by Catherine Steiner-Adair with Teresa H. Barker and The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis. (Note: not the Katie Davis that has done reporting for NPR.)

Many of the reader’s comments that followed the NYT article argued this is a problem that needs to be solved by engaged parents who have a good relationship with technology and family life themselves – and not every parent stands ready to lead by example.

Where do you come down on getting the tech/life balance right in your life and in the lives of children?

University of Ottawa plans school of government

University of Ottawa. Photo: Jean-Phillippe Daigle, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

University of Ottawa. Photo: Jean-Phillippe Daigle, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

What comes to mind when you encounter the term “school of government”? Probably Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, though there are a fair number of similar graduate programs in the public-policy analysis field.

The University of Ottawa recently announced it plans to establish Canada’s first such school of government, beginning in 2014 (with student enrollment targeted for 2015). That institution is arguably an excellent fit for the role. It is the largest bi-lingual university in Canada and is located within walking distance of Parliament Hill and associated government buildings.

According to the university web biography, current president Alan Rock is a “is a three-time University of Ottawa alumnus having graduated from the University of Ottawa High School before completing a Baccalaureate in Arts in 1968 and a law degree in 1971″. Prior to becoming president in 2008, Rock was a prominent Liberal politician, first elected to parliament in 1993. He went on to be a cabinet mainstay whose portfolios included stints as Minister of  Justice, Health, Industry and Infrastructure.

A decade ago, Rock was among the top contenders vying to replace Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, a role that eventually went to Paul Martin. Rock also served as Canada’s Ambassador to the UN from 2004-06. In short, he draws from a deep, broad background of government expertise.

The Ottawa Citizen wrote more about the proposed school in this article/interview from Aug 11. In it, Rock was asked how his own strong Liberal Party background could be kept neutral, so to speak:

Rock: “I guess it will be the kind of institution that the professors make it. I’m president of a university which is not a Liberal university nor a Conservative university. It is a university, and this is going to be a school of government.

“I fully expect the professors, when they gather in the school, will do just as they’re doing now in the faculties and departments, which is to pursue their academic interests, their teaching responsibilities, their research projects with an open mind. This is truly non-partisan, this university, and the school of government will be the same way.”

In a related angle, former federal budget officer Kevin Page now holds a 3-year post at the University of Ottawa as the Jean-Luc Pepin Research Chair on Canadian Government. The Ottawa Citizen reports Page hopes to establish a fiscal studies institute there too.

There’s continued interest among economists, planners and academia on ways higher ed does (or does not) stimulate local economies. The New York Times recently had an article on just that: “Colleges help Ithaca Thrive in a Region of Struggles” (8/4/13). Ottawa is already considered a “government town” in terms of economic activity and employment. Adding a school of government should contribute to that, though it may not do much to diversify the local landscape.

The University of Ottawa was also in the news this week over a far less-flattering situation: admissions to their school of journalism have been suspended for the coming academic year while the school is restructured. This comes in the wake of a “scathing” report that recommended the program be shut down or completely overhauled. (The university reportedly expects admissions will resume in 2014.) Meanwhile some existing students in the program are concerned about where this may leave them, in terms of education and reputation.

Canton Central spending $15m on renovation project

Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. Photo: Lizette Haenel

Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. Photo: Lizette Haenel

You may have heard on our air or read at that the Canton Central School District has had some money problems over the last couple years; more recently, the district has been considering a merger with Potsdam Central. It’s had to eliminate more than 50 staff members, and has been looking at much bigger class sizes and cuts to student activities.

It’s always slightly surprising when you read about an organization that’s in financial trouble spending money, even if the spending is from an entirely different budget — and so it was when I read this morning in the Watertown Daily Times that Canton Central is spending $15 million on a number of renovation projects throughout its complex. But it turns out the state is covering 89 percent of the costs of this project, so it’s not quite as surprising as one might have anticipated.

Some of the projects are urgent and necessary, like asbestos remediation in McKenney Middle Schoool, which Superintendent William Gregory told the paper is proving to be much more extensive — and expensive — than expected. Other projects are explicitly forward-looking, says Gregory:

Keeping the school building complex in updated condition also places the Canton district in a strong position as it looks to the possibility of merging with Potsdam Central School or other area schools.

‘It positions us to have an updated facility that could accommodate several hundred additional students should some form of merger or consolidation eventually occur,’ Mr. Gregory said.

Such projects include a new computer lab, bathrooms that will now be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, updated sports facilities, and changes to make the buildings safer and more secure.

Canton, Potsdam schools to get $25,000 from NYS for merger study


Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. NCPR File Photo

Hugh C. Williams Senior High School, Canton Central School District. Photo: Lizette Haenel

We’ve reported in the past on the Canton Central and Potsdam Central School Districts considering a merger. Now the state will fund a joint merger study to the tune of $25,000, a press release from State Sen. Patty Ritchie says. Here’s the text of that press release.


Funding Will Help Canton, Potsdam Explore Options for Increased Efficiency


State Senator Patty Ritchie has announced she has secured $25,000 in special funding to help the Canton Central School district cover the cost of a joint merger study with the Potsdam Central School District.

“It’s so critical that students here in the North Country are provided the best educational opportunities possible,” said Senator Ritchie.  “That’s why I’ve been working hard to secure increased funding and create a more equitable financial aid formula that benefits our local schools that are looking to be creative in finding ways to stretch every dollar.”

The $25,000 in special funding represents Senator Ritchie’s most recent effort on behalf of the Canton Central School District.  Last year, Canton received a total of $125,000 in unrestricted funding on top of the $1.752 million in additional school aid Senator Ritchie helped secure for the district over the past two years.

This year, the State Legislature increased its commitment to New York’s public schools with schools in Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence County receiving an increase of more than $25 million in aid—more than $7 million than originally proposed by the Governor.

More on this as it develops!



South Glens Falls schoolkids get $10,000 for backpacks of food


Photo: Clappstar, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Clappstar, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

We talk a lot about food here at NCPR, and lately, we’ve been talking a lot about subsidized food. Whether it’s what people are buying with money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, better known as Food Stamps) and the future of that program, or what’s being served at school lunch, it’s something that’s often on our minds (not surprisingly, as human beings who eat and care about others having enough to eat.)

Much of the news we see in the above-linked stories seems fairly dark — like that it’s hard for schools to provide healthier food for kids because they can’t afford it; or that neither the Farm Bill (which, of course, also plays a huge role in getting decent food to all of us) nor the SNAP program, many say, is as safe if they’re not in the same bill. So a piece of happy food news in the Glens Falls Post-Star caught my eye: Harrison Avenue Elementary School in South Glens Falls has won a grant to help it provide kindergarten through 5th grade students all over the community with healthy food to bring home over the weekends.

The $10,000 grant from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation and the General Mills Foundation will support the school’s “Nutritional Nuggets” program, which currently works with a Latham food bank to provide 25 families with backpacks full of food. Harrison Avenue Principal Joe Palmer told the paper that the grant might help the program expand next year.

It should come as no surprise that good nutrition is vital for kids’ development (and conversely poor nutrition can have powerful negative impacts.) Nutrition provided through schools (school breakfast, school lunch, and to some extent summer meals) constitutes one of the major sources of that nutrition for many poor children (here’s an interesting 2010 article on how rural households take advantage of federal hunger programs for kids).

There’s a lot more detail about this program in the article, but it did my heart good to read about it, particularly considering the acrimony that’s characterized the House debate about food stamps and farm aid. The fact that that aid is public and this grant is private makes for an interesting (and likely fractious) point of debate, but I’m just going to stop here and think of delicious, healthy, food.


Is a charter school right for St. Lawrence County?

Photo: Jeremy Russell, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Jeremy Russell, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

We’ve been reporting a lot over the last year or so about the financial struggles schools are facing in our region, and how they’re trying to improve their situations (in fact, I blogged yesterday on a related issue, touching on the surprising importance of cafeteria revenues.) One of those ways is by merging: In recent weeks, Canton, Potsdam, Huevelton, Morristown and Hermon-DeKalb’s school districts have looked into combining services in various ways; those last three were looking into forming a regional high school, but since the state legislature would have needed to pass a bill allowing it in the 2013 session that ended last week (they didn’t) that idea’s off the table for now.

But the theme in conversations about schools in the North Country has for at least the last while been that there are likely to be fewer schools in the future, not more, or that it’s at least something a lot of people are thinking about (and there’s a lot of pressure coming from the state to merge, by the way). So it was with some surprise that I read in the Watertown Daily Times that at least one group of educators is pushing to launch a new charter school in St. Lawrence County.

The idea, the paper reports, comes out of the annual constructivist conference that takes place every summer at St. Lawrence University. Constructivism, if you’re not familiar, is an educational theory whose adherents stress hands-on problem solving (it’s associated famously with Maria Montessori, among others.) There’s a lot more about this in the linked Wikipedia entry.

Ginger Thomas, from the group that’s exploring the idea, Teacher’s Desk Consultants, says it would meet the Common Core standards that are being implemented in schools across the country. In theory the school would look to enroll 25 students and hiring two teachers for seventh, eighth and ninth grades — with the possibility of expansion if things go well. The state would have to approve the school and allocate funding before it could go forward. There’s more in the article.

When I read this article, my mind immediately went to school funding. As we know, many North Country schools are in serious fiscal trouble, and public charter schools like the ones proposed here do get funding from the state. So I looked it up, and, although this stuff is a little dense, I managed to find the information I was looking for on the web site of the Charter Schools Institute, the SUNY organization that is one of three statewide that authorizes charter schools. Here’s what their Charter Schools FAQ (access that by clicking on that phrase in the linked page above — it’s a Microsoft Word document so I can’t link to it here) says about funding (emphasis mine):

As public schools, charter schools are funded by public tax dollars that pass through the student’s school district of residence on a per student basis.  A portion of the per-pupil amount that a school district spends follows a student to the charter school.  It is important to note that because not all monies received by a school district are included in the calculation, charter schools receive only between 60-80% of what school districts actually spend on a per-pupil basis.  For a list of the amounts that would follow a student from particular districts, please visit the State Education Department’s website at  For details on how the amount per-pupil, i.e., the “approved operating expense/total aidable pupil units” is determined, please refer to § 2856(1) of the Education Law.

Any additional aid received by the district attributable to students with disabilities would flow to the charter school if the charter school provides, directly or indirectly, the funded special education services (§ 2856(1)).  Charter schools may also enter into contracts with school districts to directly provide special education services to its students (N.Y. Laws of 2002, ch. 83, pt. H, §102).

This use of public funding has been a big part of the debate over charter schools, and it seems particularly germane here, where we’re looking at not being able to support the schools we have now, and at school districts that are already, well, teeny. According to (which I’m only counting on here for approximates) there are 16,272 k-12 students in St. Lawrence County. With 18 school districts in the county (this according to St. Lawrence BOCES), that makes 904 students, on average, per district.

Even if one supports the educational philosophy under discussion here, is this the best use of our money? Charter schools, as we see above, get only 60 to 80 percent of what a public school would get per pupil. But when you’re as strapped for cash as are many St. Lawrence County districts, that’s not chicken feed.




Why JCC graduation numbers are “wow!”, not “meh…”

Photo: jeco, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: jeco, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

When is a 46 percent graduation rate a good graduation rate?

The Watertown Daily Times is reporting today that Jefferson Community College had the highest six-year graduation rate among state community colleges, for students who enrolled in 2002. That number comes from a study by the Center for Urban Studies: It’s a combination of students who completed a two-year associate degree (29 percent), and students who transferred to receive bachelors degrees (17 percent).

This doesn’t sound so impressive, Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas J. Finch admitted to the paper: “The biggest part of that is people see 46 percent and say ‘big deal’.” But here’s why he says it is, in fact, a big deal. College graduation rates aren’t measured the same way as high school rates (where clearly 46 percent wouldn’t be so hot): If a student decides to transfer to another community college, the state considers that person a dropout. It’s also more common for people to take only a few classes at a community college, or to do a year at the local community college to save money on school.

There’s also the additional fact that many of JCC’s students are Fort Drum soldiers, and they don’t necessarily stay around to get a two-year degree (that actually doesn’t count against the graduation rate, by the way.) And for others, life intervenes and they take more than six years to earn the associates degree.

JCC Vice-President for Students Betsy Penrose told the paper that JCC’s graduation rate has improved since 2002 — as of last fall, 34.34 percent of the 2006 cohort had completed an associates degree — compared to the SUNY-wide rate of 32.17 percent, and the national rate of 27.67 percent. “So, it appears we are trending in a positive direction.”

News roundup: Schools work together, bridges, charity venison

Photo: Sander Spolspoel, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Sander Spolspoel, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Whew! the legislative session is over! In case you missed it, here’s the Capitol Confidential blog’s wrap-up of what happened, and here’s the Cuomo Administration’s post-session report. Regionally, St. Lawrence, Essex, Clinton and Franklin Counties won the right in the legislature to increase their sales taxes. And here’s what North Country Sen. Patty Ritchie had to say about the session.

Now let’s all move on with our lives up here in the North Country.

In Clinton County, two more school districts are looking for ways to save money by working together (recently, see Canton and Potsdam, as well as Huevelton, Morristown and Hermon-DeKalb.) Plattsburgh City and Beekmantown Central schools have agreed (in a unanimous vote) to contract with educational consulting firm Castallo and Silky, to see how they can collaborate. That’s according to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. The firm will begin its study, which will cost the districts $20,000 plus expenses, this summer. It’ll work closely with a citizen advisory committee, the paper reports.

The City School has also approved the hiring of the same firm to determine how it can better use its school buildings (that’ll cost $25,000.) The paper reports that board members have mixed feelings about one possible outcome of the study, school closures: Member Fred Wachtmeister said he wouldn’t support closing any schools; member Steve Krieg, whose children, the paper notes, already lived too far from their neighborhood schools to walk, says he’d be open to looking at the idea. Interestingly, board member Clayton Morris (who voted against the study) said he wouldn’t support the idea of closing schools at all — in fact, “I see us maybe adding someplace.”

If you live in St. Lawrence County and use bridges (and who here doesn’t? They’re pretty much everywhere), some news in North Country Now may leave you feeling somewhat unstable (get it?): Apparently dozens of bridges on the county’s state and county roads are officially designated “structurally deficient.” At the same time, funding for bridge repairs has been reduced, leaving not enough money for replacements of bridges or equipment. The highway department, which deals with bridge repairs, has also lost 20 people since 2007.

County Highway Superintendent Toby Bogart told NCN that he doesn’t believe any bridges in the county are unsafe, the bridges aren’t getting the attention they need. More on the bridges and what it means to be “structurally deficient” in the article.

Finally, a lovely story about deer in the legislature. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is introducing legislation calling for a tax deduction for hunters who donate venison and turkey to feed the hungry, and for those who process that meat. This story from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican. Apparently (I had no idea!) the economic impact of hunting in New York is huge, with hunting contributing more than $1.5 billion to the state’s economy annually.

Schumer says in the article that although hunting has been growing, donations of venison have declined, in part because of processing costs. The legislation will, he said, reward hunters for donating meat by offsetting those costs. He’s co-sponsoring it with Democratic and Republican senators from Alaska, Idaho, Arizona and Wyoming.

From our newsroom today: U.S. Rep. Bill Owens on the failure of the farm bill; and Canton-Potsdam Hospital CEO David Acker on why he believes there’ll be fewer hospitals in the North Country in the future.

Tues news roundup: Massena Memorial, graduation rates, home buyouts

Reading the newspaper. Photo: kattebelletje, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Reading the newspaper. Photo: kattebelletje, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Correction: A previous version of this post identified Clifton-Fine as being in Franklin County, when it is in fact located in St. Lawrence County. Thanks, sharp reader, for catching my error!

Happy Tuesday! Graduation rates, flood buyouts, hospital privatization, and ever so much more in the news today.

The New York State Education Department has released its graduation rates for what’s called the “2008 cohort” (that’s students who started 9th grade in 2008 to you and me). Of those students, who in more classic high school parlance would be called the class of 2012, 74 percent actually graduated in 2012 statewide. You can find all the gory details here, and the results by district here (this is a 1,300-page PDF, by the way.)

In Jefferson County,  The Watertown Daily Times is reporting that several area districts aren’t keeping up with that state average: Clifton-Fine Central School District students have only graduated in four years at a rate of 65.4 percent; Harrisville Central students, at a 68.8 percent rate.

However, Jefferson County as a whole is doing quite well, with an 86.4 percent four-year graduation rate. Lewis County averaged 83.6 percent, with St. Lawrence County lower but still above the state average at 78.7 percent. Much more information in the article, and much more (really) in the state documents.

We reported earlier this month on the possibility of privatizing Massena Memorial Hospital, and opposition to it (here’s a conversation between Julie Grant and Mark Kotzin, spokesperson for the Civil Service Employees Association, which is leading the charge against privatization.) The Watertown Daily Times reports today that the hospital is inviting two firms in to present their views on how privatization would work. At a hospital board meeting Monday night, hospital Director of Public Relations and Planning Tina Corcoran told the paper that privatization is something the hospital has to explore as a way of containing costs. Pension costs are one issue, she said, as is the possibility of collaborating with other hospitals, which is curtailed under the current ownership.

And after years of damaging winter and spring floods in Malone, Franklin County will apply for federal funds to buy out 10 flood-damaged houses on Lower Park Street. But those funds, if they do appear, could take up to two years, so hopeful homesellers may have at least one more flood cycle to withstand before they can cash out.

That’s according to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, which reports that County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost described the plan thusly at the Monday county legislators’ meeting: The properties, on the west side of the street, would be demolished and the land “brought back to its original form.” Then, the roadway would be raised between 15 and 20 feet, and reconfigured so as to protect homes on the east side of the street. Three other property owners haven’t filled out the buyout paperwork; town supervisor Howard Maneely told the paper that although eminent domain doesn’t apply in this case, he will meet again with those who weren’t interested to talk about the plan, and may look into condemning the properties.

In our newsroom today, Brian Mann talks in detail with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens about some of the thornier issues current rearing their heads in the Adirondack park; Gov. Cuomo may not see some of the key aspects of his late-session agenda (the Women’s Equality Act and campaign finance reform, for example) come to fruition in the remaining couple days of the session; details on the arrest of Montreal’s mayor on corruption charges (rough month for Canadian mayors, non?) And a lot more, too.