Why I Decided Against Opting-Out for State Testing

I debated whether to post on this issue but after reading a few Facebook posts criticizing parents like my wife and me who decided to opt-in for testing, I thought I’d share a few of my own thoughts for deciding against opting-out.

This test is not the first, nor the last standardized test, that our kids will face. In fact, it is one of a constant stream of tests in their academic careers. As such, this test does not differ substantially from most other standardized tests in that it is, at its core, a standardized test.

Yes, it is more difficult. Yes, it contributes to overemphasizing standard tests versus more critical thinking skills. Yes, it might fluster and frustrate students given its difficulty and skew my child’s performance downward compared to other years. Yes, it is driven by the politics of public education and the push-pull of the various stakeholders in the public education debate. I get all that.

But the issue for me boils down to a simple question: “What are the plusses and minuses of opting-in versus opting-out for my child?”.

For me, the major factor for opting-in aligns somewhat with the reasons its critics cite in their decision to opt-out: the weight and burden it places upon kids stuck in the vortex of the educational debate over standardized testing. Where we differ is how to best address it. I believe that choosing to opt-out actually empowers the test and other stakeholders at the expense of empowering learning and empowering our own child. Let’s face it: this is fundamentally a test on the English language and shortly, a test on mathematics. That’s all that is being asked of students this year, just like past years and unquestionably, just like years hence on a number of alternate, widely accepted standardized tests such as the PSAT,SSAT,SAT,ACT, AP , Regents, et al — you get the idea.

What I’ve observed in this debate is that the pressure and stress surrounding these tests does not come from the child; it actually originates from outside stakeholders and is projected onto the students. So why should my child bear the projection of fear, anger and other negatives about the test when the test itself is simply another standardized test ,of many, my child must take to advance in academic life? That gives way, way too much importance to the test , indeed, it actually makes the test almost larger than life in importance– and that is a terrible lesson and burden. I want my child to master test taking, not the other way around.

In talking about this to my kids, I view the test and debate on opting-in versus opting-out as a teachable moment, namely, a chance to discuss the what and why on standardized tests. In my view, the teachable lesson here is that standardized tests serve many purposes for many different people with the important caveat that those interests do not always align with the best interests of my child. I don’t intend this last statement to be provocative; I think it’s simply a fact that in multiple stakeholder issues like public education, you get competing interests and not surprisingly, those interests don’t always align with the child’s or parents’ interests.

What I want my kids to fundamentally understand is that a standardized test does not define who you are;  a standardized test does not predict whether you will do well in college (as research shows the SAT to be a poor predictor for college success); a standardized test will not predict whether you will succeed in school, in life or provide a measure of the person. The test does not define you.

A standardized test measures nothing more than providing a snapshot of a point in time in your academic career. Nothing more — it’s fairly well established that these tests are assessments at best, and predictive in the least.

Meanwhile, the debate will swirl but it is more than clear that the resolution of the complex issues surrounding public education go way beyond this single exam. My role as a parent with kids within this swirl– this maelstrom of interests and policies and practices — is to teach them how the system , the game , works. Unfortunately, standardized testing resembles game theory in many ways — you have multiple stakeholders employing their own strategies with each trying to ‘win’ , naturally, to their advantage.

I don’t think it’s controversial to observe that standardized testing has been , and will continue to be, a major part of the board on which the game gets played. Without a radical departure — arguably merited– from standardized testing, standardized testing will unquestionably form a critical part of my children’s academic and professional or vocational careers. As such, I want my kids to understand the board and the other players at the table because their academic careers — from elementary school to college and beyond — require that they play the game.

So no matter how the game plays out, I want them to play the best game they can, heads held high. And they need to understand that this game is not the endgame to success and happiness in life nor to true learning and knowledge.

Common Council Charade: “Running Things Like a Business” (Part 2)

If you at least want to claim to run things like a business, then you should at least pretend — as is often the case in business — that you follow a process of due diligence in your business decisions.

What the Council is doing however — like they have proven with most fiscal decisions of any significance– is totally disengaging from any due diligence whatsoever.

A framework for a business case involving the city administering its own ambulance service with a potential for 6-figure revenues has been brought forth. While the issues are many and the business case is not complete, the Council needs to at a minimum perform due diligence in light of its significance to the budget and ultimately the tax burden on city residents.

I’d argue that it is not good enough — indeed it is fiscal mismanagement — to not even perform a thorough and careful due diligence of this issue. While the Council invokes the Charter, it is more than clear that once again they are not following the very Charter they claim to support by misapplying the requirements of what does and what does not require a referendum.

In other words, the Council should still proceed with due diligence around the business case regardless of the Charter question. The business case underlying this is simple:

Since 2004 when the Charter restriction was implemented, the city has lost potential revenue in the 6 figure range year-over-year. Let’s take a conservative approach and say that $500k per year in revenue is best-case and if we could get 50% — $250K per year– that might be realistic. If I apply $250K per year over 11 years , I estimate that the Charter restriction conservatively cost city taxpayers $2.75 million over that time in lost revenue. Using the best-case figure, I get $5.5 million over that time.

I think if the voting public realized the business case here, the views on the Charter provision would shift. It’s laughable that the same voices who constantly clamor for lower taxes and the pressing burden of taxes wholly foregoes such a revenue stream over the past decade and apparently into the next decade. That is why the Council killing off any due diligence while hiding the behind the Charter is foolish and certainly not “running things like a business”. They owe it to taxpayers to figure out if this makes sense or not– voters may very well reconsider if such a move lowers taxes or at least avoids sizable cuts in service.  You just don’t toss off the issue as a single budget cycle issue.

Let me put it bluntly using the published figures: do you think voters might reconsider the issue if it actually meant a 12.9% tax increase without the projected revenue? (figure cited by Controller Agresta assuming no tax cap in place) Might a double digit tax increase not persuade a few voters?

Let me be a bit cynical here in talking about cuts versus revenues. It’s my belief that there is an ideology that values cutting above growing, that values risk-avoidance to risk-taking. That ideology is literally killing — and killed– the city. That is the default, favored, desired ideology above all others; that is why you see zero investment in the city.

It’s like trying to landscape your property by cutting everything down and not planting a single seed. Then in the summer, constantly begrudging your neighbors for their well landscaped lawns because they had a bit of sense to understand that you need to plant things in order to grow things. You just can’t kill weeds and expect something else to grow in its place.

Without some offset in revenue, I can predict where the cuts will be applied: economic development, Corporation Counsel, recreation. The impacts from foregoing due diligence on this issue means lower growth in the future and reduced quality of life. Cutting the Corp Counsel merely allows the Council to opine on what they would like the law to be versus what it actually is.

This issue presents many things to the public; what it does not present is “running things like a business.” Or any semblance of fiscal management and governance.

Common Council Readies for Charade of “Running Things Like a Business”

As the Council works through the budget, it’s a perfect opportunity to assess the Council’s stated objective of “protecting taxpayers” and “running things like a business” versus its decisions and actions.

If this article is any indication, it will be a charade of epic proportions. ( Council plans budget workshops, talks ambulance service)

Because what business ever cares about revenue when you can just cut and slash? Or, even better, use the budget for political retribution against Corp Counsel?

So the Council’s first lesson in Management 101 is:  ignore revenue opportunities, focus on cost savings, and favor politics over governance.


Amsterdam Ranked Best and Worst in Global Survey of Cities

(Washington, DC)– April 1, 2015 — According to the most recent survey of the US Association of Newspapers and World Reporting, the Town of Amsterdam is ranked one of the country’s best places to live while the City of Amsterdam ranks as one of the worst.

The survey of over 1200 global cities, large and small, considered a range of factor in its rankings including: educational opportunities, economic opportunities, and quality of life issues.

The Town of Amsterdam ranked topmost in quality of life issues given its abundance of shopping opportunities (Target, Staples), its willingness to turn greenspace into a casino, its contribution to suburban sprawl, and its pristine roads and parking lots.

The City of Amsterdam scored at the bottom in almost every measured category of the random sample of global cities. Surprisngly, survey respondents chose war zones such as Tikrit, Iraq as offering better quality of life and economic opportunity than the city. Crucially, Tikrit’s infrastructure, even after sustained mortar strikes, scored higher than Amsterdam with more drivable roads, fewer potholes and less blighted housing.

The full survey will be released on April 1, 2015 at http://www.surveyofplacesintheusaidesperatelywishedilivedin.com

The Negative Fund Balance No One Talks About

The Golf Course (What Amsterdam residents need to know about the city’s “negative fund balance”):

A few of the city’s funds were negative, however. The Golf Course fund was negative $26,205, and the Transportation Fund was negative $347,344. These balances are problematic.

I understand this is intentionally provocative. But my point is simply to stress how important it is to seriously discuss financials and economics versus demagoguing on financials with no context or understanding.

I’m merely playing the game back to highlight the hypocrisy on financials and to point out how vacuous most of the discussion on the state of the city’s financials truly is.

We saw the same thing play out on a national level with the debt ceiling and with the financial crisis so I shouldn’t be surprised.

However, I am also deeply troubled that I am going to get even more [expletive here] as a taxpayer and homeowner simply because our elected leaders continue to make disastrous decisions on financial and economic matters in the city. The reason is simple: preserve the entrenched interests of the few above the interests of the city as a whole. Simple as that.

We deserve better.

But we’re not going to get it.

Why the Chalmers Demolitionists Think You’re a Tool

Everywhere but Amsterdam: Repurposing Commercial Space into Luxury Apartments

From the Albany Business Review (Developer secures financing for luxury apartments at historic manufacturing building):

Real estate developer Uri Kaufman secured a $30 million loan enabling him to convert the former Albany Internationalheadquarters into 145 luxury apartments.

M&T Bank is providing financing. The loan closed March 24.

I won’t rehash how the demolitionists killed a potential game changer project in the city– you can find plenty of posts on this blog on how that played out.

Instead, I want to caution you on the revisionist framing of why we have no residential development in the city and how Chalmers repurposing would never work. In short, they do not want to you to see how utterly wrong and misguided they were and continue to be on how to bring development and growth to the city.

They do not want you to know that the very same developer and very similar project as here — a $30 million residential development — was rejected and turned away for no other reason than their assertion that such projects never, ever work. Or that no bank would ever fund such a project. Or that it was someone –gasp– from outside the city. [cue the horror track]

That’s what they want you to believe so you do not now confront them with the reality that they were unquestionably wrong in everything they claimed.

As I predicted, the lot is merely a parking lot, and like every other demolition project , what happens next is precisely nothing in terms of development. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Nien.

But they want you to believe that demolition is a great strategy and for Chalmers, was the right strategy no matter how much objective reality flies in the face of that statement. They do not want you to now remind them or confront them of their utter wrongness so that is why they want to reframe the debate on demolition and Chalmers specifically.

Don’t be a tool.

City of Amsterdam Financials: Don’t be a Tool

Read this article in the Mohawk Valley Compass carefully and entirely so you are not a tool on the state of the city’s financials. Here’s the teaser ( from “What Amsterdam residents need to know about the city’s “negative fund balance” ):

So what gives here? Is the city short millions of dollars? Are we spending money we don’t have? The answer requires just a little bit of understanding of the Capital Projects fund and how it is different from the rest of the funds. I’m grateful for the time that Controller Matt Agresta has spent to help me understand the situation so that I can pass along that understanding to the public.

I disagree with Tim Becker in one regard however: that some folks have ‘the best intentions’ when discussing the state of financials.

No, they absolutely do not. They think you are a tool and willfully, intentionally, purposefully, deliberately misinform on the financials and most other things so you remain a quite useful tool to their political agenda.

Here’s the simple reason why: if you want to understand the financials, why would you not , first and foremost, sit and talk to the Controller, Matt Agresta, to get a clearer understanding of the state of the financials?

That’s what Tim Becker did and wrote about. Do you know why no one else did that or wrote about that or why we get to hear everyone else’s take on the financials other than the Controller’s?

Because they think you’re a tool.

Don’t be a tool.