The BenCen Blog

Informing Public Discourse in the Hudson Valley and Across the State

Month: October 2018

Your Most Important Vote this November is Hidden on the Second Page of the Ballot

Partisan gerrymandering — incumbents drawing legislative districts to keep control of legislative bodies — destroys democracy by assuring that majorities don’t rule. It has been described as elected officials choosing their voters, instead of their voters choosing their representatives. 

At the national, state and local levels our governments are made undemocratic by gerrymandering; despite widespread protest, those in power in both major parties keep doing it so that they can stay in power. Repeated efforts to get the U.S. Supreme Court to undo this practice have failed, though surely it is unconstitutional.

What most people in Ulster County may not know is that we are among the handful of places in the country that doesn’t have this problem. That’s because our county charter gives us a process for neutral non-partisan legislative redistricting. And it has worked. The districts for the current, closely divided county legislature were drawn through this non-partisan process. But in doing this the first time around we found out that there were some flaws in our design, and we needed to take further steps to be sure that it was more inclusive and effective while remaining non-partisan. 

Under the leadership of County Executive Michael Hein, a commission headed by Kingston attorney Rod Futerfas was formed to work on this. Continue reading

In New York State’s Tests The Achievement Gap Has Grown Worse

by Fred Smith, retired administrative analyst with the New York City public school system, with Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects at the Benjamin Center

New York’s Common Core testing has failed our children. Our recent series, New York State’s School Tests are an Object Lesson in Failure, shows that many students are unable to effectively answer questions on the written portion of the English Language Arts (ELA) tests. (You can access any part of this series via the links box at right.)

A BenCen Series
New York State’s

Testing Failure

Your taxes are paying for a deeply flawed testing system. This series looks at those flaws — and at fixes.

Our analyses show that a substantial percentage of children, particularly third and fourth-grade kids, were unable to write comprehensible answers to three or more written response questions out of the nine or 10 on each ELA exam. That is, they received a zero score on at least three of these questions, which were billed as measuring analytic reasoning and critical thinking. A zero means that a trained scorer deems a response to be “totally inaccurate, unintelligible, or indecipherable.”

If that’s not disheartening enough, we found that the news was even worse for black and Hispanic students in NYC. New York City data allowed us to look at the impact of the exams on different groups; we found that black and Hispanic students received high percentages of zeros on at least three of the questions. It is not insignificant that black and Hispanic students comprise 68 percent of the citywide test population.

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As the Supreme Court Swings Right, Where is the Pendulum on Women’s Equity in New York? There’s Good News and Bad News

Despite the #metoo movement, the nation continues with a president who has been accused repeatedly as a sexual offender and now a just confirmed Supreme Court judge also so accused. Add Kavanaugh to Thomas and now one-third of the six men on our highest court have been accused of sexual misconduct. This generally leaves women in the United States with a lot to fear. We in New York have been told that state law can potentially protect us if national protections disappear. Is this so?

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