Editorials from around New York

Posted September 14

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York's newspapers:

The Auburn Citizen on state standardized tests.

Sept. 14

As another school year gets under way, and another round of Common Core testing is on the horizon, the state Education Department has asked the federal government for a little more leniency in the manner it tests New York students.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia last week responded to a request for feedback from the federal Education Department about upcoming changes to standardized testing and pointed out some instances where federal guidelines may be falling short.

Elia asked the feds to consider continuing to allow more than 1 percent of students to take alternate tests, arguing that because New York has had between 1.8 and 2.3 percent of students taking New York's Alternate Assessment, lowering that threshold would force more students to take grade level testing that can be overly difficult and "humiliating" for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

The state is also asking that it be allowed to change the way in which proficiency in English is measured when it comes to students who are relatively new to the language; and the state also argues that testing for seventh-graders who are excelling at mathematics may inadvertently be holding them back from achieving at an even higher level.

We believe that demanding standards are good for education, and appropriate testing that provides meaningful feedback on student achievement is essential so that programming can be tailored to help students succeed.

So while it would be a mistake to try to water-down federal guidelines unnecessarily, the state is correct to continue looking at the real-world results and consequences of standardized tests and come up with ways to try to improve them.

If New York can show that some of the federal guidelines are too inflexible — or worse, doing more harm than good — then the feds should listen and allow changes that will benefit students.



The Times Union of Albany on a school aid cut in New York.

Sept. 9

When a critically ill patient survives the worst of a catastrophic illness and gets moved from intensive care, the recovery still has a long way to go.

Translate that to the case of a troubled school whose students perform so poorly it's on the verge of receivership and a takeover by an outside entity. Intensive care, through an infusion of special state funding, pulls it from the brink and its condition is upgraded. But instead of continuing to support the recovery, here's what happens to the school: Because of a dispute between the state Education Department and the governor, the extra aid is pulled back.

Through a state program that set aside $75 million to help rescue the state's lowest performing schools, those designated as "persistently failing" are eligible for millions of dollars over two years. In the case of Albany's Hackett Middle School, that money was used to extend the school day and provide professional development classes for teachers. The results were quick and measurable to the point that the state Education Department elevated Hackett's designation, classifying it now as a "priority school." It still has a long way to go. Officials planned to use the second year of funding — $1.6 million — to continue the changes, hoping Hackett would be considered a successful school by the time the two-year program ends.

But, according to the state Budget Division, the change in designation that recognized the progress at Hackett, along with about half of the other persistently failing schools statewide, now renders them ineligible for the second year of special aid.

It's as if a hospital kicked out a recovering patient long before his treatment is complete and he is ready to make it on his own.

The irony here is that everyone — the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state Education Department and the schools — agrees that the second year of funding is needed if these troubled schools are to succeed. The money is already in the state budget. But as the school year begins, the funding remains stalled.

Parents at several of the affected schools, including Hackett, have joined in a lawsuit to free up the second year of funds, so the matter may be settled by a judge.

Even as the program was rolled out last year, critics contended two years of funding would never be enough and some continued grants would still be needed to keep these schools on the right course. The quick success at Hackett suggests that extra funding can do a lot to help turn around a school. After all, the challenge there and elsewhere isn't incompetent teachers or administrators, but rather the impact of severe poverty in the communities served by the schools.

As the case is made for future grants to help support school transformations, the governor's budget division and the education department must quickly come together to forge a solution and free up second year funds for Hackett and the other schools. It would be tragic if their progress, so impressive so far, is lost.



The Daily News on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's health records.

Sept. 12

Donald Trump (who turned 70 in June) and Hillary Clinton (who will turn 69 in six weeks), making them older than any pair of candidates in presidential history, owe the American people comprehensive information about their health.

In the fallout from Clinton's fainting spell, complete with a video that inescapably triggered the image of a stricken President, both candidates are now promising fuller medical accountings than they have so far provided.

The state of a would-be President's health is obviously vital information for voters as they consider hiring an individual for the world's most demanding job.

No rule — except personal responsibility — says that a candidate must reveal anything. Withholding information can plunge a presidential race into unseemly rumors and innuendo.

Trump and his supporters have done just that to Clinton for weeks, their task made easier both by the sexism that prevails in a segment of the population and by Clinton's self-defeating aversion to transparency.

She did herself no favors by failing to announce on Friday that a doctor had diagnosed her as suffering from pneumonia and by also failing to promptly report her condition to the media after she went awfully wobbly on Sunday.

With brazen indecency, Trump's campaign had ghoulishly exploited every Clinton cough to stoke insane theories about her health — even though she had released far more data about her health than he had.

Trump's disclosure has thus far consisted of a four-paragraph letter written in five minutes by his physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, while waiting for a limousine.

Using language appropriate for the regime of Kim Jong-un, Bornstein said that, with "astonishingly excellent" lab results, Trump would be the "healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

In contrast, Clinton released a serious letter filled with greater scientific specificity on her medical history and recent tests.

Former presidential contender John McCain set the standard for disclosure in 2008 when, at the age of 71, he invited physicians and members of the press to pore over his medical records to their hearts' content in a setting designed for sober evaluation of complex information.

As though his campaign has been insufficiently P.T. Barnumized, Trump is pledging to produce "very, very specific numbers" from a medical exam administered last week — and to appear Thursday on "The Dr. Oz Show."

What's coming is all too predictable: boasting that his health is as stupendous as everything he has ever said or done — by implication, at least, he is in more stupendous condition than Clinton, whose "stamina" to be President he has had the gall to question.

In her four years as secretary of state — while Trump was building golf courses and firing people on television — Clinton traveled 956,733 miles, to 112 countries.

Since her campaign launch in June of last year, she has maintained grueling, non-stop schedules in contests against both Bernie Sanders and Trump, issued reams of substantive position papers, coordinated with a team that has outdone Trump in national organizing and fundraising, and much more — all while weathering an FBI investigation.

Whatever Clinton's medical records show, Americans pro and con know that she is a hell of a worker. Additionally, this society weighs down women with demands of wardrobe and appearance unknown to men, who can roll out of bed, shave and shower in ten, pick a suit off the rack and get on with it.

Come to think of it, the whole country needs a checkup.



The Observer-Dispatch of Utica on media access during the presidential campaign.

Sept. 14

We've seen and heard a lot of scary things during the 2016 presidential campaign — and it's not over yet. But one of the scariest things we've seen so far has been limits placed on media access by both of the major candidates.

It does a great disservice to the American people. And in the case of Republican Donald Trump, it flies directly in the face of the First Amendment.

Trump's volatile campaign came to its senses last week — at least temporarily — and put a halt to a ban it had placed on selected news outlets that prevented them from covering his rallies, news conferences and other formal campaign events. That included The Washington Post, Politico, Buzzfeed, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, Univision and others. In explaining the reasoning for the change of heart, Trump told CNN: "I figure they can't treat me any worse!"

Meanwhile, his Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton, was ramping up media access in the wake of criticism over her lack of press conferences. As Trump lifted the ban, she began flying on the same plane with the reporters who travel with her campaign and even held several informal news conferences on board her plane .

Trump has often blamed the media for the press coverage he does — or doesn't — get. Last summer, as his campaign got underway, he barred a reporter from The Des Moines Register from an event after the Register published an editorial calling for him to drop out of the race.

Such a move showed Trump's frightening lack of understanding regarding newspaper operation, not only at the Register, but in newspapers across America.

Editorials are opinion. In most all cases, they are written after collaboration among editorial board members who discuss the pros and cons of an issue and agree to take a stand on it.

Is it right? Maybe. Is it wrong? Maybe. It's opinion.

News reports, on the other hand, are accounts of events, happenings or other situations. When reported responsibly, they are objective accounts that examine both sides of an issue, allowing readers, viewers or listeners to decide for themselves how they feel about it.

Trump's problem was that he didn't like what he was reading, viewing or hearing. So he blamed the media.

Utica native Richard Benedetto, a former reporter for this newspaper who became the White House correspondent for Gannett's USA Today and covered Presidents Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush, now teaches politics and journalism at American University. He said there always has been, and there always should be, a tension between the media and politicians.

"While we both represent the people, our job in the media is to hold politicians and public officials accountable to the people they represent," he said. "Otherwise, they have no check on their job performance."

That, Benedetto says, always produces friction, "if we are doing our jobs right because we often point out where they are going wrong or not telling the truth."

Nonetheless, he says, just as we in the media have the right to criticize politicians and call attention to their faults and foibles, they have the right to criticize us when they think we are going wrong.

"So as pols should not scream foul when we take them on," he said, "we should not squawk when they bash us. It is a two-way street."

The best defense against media criticism from politicians is to report fairly, thoroughly and accurately," Benedetto said.

"Sadly," he added, "with the proliferation of new media where anything goes, that is not only getting tougher, but also rarer."

But stifling media access is a slippery slope. The late Edward A. Hanna, a former Utica mayor, would have gotten along well with Donald J. Trump. Hanna conducted raging battles with the media, particularly this newspaper, with a vitriol that targeted everyone from the publisher on down to reporter. As a result of what Hanna liked to call "inaccurate and tricky reporting," he'd put out news blackouts, refusing access and placing gag orders on all city employees.

Who were the big losers in all of this? The people of this community.

And who are the big losers when presidential candidates shun the media? The American people.

The people always lose when freedom of the press is undermined. During those Hanna news blackouts, there's no telling what went on at City Hall that the taxpayers never found out about. He loved to say that "inaccurate reporting is worse than no reporting at all."

Baloney. It's not up to Hanna, Trump, Clinton or any other government leader or official to decide whether reporting is good or bad. Once again, in a free society, that's a determination to be made by the people.

Founder Thomas Jefferson, our third president, often faced questionable, even unfair, newspaper coverage himself. Yet, he understood the value of press freedom.

Jefferson's summation: "The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Trump and Clinton would do well to remember that in the days ahead.



The New York Times on the presidential candidates' lack of an anti-poverty agenda.

Sept. 13

Poverty in the United States is deeper than in all other wealthy nations. Yet neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has a specific anti-poverty agenda.

There have been notable improvements in three crucial measures of economic well-being: income, poverty and health insurance coverage. On Tuesday, the Census Bureau announced that all took a sharp turn for the better in 2015, the first time since 1999 that the three measures improved in the same year.

The question now is whether the new data will inspire a deeper discussion about how to keep making progress. According to the report, the official poverty rate fell from 14.8 percent in 2014, or 46.7 million people, to 13.5 percent in 2015, or 43.1 million people, the largest annual percentage-point drop since 1999.

Although Mrs. Clinton has talked more about families, women, children and working Americans than about the poor, there is much within her economic program that would help those in or near poverty. She supports raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour ($15 is a better goal) and would increase investment in Early Head Start and child care subsidies.

Some of Mrs. Clinton's other proposals, like those on housing, have received less attention but could do a lot to help the poor. She would increase affordable housing by including more cities in the Obama-era project to rehabilitate housing in Detroit and other areas hard hit by the recession; strengthen the federal program for low-income housing vouchers; and increase tax incentives for new development of affordable rental housing.

Mr. Trump has said that more jobs will help cure poverty — which no one disagrees with. His promises to create jobs, however, are hollow. Historical evidence and economic analysis indicate that his agenda — less trade, less immigration and huge tax cuts for the wealthy — would harm job growth. Even his recent attempts at a middle-class agenda, including subsidies for child care, and paid maternity leave have been fatally flawed. The former skews toward high-income earners and the latter relies on states to come up with the money.

The failure to talk frankly about poverty is especially regrettable in light of this week's Census Bureau report. As the figures show, we know what works. The path forward is clear.

For example, the largest income gains in 2015 were among Americans at the bottom of the income ladder. Those gains reflect job growth, which has been supported by the Federal Reserve's low interest-rate policy; the Fed should stay the course until the job market has returned to full health. The income gains also reflect minimum-wage increases in many states and cities, which have laid the foundation for the federal government to follow suit.

The data also illustrate how much worse conditions would be without existing federal programs. Using the "supplemental" measure of poverty that is more nuanced than the official measure, the poverty rate in 2015 was 14.3 percent. Without Social Security, it would have been 22.6 percent, with nearly 27 million more people in poverty. Without the earned-income tax credit and low-income provisions on the child tax credit, the rate would have been 17.2 percent, adding 9.2 million people. Without food stamps, the rate would have been 15.7 percent, adding 4.6 million people.

The statistics give the candidates all the evidence they need to make the case to voters that anti-poverty policies work. Mrs. Clinton, to her credit, has ideas on how to improve the lives of the poor. Turning those ideas into law, however, will require broad support from the public and Congress. The time to start that campaign is now.




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