The Significance of Receivership

As new law granting executive powers to the Commissioner of Education is used to seize control of more than two dozen Buffalo Public Schools — a law that appears to be in violation of the democratic governance provisions of Buffalo’s Charter — parents, teachers, community activists and others are organizing to oppose this receivership law through a variety of methods, including a rally at McKinley High School at 3:30pm this afternoon.[1] While it should be obvious to even casual observers that Governor Cuomo, the new State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and her hand picked Superintendent, Dr. Cash, are autocratic in both their manner of speech and their actions when referring to Buffalo, its public and its schools, there is more at stake here than might first appear.

Receivership Means the Dismantling of the Buffalo Public School District

A key aspect of the receivership law is the manner in which it works to dismantle the Buffalo Public Schools as a district.  Dismantling via receivership is accomplished through mandates that the receiver develop separate receivership “agreements” with each of the 25 schools that have been placed under receivership according to the arbitrary metrics established by the state and federal government.

The new Superintendent is currently the receiver, who, as receiver, operates outside the authority of the publicly elected school board, in effect reporting instead to Commissioner Elia. Each individual agreement can cover “the length of the school day; the length of the school year; professional development for teachers and administrators; class size; and changes to the programs, assignments, and teaching conditions in the school in receivership.” Different agreements at each school serve an obvious “divide and conquer” function. And despite appearing to recognize each school’s collective bargaining unit, the law and the commissioner’s regulations set up a timeframe and process that ensures these “agreements” give expression to the will of the commissioner. The receiver is not even required to argue out how these imposed agreements will improve the quality of education.

Receivership Imposes Arbitrary Employment Practices

Receivership replaces collective bargaining with merit and performance pay ideology based on pseudo-scientific “metrics” designed to produce failure and justify mass firings. Receivership aims to establish a “new normal” that eliminates due process and other forms of fair employment practices for teachers and administrators. But, receivership not only means the collectives of educators represented in district-wide collective bargaining units are effectively dismissed — as district-wide representation is denied with each individual school “agreement” — it means that teachers and administrators can be fired without cause, at will.

Receivership Means Privatized Governance

Separate agreements set the stage for “school autonomy”, which, while sounding empowering, the question becomes autonomous or independent of what? Empowering for whom? The answer is corporate interests want to be free to act independently of public oversight. The arrangement is empowering only for executive authorities who have seized the power of the state and are acting on behalf of private interests. Receivership thus functions to radically restructure the governance of public assets, interests and processes, moving decision-making into the private sphere. This does not solve any of the current problems related to the functioning of the current school board.

Widely recognized as a step toward privatization, such dismantling has already taken place in various forms in cities such as Chicago, New Orleans, New York City and Philadelphia. No improvements in student achievement have resulted.

Dismantling of public institutions is part of the vision of what has come to be called “corporate school reform”. It is also important to note that while such dismantling disproportionally targets working class and minority communities,  suburban districts will be increasingly targeted, starting with “first ring” suburban districts. In the place of a district, private interests seek to build “portfolios” — sections of a city seized by financial and corporate interests, mostly via charter school operators and “edupreneurs” in the publishing and technology industries. These are modeled on investment portfolios, serving private gain in both economic and political terms. Mirroring corporate governance structures, those with more shares claim more say, violating the democratic principle of one person, one vote. This privatizes the governance of public interests and assets.

The so-called community engagement teams mandated by the receivership plan are part of this effort to disassemble a single public and it’s elected representation in the form of a district school board. Team members are decided in secret and then decreed by receiver authority. These teams are a means to institute and justify the portfolio model which pits schools and communities against each other, blocking the formation of unified public opinion and collective will.

Privatization of Public Institutions is Against Thinking

Dismantling public institutions functions, among other things, to privatize thinking, thus working to emasculate thinking altogether. A hallmark of thinking, or what is sometimes called “critical thinking,” is in fact decision-making. Thinking is inspired by and developed as individuals and collectives deliberate about and decide important matters that affect their lives. The receivership law places an unprecedented power in the hands of executive authorities, and establishes a process that governs public assets and interests in manner that is best describe as secret and dictatorial. The thinking required for decision-making is denied the public. The law thus functions to block public thinking from occurring by further emasculating the space for public deliberation. Without public deliberation the ability of the body politic to form a view and express its will is severely limited. Separate agreements with each of the 25 schools specifically work against the formation of a unified consciousness or thinking that can serve the public interest. The common good is eliminated from the landscape of consciousness.

Metrics against Thinking and Having an Aim

The receivership law appears to have no provisions for public redress nor does it appear to have provisions that ensure the receiver is accountable to the public or any of its core constituents: students and parents. Instead, it imposes the long-discredited corporate management game of metric chasing.

This metric chasing game — that is organizing teachers and students to  improve test scores — is at best a sad comedy, and at worst a mechanism for disabling the human brain from producing rational thought in the service of socially meaningful aims. Everywhere they are imposed, these “metrics” or targets quickly cease to be a way of measuring performance and become ends in themselves. If students are less skilled and knowledgable today it is because their education has been reduced to preparing for tests that are increasingly irrational in their design and administration, as they ignore pressing social problems like poverty. Receivership increases this irrational practice when in fact this practice needs to be completely abounded.

For decades, these “metrics” have been a key tool used by corporate deformers to impose aimlessness on students and teachers, so that they do not develop their own thinking, aims and thus agency. Aimlessness is an outcome of treating students as products to serve corporate interests: products have no will, conscience or aim; they have no values, no desires nor wisdom. These “metrics” — a technology developed by Eugenicists in early twentieth century — are not a tool by which to come to know the world or the state of public schools. They are instead a means for imposing dictate, a means to regulate and control teachers, students and administrators. None of the so-called metrics reflect the aims for education that are already widely supported: citizenship, preparing youth to solve social problems, support for the well-rounded development of students in the social, emotional, physical, artistic as well as intellectual domain. They serve to divert public will and public demand for a well-rounded, broad and engaging education that prepares youth for the future. Thus, these “metrics” are not a means to improve, but a weapon of mass destruction. They are as far away from serving the purpose of accountability as Governor Cuomo is from acting in the service of democracy.

(To be continued)

Notes

  1. See this report of a past rally opposing receivership.

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