Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Cuomo's School Receivership Program Is "Stack Ranking" For Schools, Designed To Break Up The System

Fred LeBrun in the Times-Union dissects Cuomo's vaunted school receivership program:

In the Capital Region, only Albany's William S. Hackett Middle School is on the persistent list, but if a handful of schools in Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Amsterdam, including Albany High School, don't show appropriate progress, they will join Hackett next year.

What happens now for schools like Hackett is as complicated as directions to Atlantis, and about as reliable.

Albany school Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard becomes the acting school receiver, with broad powers, for the next year. A required community engagement team composed of the principal, staff, teachers, parents and even students from Hackett will forward recommendations for improvements to the superintendent, who will use them to help create her intervention plan to turn the school around. The plan is due at State Ed for approval by the end of this month. Over the next year, the community team will look over her shoulder as the intervention plan unfolds.

In the meantime, the school receiver can do pretty much what she wants (with approval from State Ed): change the curriculum, replace teachers and administrators, increase salaries, reallocate the budget, expand the school day or year, turn Hackett into a community school, even convert to a charter school. Although there's enormous rigmarole attached to much of it, including going charter. Remember, the receiver in this case remains the superintendent for the rest of the district, so she is answerable for any wild and crazy ideas to the voters through the school board.

Anyway, to help start the process, Vanden Wyngaard can apply for a grant from a $75 million pot set up by the state, although she'll have plenty of competition from other "persistently struggling" school receivers in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Yonkers, New York City and elsewhere. She has a year to do her turnaround. Or the hammer falls and we are off to Neverland.

Then the state would appoint an independent receiver who is answerable only to State Ed. At which time the process of community involvement, an intervention plan, and the rest are repeated, only now change is apt to be far more radical, with wholesale staff firings. An independent receiver can be a person from an approved list that doesn't yet exist, or an institution or charter school. Although charter schools upstate have been mostly a bust, as Albany well knows. Middle school charters in Albany could not save themselves, let alone others.

So. If you're getting the idea that this receivership idea seems like a plan designed to fail and thus prepare the way for school privatizers to make a bundle, move over.

For one thing, the state has yet to give school receivers a clear idea of what would constitute appropriate progress to avoid an independent receiver. Presumably, we'll know by the end of the month when intervention plans have to be approved. What is expected and how reasonable it is will answer a great deal.
Because just a year to show any marked improvement on any front for a school like Hackett, no matter how thoughtfully considered, broadly accepted by the community, or earnestly pursued, is absurd. Real change needs time for all stakeholders to become invested. Teachers at Hackett today are still complaining that attendance and discipline as major problems, just as it was when I substituted there, oh, a half century ago. These are, after all, manifestations of the poverty and despair underlying most of Hackett's problems; they don't go away. They are the community's problems, not just Hackett's.

The school can be taken over in a year if it doesn't "improve," but the state still hasn't explained what that "improvement" will look like.

Yeah, that's a plan designed to "fail" schools and hand them over to the privatizers, profiteers and/or charter operators.

LeBrun's writing about a school in Albany, but Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina have a lot riding on this too, since the city has 62 schools in the receivership program, with six deemed "persistently struggling" and having only one year to improve (the seventh is already closing.)

As with Hackett, these schools don't know yet what will constitute "improvement," which is a problem since the deadline for that "improvement" is fast approaching.

The cynic in me wonders if a side benefit to declaring all these schools "failing" and handing them over to the privatizers, profiteers and/or charter operators isn't another opportunity for Governor Cuomo to declare his "friend" bill de Blasio a loser too.

Governor Cuomo promised the Daily News and a Forbes forum he would "break" the public school "monopoly" before his re-election in 2014 and it certainly looks like the receivership program is part of that plan.

After the state gets through privatizing these 144 schools, the next slate of so-called "struggling" schools will be added to the receivership list - this will be an ongoing program:

The program was one of several education reforms hammered out during budget negotiations this spring. Under the deal, schools are placed into two categories, “struggling schools,” those in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state for three years, based on measures like test scores and graduation rates, and “persistently struggling schools,” which have been in that bracket since 2006.

What we have here is "stacking ranking" for schools, with the state playing rank and yank every year, adding schools to the privatization, er, receivership list, setting them up to "fail" and then handing them over to the privatizers, profiteers and/or charter operators.

Just as with stack ranking for employees, the program will disempower, demoralize and ultimately destroy the system (this is also the same rationale behind Cuomo's APPR teacher evaluation system, btw - ranking teachers every year and declaring 7% "ineffective" no matter what.)

Just ask Microsoft, which used stack ranking as its evaluation system for employees, how well that worked for them as Apple was kicking them to the wayside in competition.

But of course if you're Andrew Cuomo, you want to destroy the system - that's exactly what he promised to do in 2014 and that's the plan he's been carrying out since.


  1. I think this is something we should keep in mind as NYS seems to be moving closer to a more full-scale privatizing moment. I posted this over on Diane Ravitch blog and it was basically what I was thinking when I read RBE's post here:

    Lets not think, even briefly, that the increasing number of charter failures will lead to a collective moment of clarity and result in a re-public-ing of these schools. That will not happen. Once privatized, public space and resources rarely, if ever, return to the public. That isn’t just a cheap platitude. It’s backed up historically.

    When one examines past adventures in privatizing (not difficult here in the US as that is basically the bedrock experience of our society), whether it be the privatizing of oil, mineral rights, military functions, whatever, one quickly sees a broad pattern emerge. There is a period of frenzy when all kinds of players jump into the new market created. A huge proportion of these are fly-by-night amateurs. Over time, amateur hour comes to a close and the larger, more competent players emerge and start dominating the space. This is from where monopolies begin to rear their heads, but it is nonetheless a sign of amateurs departing the stage.

    We are still in prime-time amateur hour with school privatization. The flagrant, egregious, and very loud failures of many of these amateurs will not lead to a reassessment and eventual return to the public of their schools. Larger, more competent (by this I in no way mean to say good at what schools should be good at….I simply mean to say that the larger charter forces that will emerge will be competent in creating a narrative of and data of “success.”) entities will eventually prevail. Those schools and districts that are now charters will likely remain so in spite of their recent failures.

    Here in NY, the latest talk about “receivership” schools is the first step in a broader play to begin privatizing on a larger scale throughout the state. We must realize that if we lose that fight we will have lost those schools for good.

    Privatizers of public space have the luxury of fairly limitless failure.

  2. What will they do with those receivership schools that are turned into charters which will inevitably fail? Will they give those schools back to the district or allow them to continuously reopen under a new name? I have seen many charters in the capital region fail over the years, they certainly don't have a very good track record around here.

  3. Try working in one those Renewal Schools. It's four days and the staff AND students are already burnt-out, demoralized and enraged.. This must be what it's like to work in a charter school.

  4. If a school is privatized, can the state still compel parents to send their children?

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