Here is a very interesting email on the Distinguished Educator's Report that was sent In late November to the Board members and others. There is a lot to digest here and note the links at the bottom with further information on Dr. Aquino.
Background on Shawgi Tell, who is a professor of education in the School of Education at Nazareth College, can be found here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Shawgi_Tell
11:24 AM (4 minutes ago)
Aquino Report Intensifies Siege Mentality Against the RCSD. Emboldens State Officials, Local Elite, and Local Media to Further Scapegoat the RCSD.
So-called “Distinguished Educator” Jaime Aquino, a neoliberal outsider recently imposed unilaterally on the Rochester City School District (RCSD) by state education officials to strengthen the groundwork for vilifying the RCSD, issued a much-anticipated 61-page report on the RCSD on November 14, 2018.
The top-down report begins with the standard lamentations predictable of an outside “savior,” followed by an equally expected call for “tough decisions” to “implement reform” in a district that has been browbeaten by the rich and their representatives for decades. “Reform,” of course, does not refer to human-centered democratic reform led by the public. It does not mean empowering the community to affirm their rights.
In the United States education is a state responsibility. A main implicit aim of the report, which deliberately makes it look like almost nothing positive and valuable is happening in the RCSD, is to divert attention from the question of why the state itself continually refuses to take responsibility for fulfilling its obligations to Rochester’s students, teachers, and administrators, and to focus instead on escalating the never-ending denigration of the RCSD. Aquino’s report has nothing to say about why the state is so unaccountable and low-functioning, and why it has long failed to provide equitable access to high-quality teaching and learning for all students in the RCSD (and many other districts across the state). Still, according to Aquino, “The District [not the state] must commit itself to do far more if it is going to meet the needs of all students” (p. 7). Unfortunately, the state is unlikely to overcome its disdain for the public interest, re-envision itself, and take any significant actions to address the problems it has created for the RCSD and many other school districts across the state. Theory, analysis, and experience show that even harder times lie ahead for New Yorkers who live in one of the most segregated, highest-taxed, and most indebted and unequal states in the country.
Among other things, Aquino notes in his report that nepotism (which of course no one wants) is a problem in the RCSD. He neglects to mention, however, that nepotism, patronage, corruption, waste, fraud, and racketeering are the norm in capitalist society and can be found in practically every sector, institution, organization, and level of government. Charter schools, for instance, always aggressively supported by the state, local newspapers, and the state’s millionaire Democratic governor, consistently practice the most innovative and extreme forms of nepotism and patronage. Sadly, every American is familiar with the truism that “it is not what you know, but who you know that often counts more.” It cannot be otherwise in a class-divided society based on individualism, inequality, competition, consumerism, and a dog-eat-dog ethos.
In his report, Aquino also renders the issue of superintendent turnover and instability in the RCSD as a mysterious problem, as if this has not been the norm in urban education systems (and charter schools in particular) across the country for generations.
Importantly, in over-describing endless problems within the RCSD, Aquino fails to highlight the unbreakable connection between local instability, dysfunction, and chaos, on the one hand, and volatility, malady, and disorder at all levels of government and in many other institutions and organizations where anarchy, wrecking, and incoherence are widespread and intensifying. When there is no leadership at the top and only chaos, anarchy, and wrecking activity, why would things be that much different at devolved, lower levels of leadership? The macro-level shapes and conditions the micro-level. Aquino ignores context and treats school systems as if they are somehow outside society and not influenced by the complex relations they find themselves in. It is as if schools can be reformed without reforming society.
Aquino also introduces the discredited and failed policy of mayoral control of the city school district in his report (p. 8). Mayoral control has been the darling of the rich and their representatives in government and the media for years. Capital-centered forces are eager to see all control of this large public school district with a budget of one billion dollars concentrated in the hands of one easy-to-manage individual who makes all arbitrary top-down decisions surrounding the privatization of the district, which is precisely what has happened in other cities suffering from mayoral control and the accompanying poor results and marginalization of the polity that such a governance arrangement guarantees. Mayoral control, like state and private takeovers of public schools, has nothing to do with improving schools.
Aquino’s pro-privatization credentials come to the fore again a little later when he cites the right-wing pro-charter school Thomas B. Fordham Institute to support his orientation to and motive behind his top-down report. His narrow consumerist view of the district as existing for “customer service” also reveals an anti-public orientation.
Aquino’s observation that, “The Teachers Union contract was once seen as promoting innovative reforms to benefit students, but now the majority of stakeholders interviewed feel that the Teachers Union and its contract are a major roadblock to improvement” (p. 12) is also revealing. Such language and such a rendering of the issue is usually used to introduce pretexts to promote pay-the-rich school-choice schemes that have consistently delivered poor results. The neoliberal content of “innovation” and the harsh reality that more than 90% of charter schools are deunionized, lack teacher contracts, and are plagued by high teacher, student, and principal turnover rates tells us much.
While Aquino spends enormous energy documenting problems within the district—problems prevalent for decades in many different institutions, organizations, and sectors in society—none of the recommendations he offers deal with society, state education decision-makers, deep poverty, hypersegregation, or any of the broader context faced by urban schools and urban settings across the nation. The severe problem of student trauma and its relation to toxic poverty is not addressed either. A critical view of high-stakes standardized testing and its horrible effects on teaching and learning is also missing in Aquino’s report. Like others, Aquino treats widely-rejected high-stakes standardized tests as something normal and good. The horrible multi-year effects of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act are also ignored.
While some of the recommendations Aquino offers are valuable and should be implemented by the RCSD, it can be said that many of the same recommendations, perhaps with some modifications, could and should also be applied to other organizations, institutions, and sectors. For example, Aquino says, “Siloed decision-making has created operational inefficiencies and ineffectiveness” in the district (p. 37). Unfortunately, “Siloed decision-making has created operational inefficiencies and ineffectiveness” in many other organizations, entities, and institutions. Interview any 20-50 people in any organization, sector, or institution and they will spend an hour or more easily listing and describing serious problems in their organization, sector, or institution that never really get addressed properly. This reality simply reflects the broad marginalization of the polity society-wide. Real and meaningful democratic decision-making protocols, standards, and practices are generally absent in many organizations, sectors, and institutions, not just large urban school districts that are constantly under siege. Aquino also criticizes the fact that there are too many senior staff meetings in the RCSD. But again, “death-by-meetings” is rampant in many other organizations, sectors, and institutions. Many would say that such meetings are often unnecessary, wasteful, or useless.
Aquino’s report also ignores other concerns of paramount importance. For example, the words “segregation” and “poverty” do not appear anywhere in the report, even though these interrelated socio-economic problems are the root cause of failure in urban settings and have been well-documented for decades. Many reports indicate that both poverty and segregation are actually increasing. Deep poverty is a crime against humanity and a vile form of child abuse that makes it hard for any school district or community to contend with. This is especially true in Rochester, which is one of the top five poorest cities in America. Even tone-deaf pro-privatization local newspapers that continually demonize the RCSD will sometimes pay some lip service to these harsh facts that research always confirms are enormous blocks to improvement and success. To its credit, City Newspaper did highlight many critical issues actively ignored by Aquino.
While there are certain things within the district’s control, in the end, “reforming” schools without reforming society is profoundly counterproductive. Even if all RCSD board members, administrators, and teachers were superheroes, each with an IQ of 400 and 20 years of teaching experience, this would not be enough to overcome the severe consequences of worsening interconnected problems like poverty, inequality, unemployment, underemployment, disinvestment, racism, trauma, and segregation. To speak as if the RCSD alone has the power or even the responsibility to overcome such entrenched problems is naïve and revealing. Urban schools do not operate outside a decaying society that privileges a tiny elite.
Aquino also fails to mention the roughly $5 billion the state still owes public schools as a result of past court rulings. Even this amount does not come close to fully funding the state’s public schools. Many school districts across the state do not have enough money for many personnel and services needed by thousands of students. The pro-privatization Democrat and Chronicle reported on July 16, 2018, that the “Alliance for Quality Education reports the gap between the wealthiest and poorest school districts [in NYS] has grown by 24 percent, and our state now ranks second-to-last in funding equity for public education.” The dysfunctional neoliberal state that imposed Aquino on the RCSD seems to have no real plan for “saving the kids.”
Aquino also fails to analyze the deleterious effects more than a dozen area charter schools have had on the RCSD and the broader community. These schools systematically siphon millions from the RCSD every year and are riddled with many serious problems of their own, especially the authoritarian “no-excuses” charter schools that many teachers and students have left over the years.
The report ends with a preposterous timeline for implementing recommendations and changes that are not the product of deep and lengthy engagement with the public.
Many other significant criticisms could be made of Aquino’s non-grass roots report. A more thorough-going analysis would, unfortunately, reveal more shortcomings of the report than the ones briefly mentioned above. The report represents something more profound and disturbing than what many have ascertained so far. The real significance of this report should not be missed. There is a reason that state education officials and local newspapers are euphoric about it. As expected, threats from state officials have already started.
The public should be very vigilant, especially when words and phrases like “restructuring,” “customer service,” “innovation,” “mayoral control,” and “adults v. students,” are used. Such expressions are part of the discourse of corporate school reform which focuses on “metrics,” “data,” “customers,” and the test-punish-privatize model wreaking havoc in other schools and cities. It is not unreasonable to assume that the report is another step in this direction. In Buffalo, New York, for example, local, state, and national elite engaged in a vigorous concerted multi-year effort to discredit and vilify the Buffalo Public Schools and to create antisocial public opinion for eliminating elected governance and imposing on the city a “Control Board” comprised of Wall Street representatives to essentially run the public school system. “Control Boards” are just one of many forms of privatized external control of public agencies and enterprises.
More to come.