(585) 317-2367 maryb_adams@yahoo.com

My statement against the Gates-Mckinsey and Co. consulting resolution August 2013

I oppose Resolution 32 because the funneling of a combination of Gates Foundation money and tax payer dollars into a large for-profit business advising firm located outside of our community epitomizes the surrender of local school districts to privatization. I believe that the two recently added high level management efficiency positions in the district are occupied by competent and well paid individuals who can succeed in finding relevant efficiencies and savings.  In terms of long term budgeting, I have confidence that our CFO and budget professionals can do this work. 

Over a decade of so called reforms based on competition, punishment, decreased educator autonomy and erosion of neighborhood schools was set in motion under No Child Left Behind.  This approach has disastrously failed Rochester and urban districts across the U.S. by all reasonable observations and measures.  Its continuation under Race to the top and the Regents Reform Agenda should be called out for what it is – a series of forced interventions that undermines parental and community control of our children’s education in the interest of the very rich and powerful.  While “reform” resources are prescribed for schools labeled in successive iterations as failing, inadequate, etc. it is no wonder the types of “reforms” imposed have been largely ineffective —  they are disconnected in many cases from experienced, successful educators and from the communities the reforms purport to fix.  They are, however fabulously successful in expanding markets in pre-K – 12 education, just as intended by capital investment firms, like Parthenon – one of the five firms on the Gates-prescribed list in this grant — in their quest to privatize education in the U.S., especially in the urban centers of New York State where we have high need and relatively large amounts of money spent on education.   While some of our “high costs” are explained by high needs, another dimension of the high spending paradox has to do with gov’t mandates and excess administrative costs related to the so called reform agenda. 

Cycles of regressive social policy and privatization are well described in Naomi Kline’s The Shock Doctrine.  The elements cycle like this:  create or latch on to a crisis and use the setting of collective shock and confusion to push through radical policies that would otherwise be quickly and easily resisted by reasonable people in a democratic society; 2.  Cut taxes and deregulate business, bust unions, citing the “crisis” and pretending like there are no alternative economic policy paths available ; 3.  Bemoan conditions of austerity and cut public services further to the point of being unsustainable and broken.  Sell off public goods at fire sale prices and welcome in profit-seeking private companies to “save” and advise the public sector.    Repeat. 

 I think we should also acknowledge that it’s not just the “1%” that are benefitting from a system that remains in crisis.   It’s obvious to an increasingly disappointed and angry public that functionaries in all roles in urban districts are complicit with a set of arrangements that produces pay checks even while educational quality is so uneven and irrational that many employees cannot convince themselves that there is enough interdependency between themselves and the institution which economically or socially sustains them to send their own children here.  We are not going to escape the crisis without increasing local interdependencies and trust, and without facing down our fears on too many dimensions to begin enumerating here.  

I believe that with courage, we as district leaders could decide against aligning with nicely packaged advisers who profit from us — as beneficiaries of public education dollars – under the support and guidance of strategic philanthropists like the Gates Foundation.  

I know that some of my colleagues have said that they do not think that Mckinsey will consult on matters that impact instruction.  I think that is incredible, first since our institution is fundamentally about instruction and secondly their work in other districts has most definitely impacted matters central to instruction such as increasing class sizes and day to day staff functioning and organization.   The work Mckinsey will focus on is long term budget planning.  How many times have district leaders made the statement that “a budget is a moral document, and expresses our priorities”?  We here on this board should be taking responsibility for guiding the moral and practical bases of resource decisions.    I do acknowledge Commissioner Powell’s amendment which makes it explicit that any material recommendations from Mckinsey consultants would require board approval.  This is not sufficient to address my fundamental concerns but I am glad to see colleagues alert to the circumventive likelihoods inherent in the Gates-Mckinsey arrangement.

In terms of concrete problems with the proposed arrangement I believe there are serious conflict of interest concerns.  The Gates Foundation has supported Mckinsey in setting up  major infrastructures to facilitate privatization.  The mass data collection and storage system established by Gates  — “Shared Learning Collaborative”  is now marred with controversy around the inBloom project.  Mckinsey was an early partner in this project.  Very recently Gates hired Mckinsey to “develop the business model and establish governing entity to succeed PARCC. “  [DoE, Fla., meeting notes Dec. ‘12]

 I do not think it is appropriate for a company that managed or manages these types of infrastructures to facilitate vendors’ access to student, teacher and district data to also be in the business of advising at the key gatekeeper level of vendor access — ie a school district — on “efficiencies” strategies or budgeting.  Clearly the case is being made – preeminently by the Gates Foundation — for efficiency strategies that rely on increasing the time children spend in front of computers using expensive “customized” and “innovative” software.  The tradeoff of course is a smaller professional work force and fewer experienced educators and dedicated support staff with the time to build relationships with students.  My belief is that it is a dangerous gamble to hope that technology will be the most important key to authentic educational engagement of our children.

 Note:  The resolution passed 4:2 Evans, White, Powell, Cruz in favor; Adams and Elliot against.  President Evans implied my comments verged on slander since he insisted that no school board member advocates privatization.  I responded to this accusation with an offer to debate and provide further explanation regarding privatization, a very legitimate topic for public debate.  President Evans clarified that his comments about slander and privatization were not directed at any individual board member and that he did not wish to debate……

5 Comments

  1. Thank you Mary, for having the courage to stand up for our children.

    Reply
  2. Well stated Mary. Please keep being a voice of reason and a stronghold against privatization efforts no matter how veiled!

    Reply
  3. This is brilliant! thanks for sharing with us. So eloquent and well-stated.

    Reply
  4. Thank you so much for all you do, Mary! We’ve got to get you some reinforcements on that school board! Our children, and our future are at stake.

    Reply
  5. It’s unfortunate that some BOE members do not see the rather blatent and powerful influence of corporate-based interests in our schools. Please keep speaking the truth, Mary. Bottom line: corporations are in the education business to create opportunities to make money off the failure of our students; created by the high-stakes, standardized testing process they support. Might one suspect that the recent huge failure rates by students on the Common Core tests was not planned??? I hope other BOE members are thinking about your comments. Our students’ futures are dependent upon how well BOE & Regents members “get it” and respond with research-based, humanistic strategies.

    Reply

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