Archives for category: Teach for America

The first thing to be said about Kristen Buras’ new book is that the publisher overpriced the book ($125). As the author, she had nothing to do with that poor decision. This is a book that should be widely read, but at that price, it won’t be. There will eventually be a softcover edition, but probably not for a year. Urge your library to buy it, or get together a group of friends to pool the cost. Or contact the author directly, and she will send you a coupon that gives you a 20% discount (kburas@gsu.edu).

Although it has its share of academic jargon, it is a major contribution to the literature about post-Katrina New Orleans that directly challenges what you have seen on PBS or heard on NPR or read in the mainstream media. Buras has written her narrative from the grassroots, not from the top. She has spent countless hours interviewing students, parents, teachers, and reformers. She has read all the relevant documents. This is the other side of the story. It is important, and you should read it.

In 2010, I went to New Orleans at the invitation of my cyber-friend Lance Hill, who was running the Southern Institute for Education and Research. Lance arranged for me to speak at Dillard University, a historically black institution in New Orleans, and he invited some of the city’s leading (displaced) educators. There were advocates for the charter reforms in the audience, and they spoke up.

But most of the audience seemed to be angry teachers and administrators who had been fired, and angry parents whose neighborhood school had been taken over by a charter. What I remember most vividly from that evening, aside from meeting the direct descendants of Plessy and Ferguson, who now work together on behalf of racial and civic amity, was a woman in the audience who stood up and said, “After Katrina, first they stole our democracy, then they stole our schools.”

I understood that she was unhappy about the new regime, but I understood it even better after I read Kristen L. Buras’ Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space (Routledge). It is just published. As i said at the outset, the publisher priced it out of the reach of most people who want to read it. What a strange judgment at a time when so many cities are closing down their public schools and handing their children over to charter operators because they want to be “another New Orleans.” If there is one lesson in Buras’ book, it is this: Do not copy New Orleans.

Buras, now a professor of educational policy at Georgia State University, spent ten years researching this book. She describes fully the policy terrain: the Bush administration’s desire to turn Katrina-devastated New Orleans into a free enterprise zone. The support of New Orleans’ white-dominated business community and of the leadership of Tulane University, for privatization of the schools. Privatization also was encouraged by the Aspen Institute, whose chairman Walter Isaacson (former editor in chief of TIME) was simultaneously chairman of the board of Teach for America. A swarm of market-oriented “reformers” saw a chance to turn New Orleans into a model for the nation. They had no trouble getting tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, from the federal government and foundations to create the enterprise zone of independently operated charter schools they wanted.

Obstacles were quickly swept away. Some 7,500 veteran teachers, three-quarters of whom were African-American, the backbone of the African-American middle class in New Orleans, were abruptly fired without cause, making room for a new staff of inexperienced young TFA recruits. Public schools were soon eliminated, even those that were beloved in their communities, some with fabled histories and vibrant ties to the neighborhood.

Buras relates the troubled history of New Orleans, with its background of white supremacy and the disempowerment of African Americans, whether enslaved or free. She recoils at the accusation that black teachers were somehow responsible for the poor condition and poor academic results of the public schools of New Orleans before Katrina. She documents that those in power in the state systematically underfunded the schools until the charters came; then the money spigot opened.

Reviewing this history, and especially the years since the destruction caused by Katrina in 2005, Buras reaches some strong judgments about what happened to New Orleans that ties past to present.

When the new power elites were debating the best way to manage the schools, what became clear was that they distrusted local school boards as “politicized and ineffective,” and preferred either state control, mayoral control or appointed leadership. Behind their models was the Reconstruction-era assumption that “African Americans have no capacity for self-government.”

“Whether in terms of how [charter] boards are constituted or in terms of how student or familial challenges are addressed, the charter school movement in New Orleans is closely bound to the protection of whiteness as property, as the clearest beneficiaries are upper-class white (and a few black) entrepreneurs who seek to capitalize on public assets for their own advancement while dispossessing the very communities the schools are supposed to serve.”

Buras tells the counter-stories of community-supported public schools that resisted the charterization process. One chapter is devoted to Frrederick Douglass High School, the heart of the Bywater neighborhood in the city’s Upper 9th Ward. It opened in 1913 as an all-white school named for a Confederate general who was Reconstruction governor of Louisiana after the Civil War. With desegregation in the late 1960s, white flight commenced, and it eventually became an all-black school. Not until the 1990s was it renamed for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. As Buras shows, the local African American community tried to save the school, which was important to the neighborhood, but it was eventually handed over to KIPP.

Buras points out that most of the charter schools did not hire veteran teachers, and none has a union. They prefer to rely on the fresh recruits, “most of them white and from outside the community.” After Katrina, she writes, state officials and education entrepreneurs shifted the blame for poor academic results onto the city’s veteran teachers. She quotes Chas Roemer, currently the chair of the state education board, as saying “Charter schools are now a threat to the jobs program called public education.” (Roemer’s sister heads the state’s charter school association.) Buras concludes that his remark echoes the old racist view that African Americans are shiftless and lazy and dependent on state welfare. She counters that teachers in New Orleans before Katrina contended with “racism and a history of state neglect of black public schools.” Several teachers told her of the unfit conditions of the schools in which they taught. They did not have access to the bounty that arrived in the city for charter schools.

Beneath the chatter about a New Orleans “miracle,” Buras sees the unfolding of a narrative in which whites once again gain power to control the children of African American families and take possession of schools that once belonged to the black community and reflected their culture and their aspirations.

“Knowingly or unknowingly,” she writes, inexperienced white recruits with TFA undermine the best interests of black working-class students and veteran teachers to leverage a more financially stable and promising future for themselves.” Buras is especially scornful of TFA, which she holds culpable for treating its recruits as “human capital,” while helping to dismantle democratic institutions and take the place of unjustly fired black teachers.

In the end, she offers up her book as a warning to urban districts like Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, and others that New Orleans is not a model for anyone to follow. The entrepreneurs grow fat while families and children lose schools that once were the heart of their community. Schools are not just a place to produce test scores (and the evidence from the New Orleans-based “Research on Reforms” shows that New Orleans’ Recovery School District is one of the state’s lowest performing districts). Schools have civic functions as well. They are, or should be, democratic institutions, serving the needs of the local community and responsive to its goals. Schooling is not something done to children, but a process in which children learn about the world, develop their talents, and become independent, self-directed individuals and citizens.

The most potent criticism of Teach for America comes from recruits who joined the corps, then discovered they were ill-prepared for the challenges of a high-needs classroom.

This letter from Annie Tan was posted on the blog “Cloaking Inequity,” which is Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog.

She writes:

“I have had my gripes about TFA from sophomore year of college. Learning about the neoliberal education reform movement, lack of teachers of color in the profession, TFA’s support of charter schools, funding from questionable sources who may have ulterior motives in education other than the education of all students, factored into my criticism of TFA. I didn’t want to be a savior in education- I just wanted to teach. But I guess I did fall into a savior mentality as I joined- I thought I was going to be so much better, that I was going to save my students. I was very smug about it, until the realities of the first year beat me down.”

Annie taught in a Chicago charter school where most of the other teachers were TFA. It bothered her that the charter had displaced a beloved neighborhood public school. Parents realized that few of the teachers would stay for long. Annie came to see that she was not a savior.

In case you missed, here is my interview with Tavis Smiley from September 8. It is about 12 minutes. Tavis asked about the Vergara decision and teacher tenure, about the attacks on teachers and public education, about the goals of the current “reform” movement, Common Core, and my judgment of Race to the Top.

All in 12 minutes!

By the way, if you wonder why I was holding my head in last minutes of show, I should explain that I didn’t have a toothache. My earpiece with the audio feed was falling out, and I was holding it in my ear.

Katie Osgood warns not to celebrate Teach for America’s drive to recruit more corps members of color.

Here are some of her reasons:

“TFA has a direct tie to the overall reduction in teachers of color in schools. The black middle class is shrinking, and TFA’s anti-union stance and its attacks on the teaching profession are inextricably linked. Current education policies-which TFA aggressively promotes-are forcing far more black educators OUT of the classroom than TFA could ever put back in. Many black educators site the worsening working conditions, the loss of job protections which disproportionately affect African American teachers, and the effects of neoliberal edreform policies around school closings, turnarounds, and charter proliferation as reasons why many are leaving/being forced to leave the profession. TFA spouts the virtues of teachers of color out of one side of their mouth while they spit on veteran black educators out of the other. This loss of black educators was perhaps most dramatically seen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina when TFA helped illegally displace thousands of veteran black educators-most from the communities where they teach.” Go to the article to see the links.

“TFA exacerbates inequalities for students of color. TFA novices begin their meager two years with less than 20 hours of practice in front of children, even for students with special needs. Regardless of the racial/socio-economic background of their novices, TFA is offering our neediest kids uncertified, underprepared, short-term novices in lieu of professional educators.”

TFA itself has an “elitist, white, middle-class normative culture.”

“TFA practices disaster capitalism which is devastating communities of color. Teach For America is supported and funded by the very forces which caused the financial crisis throwing many families of color into foreclosure, bankruptcy, even homelessness, which refuse to pay workers fair wages thereby growing poverty, and are increasing inequality today. When your largest funders are companies like Walmart, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs, you do not get to pretend to speak for the oppressed and disenfranchised.”

She adds:

“On a personal note, I recently returned to the Chicago Public Schools and now teach in a school on Chicago’s southside where over 90% of the teachers are African American women. These veteran black educators have gone through the chaos of school closings, many grew up in and still live in the community offering a wealth of knowlege, and are some of the most amazing teachers I have ever met. We also have one TFA teacher. While a lovely young lady and a person of color, she comes from out of state, is new to Chicago, is not trained for the special education position she was placed in, and is there because the last TFAer left after his two years were up. This is not a solution.”

Paul Thomas writes here about NPR’s whitewash of disaster capitalism in New Orleans. Without reference to the extensive debunking of “the New Orleans miracle” by Mercedes Schneider, Research on Reforms (Dr. Barbara Ferguson and CharlesHatfield), and others, NPR recycles the glories of closing public schools, opening privately managed charters, eliminating the union, firing thousands of veteran teachers (in this case, the core of the city’s black middle class), and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America recruits, most of whom would leave after two or three years.

Here is the trick by which radio and TV shows give the illusion of balance: first, they give the narrative, then they invite two or three people to make a critical comment. What they are selling is the narrative. The critics are easily brushed aside. At times like this, I remember that NPR gets funding from both Gates and the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which is devoted to privatizing public schools.

Thomas calls out NPR for playing this trick:

“Framed as “remarkable changes,” erasing public schools and firing all public school faculty (a significant percentage of the black middle class in New Orleans) are whitewashed beneath a masking narrative embracing all things market forces as essentially good, even though the actions taken against pubic schools and teachers in the name of the mostly minority and disproportionately impoverished families and children of New Orleans have not accomplished what advocates claim.

“In the NPR piece, “no teaching experience” is passed over as if this couldn’t possibly be a problem; however, when public schools were dismantled and all the faculty fired, the second disaster swept over New Orleans in the form of “no excuses” charter schools (KIPP and their cousins) and a swarm of Teach For America recruits who were not native to New Orleans and have lived lives mostly unlike the children they teach.

“As well, that black and poor children are “part of an experiment” remains unexamined in this piece. Instead, the entire New Orleans experiment is called “kind of a miracle.”

“At 5 minutes in, NPR allows a critic to call claims of success “overblown,” and then 7 minutes in, one disgruntled parent announces that charter advocates “won’t be able to fool me this time.” But overall, this NPR whitewashing of the New Orleans education reform experiment fails as most education journalism does—absent as it is any real critical questions, absent as it is any effort to honor the weight of evidence in the pursuit of “balance.”

“I find here the exact same pattern I confronted in my criticism of the NPR “grit” piece. While the 8-plus minutes do technically include “both sides,” the less credible position (pro- charter, pro-market forces) is clearly given the greater weight while the stronger position is posed as mere “criticism.”

“Education reform in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina is a model of disaster capitalism and an ugly lesson in how we should not reform public education.”

As it happens, I am in the midst of reading a new book, Kristen Buras’ “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space,” that lays waste to every part of the alleged New Orleans’ “miracle.” It is a gripping study. By the time Buras is done, the reformers are stripped bare in the public square as yet another wave of white supremacists, in this case arrived in New Orleans to turn black children into a profitable “product.” I wonder if NPR will interview Buras?

The Durham public school board voted 6-1 to finish its current contract with Teach for America and then sever the relationship.

“The Durham school district will honor its current contract with Teach For America, but the national teacher training program’s future with Durham Public Schools is up in the air.

“The school board voted 6-1 last week to honor its commitment to TFA teachers, including five hired to work for DPS this school year, but to not pursue any new relationships with the program beyond the 2015-16 school year.

“That’s when the five TFA teachers hired for this school year will complete their service obligation with the program.

“Seven other TFA teachers have begun their second years with DPS and will complete their two-year obligation with the program at the end of this school year.

“Among concerns voiced by school board members who voted not to pursue any new relationships with TFA is the program’s use of inexperienced teachers in high-needs schools.

“It feels like despite the best intention and the efforts, this has potential to do harm to some of our neediest students,” said school board member Natalie Beyer, who voted against the school district’s contract with TFA three years ago.

“Others said they were concerned that TFA teachers only make a two-year commitment.

“I have a problem with the two years and gone, using it like community service as someone said,” said school board member Mike Lee.

“School board Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown was the only member to vote in favor of the district’s continuing its relationship with TFA.

“She agreed that school districts need teachers who are willing to make long-term commitments, but only if they are doing a good job in the classroom.

“Having tenure, just being there because you’re there and not dong what you should be doing, committed to every child, every day, having high expectations for every child, every day, if you’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter if you’ve become a veteran in the classroom,” said Forte-Brown. “I need a veteran, qualified teacher in every classroom.”

Some teachers asked the board to use the funds to try to replicate the highly successful North Carolina Teaching Fellows, a five-year training program for career teachers that was defunded by the Legislature. But the executive director of TFA for Eastern North Carolina defended the program, saying that it was “North Carolina’s source for our state’s most effective beginning teachers.”

The district was expected to pay TFA $3,000 for each beginning teacher. But the board decided not to continue the relationship.

Helen Zelon of “City Limits” wonders why teacher turnover is so high in nyc charter schools.

She writes:

“According to data from the New York State Department of Education, charter schools in New York City lose far more teachers every year than their traditional school counterparts. In some schools, more than half of faculty “turn over” from one school year to the next, according to NYSED school report cards.

“Charter advocates at the New York City Charter School Center and at Success Academies, the city’s largest charter network, say that at least some of the turnover is due to movement within school networks—teachers moving up the leadership ladder, for example, or to seed the faculty of new schools, which have opened at a rapid clip in recent years.

“But even so, it’s hard to explain a churn of more than half the veteran faculty, which is the case at 15 percent of charter schools for which the state reports data….”

“The situation is not much better for veteran teachers, who are often the minority in charter schools: Of the 70 schools, 10 lost more than half of their veteran faculty in the ’11-’12 academic year; 24 schools saw more than 40 percent of experienced teachers exit.”

Zelon adds:

“Near the top of the turnover chart is the Success Academies system led by former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. With 22 schools and 10 new schools opening in August 2014, it is the city’s largest charter chain.

In Harlem Success Academies 1-4, the only schools for which the state posted turnover data, more than half of all teachers left the schools ahead of the 2013-14 school year. In one school, three out of four teachers departed.”

Spokespersons for HSA said the data were wrong.

Why is attrition so high? Long working hours; teacher burnout; TFA who made a two-year commitment and never intended to stay longer.

Politico.com reports that “African-American students in Miami-Dade County are more likely than their peers to be assigned rookie teachers – and their teachers are also more likely to be uncertified or unlicensed, according to a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality.” This inequity is a result of “the district’s decision to cluster Teach For America recruits in low-performing, high-poverty schools.”

“The strategy could backfire, the NCTQ concluded, because novice teachers generally struggle to produce strong learning results. And because many TFA teachers leave after two years, the schools must cope with “constant churn, where novice teachers are being placed and then leaving at high rates, creating a cycle of instability at these schools,” the report finds.”

NCTQ “recommends giving high-performing teachers incentives to move to the struggling schools and giving principals more flexibility in assigning staff, so the rookies aren’t automatically placed in the most challenging classrooms.”

For more: http://politico.pro/XxrXTd.

This is a great—actually an inspiring—interview with Stephanie Rivera, who is probably the most prominent student leader on behalf of properly prepare teachers and supporting public education. Stephanie started a student movement while studying to be a teacher at Rutgers University. She has also been a critic of Teach for America because she intends to make a career of teaching, not a two-year experience.

As you will read, she is deeply committed to teaching in urban schools, and she believes that students need to have teachers who look like them.

Here is a small sample:

“ES: You wrote a terrific post called Advocacy in the Age of Color Blindness where you challenged the idea that it makes no different what color a teacher is as long as s/he’s great. I’m amazed that it’s even necessary to argue about this, but the *best and brightest* first mentality seems to be gaining traction.

SR: The whole argument that if students are succeeding and all of their teachers are white then it’s OK to have all white teachers really misses the point. First of all, how are we measuring student success? Is it all test scores? Because raising test scores isn’t the only role of a teacher and it shouldn’t be. What do students learn from having teachers who look like them? I really believe that when students of color see teachers who look like them in these great professions it sends a powerful message that *hey, I can do something like that too.* It’s also about the ability of teachers to understand where their student are coming from.

ES: As a soon-to-be teacher I wonder what you think about the brewing battle over tenure.

SR: I strongly believe in teacher tenure because it protects teachers who have a more political understanding of what teaching is about. I really think that we need to be having some serious discussions in our teacher education programs about what tenure is. Future teachers don’t understand what it is, what it does and where it came from. Tenure does more than just provide job security. It allows you to speak out against things you think are wrong. It allows you to have a progressive curriculum. People who are going into teaching need a bigger, broader understanding of tenure.”

Angie Sullivan is a teacher-warrior who never gives up the fight for quality education in Nevada. She wants qualified teachers and adequate funding. She won’t back down. She wrote this letter to Senator Harry Reid:

“@TeachForAmerica: “You’ve done so much to help our country.” – @SenatorReid via video to our alumni at #ECVegas14

I have a HUGE HUGE problem with this! BIG Gigantic!

Senator Reid thanks scab labor by video at their big rally?

Teach for America that routinely union busts and funds campaigns against democrats with its war chests?

Their primary purpose is to fundraise and control the education privatizing conversation – developing reforming educational leadership with a few years of classroom experience. How do they do this? Install new graduates without teaching skill in at-risk schools and replace real teachers as fast as possible with “stars” who never intended to make the classroom a career.

Nevada has a Majority Leader but we are last in the nation in public education on too many levels to outline here. No money, no support, no help.

Me and my co-workers with actual teaching licenses worked for decades for my state in under funded conditions and get what? These frauds and Teach for America scabs?

Our conditions deteriorate, our tenure is demolished, our pensions are attacked, our supplies dwindle, our class size explodes, we aren’t allowed to teach anymore with all the crazy mandates installed, the crazy Department of Education Secretary applauds the attack, we are attached to scores for kids that can learn but will never score well due to disenfranchisement, and we are blamed by crazytown media for every social ill under the sun.

And that is what the Democratic Party has done to public education.

I haven’t even begun to list what the extremist left has done — but I’m sure those terrorists will shoot me down to exercise their 2nd amendment rights soon since they are allowed to access me as a government employee.

Enough is enough.

The answer isn’t to oppress women who teach kids to read with the same standards they have in Maine. The answer isn’t to abuse kids by making them do more and more testing – they fail before they ever set foot in public school because our community is suffering. The answer isn’t to allow Teach for America with 5 weeks of training to replace a teacher who is actually trained. And the answer definitely isn’t to fire us because democrats are on a witch hunt for “bad teachers”.

Here is the reality. Nevada has a poverty problem and importing a bunch of Harvard graduates who want to beef up their resumes as TFA teacher for a couple of years – is a drain on resources and doesn’t help at-risk kids.

CCSD is looking for 3,000 teachers at the same time it fires 300? Something is wrong. We are going to fill these jobs with “saviors” from elite colleges who become tourist teachers?

This video is a slap in the face to every fully licensed teacher in our nation.

You may celebrate this watering down and privatization of Nevada’s education – but me and my house will stand against you and them — because this secret combination is evil and subversive to the American Dream.

O God hear the words of my voice and help your Nevada teachers who love their students – let this and every other reforming and resource drain scam – stop – so that authentic learning can fill our communities.

All I can do is weep.

Angie

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