Gary Rubinstein keeps a close eye on Teach for America and watches how it shows its true colors from time to time. That happened with the votes cast on amendments to the Senate bill called “Every Child Achieves Act.”
TFA lobbyists urged Senators to support the Murphy-Booker amendments, which would have retained the worst, most punitive features of No Child Left Behind. They also publicly opposed parents’ right to opt their children out of state tests, on the flimsy claim that this would hurt poor and minority children. In fact, poor and minority children are victimized by high-stakes testing, by a greater emphasis on testing, and by closing of schools located mostly in their communities.
Rubinstein writes that the Murphy-Booker amendment:
says that the states must identify the schools most in need of intervention, which must be at least the bottom 5%. It seems that the Democrats did not learn the lessons from NCLB about the danger of putting specific numerical targets into federal law and how those numerical targets can be abused. The fact that there is always a bottom 5% no matter how good the schools are in a state. Also, schools where the graduation rate is less than 67%, a magic number for ‘failing school’ that is not grounded in any real research (not to mention one that is easy to game with different ‘credit recovery’ schemes, but that’s another issue altogether). For schools like this some of the federally mandated interventions are to inform the parents that their child is attending a failing school, to establish ‘partnerships’ with ‘private entities’ to turn around these schools, and to give the states the ability to make, and for this I’ll use a verbatim quote, “any changes to personnel necessary to improve educational opportunities for children in the school.”
So where does Murphy’s Law come in? What could possibly go wrong with this? Well for starters, there would need to be an accurate way to gauge which schools are truly in the ‘bottom 5%.’ I admit that there are some schools that are run much less efficiently than others and surely the different superintendents should have a sense of which schools they are. But as NCLB and Race To The Top (RTTT) taught us, with all the money spent on creating these metrics and the costly tests and ‘growth metrics’ that go along with those tests, it is likely to lead to way too much test prep and neglect of some of the things that make school worth going to. Then those ‘private entities’, could it be any more clear that these are charter schools taking over public schools? And as far as “changes to personnel necessary to improve educational opportunities for the children in the school”, well, firing teachers after school ‘closures’ in New York City hasn’t resulted in improved ‘educational opportunities.’ My sense is that with enough of these mass firings, it will be very difficult to get anyone to risk their careers by teaching at a so-called failing school and the new staff is likely be less effective than the old staff. So you can see why the NEA wrote a letter to the Senate urging them to vote against it. Sadly nearly all the Democrats (and Independent Bernie Sanders!) ignored the plea of the NEA.
TFA’s leaders gave their approval to an article sharply criticizing parents who opt their children out of standardized testing:
In The 74 [Campbell Brown’s website], disgraced former Tennessee Education Commissioner and TFA alum (not to mention ex-husband of Michelle Rhee-Johnston) Kevin Huffman wrote a completely incoherent comparison of parents opting their children out of state tests to parents opting their children out of vaccinations. The title of the article was “Why We Need to Ignore Opt-Outers Like We Do Anti-Vaxxers.” Not that we need to ‘challenge’ them, but we need to ‘ignore’ them. Don’t bother learning what motivates them to do what they do, just assume you know and ignore whatever concerns are causing them to want to do this. Huffman is also a lawyer, though his argument is quite weak. He says that wealthy opt-outers are selfish since they are doing something that somehow benefits themselves while hurting the other, less wealthy people. But does he consider that many opt-outers are doing it as a protest against the misuse of their students test scores to unfairly close schools and fire teachers? Or to protest an over emphasis on testing and testing subjects so they opt out to say “Since I’m opting out anyway, please teach my child as you would have before all this high stakes testing nonsense.” Now I can’t speak for every opt-out supporter, but I believe that opting-out helps everyone, especially the poor since the way the results of the state tests have been used has hurt them disproportionately with school closures and random teacher firings so the idea that all opt-out supporters do so knowingly at the expense of less fortunate others is something that I find offensive. Both co-CEOs of TFA, however, tweeted their approval of this article.
High-stakes testing and punitive policies widens the market for privatization, drives out experienced teachers, and clears the way for more positions for TFA.