Archives for category: Teach for America

Educators tend to be child-centered and attentive to the needs of classrooms for adequate resources. Having been teachers, they are usually unwilling to support attacks on the teaching profession.

So where do rightwing governors find people to lead their state’s education department? Here is one major source: Teach for America.

When Bobby Jindal of Louisiana needed someone to lead his agenda for vouchers, charters, and anti-teacher proposals, he selected John White (TFA).

When Bill Haslam of Tennessee wanted someone to push the rightwing agenda, he chose Kevin Huffman (TFA).

When Terry Branstad of Iowa wanted someone to push his rightwing agenda, he chose Ryan Wise (TFA).

When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory needed an education advisor to promote his extremist, anti-public school agenda, he chose Eric Guckian (TFA).

Let us not forget Michelle Rhee (TFA), who served a mayor, not a governor and was especially vitriolic towards teachers and unions. Her organization StudentsFirst has funded candidates who support privatization.

What is it about TFA that produces leaders who want to privatize public education and crush the teaching profession?

This article tells the story of Jessica Millen, who graduated from Notre Dame in 2013 and immediately joined Teach for America.

Jessica’s essay is part of a new book: http://www.amazon.com/Teach-America-Counter-Narratives-Critical-Thinking/dp/1433128764/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1439827400&sr=8-1&keywords=teach+for+america+counter-narratives”>new book: “Teach for America Counter-Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out.”

As an idealistic college senior, she was drawn to TFA by the promise that she could change children’s lives in her two-year stint. She wanted to make a difference. She describes her experience of five intense weeks of training, which included rather bizarre chanting of TFA slogans and other exercises that encouraged loyalty to TFA.

Although she had been told repeatedly that she had the makings of a great teacher, when she arrived in her Néw Orleans classroom, she felt woefully unprepared. She knew she was supposed to enforce the strict behavioral management techniques of TFA, but they didn’t feel right to her.

She writes:

After those 5 weeks of training, I was alone in a classroom with 27 eight- and nine-year-olds. I had no idea what to do with the rigorous and inflexible curriculum modalities that dictated what I taught and when. There was nothing in our training that indicated our teaching lives would be so scripted and controlled. Moreover, I was confused by strict administrative policies that were completely developmentally inappropriate; for instance, my third graders were allowed only 20 minutes of recess, once a week. Again, there was no mention of what to do when school-wide policies were completely incongruent with what I knew at this point to be developmentally appropriate practices.

Trying to balance the demands and expectations of both my school and TFA was challenging, especially when both parties were extremely focused on data and standardized testing to the detriment of what my young students needed. This made it difficult for me to realize my vision of schooling. While I understood the necessity of assessment and its usefulness in gauging how much students know, and therefore in future lesson planning, both my school and TFA’s focus on testing overshadowed my legitimate concerns for students’ emotional and social well-being and academic growth beyond what could be measured in omnipresent assessments. I had to prepare my students for weekly and quarterly testing, on top of looming state-mandated tests that would also measure my success as a teacher. The pressure from both the state and district to raise student test scores manifested in my administration’s extreme concern with test scores and maximizing instructional time not only in specific subjects but also to specific isolated skill sets, always to the detriment of exploring other important areas of elementary education, such as exposure to culture, creative and scientific thinking, music, and art.

Armed only with TFA’s strictly behaviorist methods of classroom management, I was unprepared for many of the issues I faced, and my classroom quickly spiraled out of control. From my 5 weeks of training, I was knowledgeable only about behaviorist management methods that focused on giving clear directions, narrating student behavior when they were following directions, and then giving consequences to those students not complying. These management methods were presented as best practices during our training; no other alternatives were mentioned.

She could not follow orders. She was warned that she lacked leadership; she lacked confidence in herself. But she thought “my vision of schooling did not include a classroom where the teacher is all-powerful, all-knowledgeable, and in strict control at all times. What I was beginning to understand was that there was no room in their model for my vision; in fact, my vision was completely contrary to their understanding of how schooling should be conducted and why. TFA’s Teaching as Leadership model is based upon the idea that teachers are responsible for everything that happens inside of the classroom, regardless of whether or not you agree with the techniques and content you are being forced to adopt.”

The clash between what she believed to be right and what TFA taught her made it impossible to remain. She left TFA after six months. She is now a pre-school teacher in South Bend, Indiana.

The Walton Family Foundation is not going to like this. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Teach for America teachers in a Detroit charter school have the right to unionize.

The charter operator fought the TFA newbies, claiming that they weren’t “real” teachers.

“The National Labor Relations Board ruled Friday that Teach for America teachers in a Detroit charter school have the right to be a part of a union.

“According to a statement from the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the NLRB said Friday 14 Teach for America corps members should have been able to vote in an election last spring. That election was held to determine if teachers at University Prep Schools, a charter school network in Detroit, wanted to form a union.

“Detroit 90/90, the private company that operates the schools, argued the Teach for America members, as well as long-term substitutes, were not professional employees.

“We are really pleased to be recognized as professional teachers,” said Patrick Sheehan, a TFA corps member and second grade advisor at the time of the election. “U-Prep hired us to teach just like other teachers. Making the legal argument that we are not professionals means one of two things — either Detroit 90/90 doesn’t respect the work we do with students or they lied to prevent us from organizing a union.”

The vote to unionize at University YES caused their sponsor to abandon the school:

“University Yes Academy teachers voted to unionize earlier this year, despite their parent company — New Urban Learning — announcing it was walking away from the school. The announcement of New Urban Learning walking away from University Yes took place days after the school’s teachers announced they planned to hold a vote on unionization.”

Why won’t the Walton Family Foundation like these developments? The Waltons, owners of Walmart, don’t like unions. They like charters, because 90% or so are non-union. They have given more than $50 million to TFA to supply the workforce for non-union charters.

Kids! What’s the matter with kids today?

Mercedes Schneider did some digging into Teach for America’s budget and promotional activities on Capitol Hill and discovered some fascinating facts.

She writes:

“According to its 2013 990, TFA’s end-of-year total assets were $494 million, with $73.5 million of its 2013 revenue designated as “government grants” and $31.6 million of its 2013 revenue earmarked as “service fees revenue….

“For eight hours of work per week, TFA chair Wendy Kopp drew a 2013 salary of $176,657. Co-CEOs Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard drew salaries of $381,946 for 42 hrs/wk (Kramer) and $342,134 for 40 hrs/wk (Beard).

“TFA began as a Peace Corps-like temp agency that sends college graduates outside of the field of teaching into classrooms for usually two years. However, by 2001, TFA had established a second goal: To move former TFA corps members into positions of influence in education, business, and politics in order to solidify and expand TFA’s influence over public education.”

Schneider says that TFA charges districts up to $9,000 to place one of their inexperienced temps. “TFA really needs those temp fees. After all, it takes almost a million dollars a year to just pay Kopp, Kramer and Beard for their combined 90 hrs/wk ($900,737), and they are not the only TFA board members pulling a salary. Eight others work 40 or 41 hrs/wk and have salaries ranging from $190,638 to $282,759….

“But TFA has other needs, as well. Consider, for instance, the need for TFA to establish its presence on Capitol Hill. Now, according to its 2013 tax form, TFA only spent $595,870 on lobbying that year. However, if TFA pays interns to gain experience on Capitol Hill, it isn’t really lobbying– it’s just putting talented TFA alumni to work:

One of Schneider’s most fascinating discoveries is that TFA is seeking a new Government Affairs director, I.e., lobbyist.

And here is the kicker: a requirement for the job of lobbyist is SEVEN YEARS EXPERIENCE.

Isn’t that interesting?

TFA tells the world that a “great” teacher doesn’t need experience. It tells college seniors that they can change the “trajectory” of children’s lives if they commit to teach in the neediest schools, starting the September after graduating college.

Just five weeks of “institute,” no real teaching experience necessary.

Yet when TFA hires lobbyists, it requires seven years experience!

Is the job of lobbyist so much harder and so much more valuable than that of teacher?

Mitchell Robinson read Schneider’s post and raised some interesting questions:

*What does it say about your organization’s values when you require 7 years of experience for a lobbying position and require zero years of experience for teachers in charge of classrooms full of young children?

*What does it mean when your organization charges resource-strapped school districts up to $9000 per year in “service fees” for each recruit placed, while private and public universities charge nothing when their graduates get hired for the same positions?

*What does it say about your “non-profit” organization’s values when your top 3 executives are paid $381,946 (Co-CEO Matt Kramer) $342,134 (Elisa Villanueva Beard), and $176,657 (Wendy Kopp), while you attack public schools, teachers and unions for their “greed”?

Yes, curious contradictions.

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.

Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch reports that a Teach for America alum in the legislature is pushing legislation that would clear the way for more charter schools staffed by TFA.

She writes:

“Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) is pushing a bill that would pull five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools out of their local school districts and put them into a state-controlled ‘achievement school district.’

“This new achievement district would be able to fire all teachers and staff and enter into five year contracts with private charter school management companies to handle the schools’ operations..

“Asked whether or not the proposed legislation would include standards for hiring high quality teachers to teach in the ASD schools, Bryan said the charters can be trusted to hire good teachers.

“Bryan also highlighted research that indicates Teach for America corps members have good outcomes in low-performing schools, suggesting that those teachers could make for a good hiring choice in the ASD schools, despite their poor track record of staying in the classroom beyond a few years.

“[TFA teachers] don’t stay,” acknowledged Bryan, a TFA alum himself. “But you would be better served to have a TFA teacher every two years all the way through. Your results, based on the existing data—that would be better for you.”

– See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2015/07/16/charter-school-operators-could-takeover-struggling-schools-replace-teachers-and-staff/#sthash.g3xtHYZw.dpuf

Rep. Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg) is pushing a bill that would pull five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools out of their local school districts and put them into a state-controlled ‘achievement school district.’

This new achievement district would be able to fire all teachers and staff and enter into five year contracts with private charter school management companies to handle the schools’ operations.

– See more at: http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2015/07/16/charter-school-operators-could-takeover-struggling-schools-replace-teachers-and-staff/#sthash.g3xtHYZw.dpuf

Gary Rubinstein was one of the earliest recruits to Teach for America. He was a corps members in Houston, class of 1991. Since then, he has become a high school math teacher in New York City and a persistent critic of TFA.

 

His major criticism of the organization is that it recruits smart, idealistic young people and gives them inadequate training for the challenges they will face. He is also not pleased with TFA’s alignment with the Corporate Reform machine that is devoted to destroying and privatizing public education.

 

In this post, he gives advice to new members of TFA in Houston. He watches videos in which they present their thoughts. He hears too much of the TFA can’t about how they have arrived to save poor children from lazy veteran teachers and a broken system. He knows they are being set up for failure. They don’t know it yet. But they will.

 

TFA is now into its 25th year. To date, its teachers have helped to staff thousands of privatized, non-union charter schools. The organization has become super-rich and powerful. They are the darlings of rightwing foundations like the Walton Family Foundation, which gave TFA $50 million to keep building the workforce for those non-union charters. Arne Duncan also gave them $50 million. The Broad Foundation bundled $100 million for the same reason.

 

With all that money, what has TFA actually accomplished?

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post has written a sympathetic article about Arne Duncan and the waning of his powers as Secretary of Education. He is a nice guy. He is a close friend of the President. He cares about individual children that he met along the way. The pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will prohibit him and future Secretaries from interfering in state decisions about standards, curriculum, and assessment. His family has already moved back to Chicago. But he will stay on the job to the very end.

 

When Obama was elected, many educators and parents thought that Obama would bring a new vision of the federal role in education, one that freed schools from the test-and-punish mindset of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind. But Arne Duncan and Barack Obama had a vision no different from George W. Bush and doubled down on the importance of testing, while encouraging privatization and undermining the teaching profession with a $50 million grant to Teach for America to place more novice teachers in high-needs schools. Duncan never said a bad word about charters, no matter how many scandals and frauds were revealed.

 

During Duncan’s tenure in office,

 

*He used his control of billions of dollars to promote a dual school system of privately managed charter schools operating alongside public schools;

*He has done nothing to call attention to the fraud and corruption in the charter sector or to curb charters run by non-educators for profit or to insist on charter school accountability or to require charters to enroll the neediest children;

*He pushed to require states to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, which has caused massive demoralization among teachers, raised the stakes attached to testing, and produced no positive results;

*He used federal funds and waivers from NCLB to push the adoption of Common Core standards and to create two testing consortia, which many states have abandoned;

*The Common Core tests are so absurdly “rigorous” that most students have failed them, even in schools that send high percentages of students to four-year colleges, the failure rates have been highest among students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, and students of color;

*He has bemoaned rising resegregation of the schools but done nothing to reduce it;

*He has been silent as state after state has attacked collective bargaining and due process for teachers;

*He has done nothing in response to the explosion of voucher programs that transfer public funds to religious schools;

*Because of his policies, enrollments in teacher education programs, even in Teach for America, have plummeted, and many experienced teachers are taking early retirement;

*He has unleashed a mad frenzy of testing in classrooms across the country, treating standardized test scores as the goal of all education, rather than as a measure;

*His tenure has been marked by the rise of an aggressive privatization movement, which seeks to eliminate public education in urban districts, where residents have the least political power;

*He loosened the regulations on the federal student privacy act, permitting massive data mining of the data banks that federal funds created;

*He looked the other way as predatory for-profit colleges preyed on veterans and  minorities, plunging students deep into debt;

*Duncan has regularly accused parents and teachers of “lying” to students. For reasons that are unclear, he wants everyone to believe that our public schools are terrible, our students are lazy, not too bright, and lacking ambition. If he were a basketball coach, he would have been encouraging the team to try harder and to reach for greater accomplishment, but instead he took every opportunity to run down the team and repeat how dreadful they are. He spoke of “respect” but he never showed it.

This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.

 

It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next President and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation’s public education system from the damage done by Race to the Top. We need leadership that believes in the joy of learning and in equality of educational opportunity. We have not had either for 15 years.

In this post, Valerie Strauss interviews Rafe Esquith. It was published in 2013, in connection with the publication of his book, “Real Talk for Real Teachers.” He started teaching in 1983.

It is a fascinating interview. I urge you to read it. These are excerpts.

Why did he write the book?

“I want young teachers to understand what they are getting into. They are swallowing this line that they are going to save every kid. And when that doesn’t happen they are crushed and they give up.

“I am not saying this to be conceited, but I’m a very good teacher and I want them to know that I fail all the time. There are factors beyond my control. But I have to understand there are issues of family and poverty. Sometimes even if you do reach a kid it’s not going to happen in the year you have them. They aren’t going to sing ‘To Sir With Love’ at the end of the year.

“And to the veteran teachers who really understand what’s going on, every month it’s a new [school reform] flavor of the month. The Common Core [State Standards initiative] isn’t going to do anything. They are spending tens of millions of dollars but it isn’t going to do anything. In my classroom you still have to put a period at the end of a sentence…. I don’t need a new set of standards to make that clear to me.

What’s changed in teaching since you started teaching?

“The obsession with testing. We always gave tests, but basically now it’s the entire day. Basically if it’s not on the test don’t teach it. Teachers spend hours and hours and hours trying to figure out what’s going to be on the test. They will teach that there are four chambers of the heart, but not why we have a heart or why it works…. The data you are looking at — I feel like the emperor has no clothes. Somebody has to say this stuff. I think teachers will feel better to see in print what they think all the time.

“So the obsession with testing is one big change. Also, the economy has declined, families are hurt and I deal with many more family problems. Some of them are really difficult… Most of the parents I deal with try hard for their kids. One of the myths is that poor kids have parents who don’t care. That’s crap. They care.

“But I definitely deal now with more poverty and family troubles and the effects of poverty. I had a great kid this year. His father is gone. His mom works from 5 in the afternoon to 5 in the morning, so he doesn’t really see her. He comes home to an empty house. For teachers to be expected to have the same results as teachers in Finland where there is much less poverty, it’s absurd.”

What do you think about Teach for America?

“They [TFA corp members] are in my room all the time. Good kids. Nice. Bitter joke: TFA really stands for ‘teach for a while.’ Like all other teachers there are some great ones who are there for the right reasons who want to make a difference and some who want to pad their résumés. I certainly don’t think anybody can be a great teacher in five weeks. I hope this book helps them think a little bit about what they are getting into.”

“They [TFA corps members] are obsessed with test scores. It becomes all about this: If you have a kid who gets a 75 on a test and then the kid gets an 85, you are a good teacher. My wife didn’t fall in love with me because of my test scores…. They [TFA leaders] are incredibly defensive about hearing an alternate idea. What’s said is that they are constantly throwing data and money showing they are successful. But they are really not. They are no more successful than any other teachers and if you read their blogs a lot give up in horrible frustration.”

He concludes:

“The point of my new book is that it takes years to be a good classroom teacher. It takes years to be good at anything…

“With Teach For America, I just want to tell them that there’s another problem. Most TFA teachers don’t stay in the classroom long. I want them to know that Room 56 matters. What we do matters. But the kids see teachers shifting back and forth, leaving for other jobs, why would they believe anything matters if their teachers keep leaving?”

Florida has a constitutional obligation to make public education a “paramount duty,” but Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature have other concerns.

 

Here is a report from Fund Education Now on the budget travesty.

 

To summarize, Florida is in the nation’s lowest quintile in funding. Yet scarce funds are diverted to the state’s booming (but ineffective) charter sector. And to add insult to injury, the Legislature will award a $10,000 bonus to “the best and the brightest” teachers, those with high SAT scores. Note that the bonus is not based on performance, but on SAT scores. This has the effect of rewarding TFA teachers just for showing up, not for their performance or their willingness to remain in teaching.

 

 

The Florida House and Senate finally agreed on an Education budget early Tuesday, June 16th at 12:30 am. The budget is expected to pass this Friday, June 19th following the required 72 hour cooling off period.

 

Despite promises of an historic funding increase, lawmakers fell short of making public education their “paramount duty” as required in Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution. Funding per student will increase by a mere 3% or $200 less than the record 2007 high point. Instead of investing in public schools, the legislature spent an additional $300 million on personal projects and another $400 million on tax exemptions.

 

It should also be noted that PECO funds were split evenly between for profit charters and public schools, with each receiving $50 million for capital outlay. For years charters have received most of the PECO dollars and districts got nothing, making it difficult to plan for growth. Sharing this year’s PECO is a ploy to justify reviving legislation in 2016 forcing districts to share voter-approved millage dollars with for-profit charter chains that can use the funds to purchase, develop and maintain properties the public may never own.

 

There are many details buried in the Final Conference Report. Among them is $44 million to provide $10,000 “Best and Brightest” scholarships to up to 4,400 “highly effective” teachers who scored at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT. It’s expected that many of the teachers who receive these scholarships will be from Teach for America. The House wanted $45 million for the program, while the Senate wanted only $5 million. This controversial, expensive program is based on the weak assumption that teachers who did well on either the SAT or ACT will automatically be better teachers. It’s disappointing that once again, legislators have based another funding scheme on a single test when there’s no evidence that high SAT or ACT scores are related to great teaching. It’s equally concerning that Florida teachers applying for the scholarship will be sharing their SAT and ACT test scores, providing a trove of new personal data that the state can use to further disaggregate and sort the profession.

 

At least $750 million dollars were set aside for just these projects and exemptions. That figure divided by 2.74 public school students would have meant an additional $274 per student, proving that Florida has the money, but political leaders refuse to invest in public education. What is behind their effort to keep Florida from climbing out of the nation’s lowest quintile in per pupil funding?

 

Open the link to see the numbers.

 

 

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