Archives for category: Teach for America

At a conference in Néw York Coty, Wendy Kopp praised the alumni of Teach for America, saying that most of them remained in education and were fighting for social justice in new leadership roles. Perhaps she was thinking of John White, state superintendent in Louisiana, who led the fight for vouchers and Common Core, or Kevin Huffman, the former state superintendent of Tennessee, who pressed to strip teachers of any job rights, plus charters and vouchers, or Michelle Rhee, who supported pro-voucher, anti-union candidates.

Some might think that the fight for privatization and union-busting is not the same as battling social injustice. One might study the history of the Néw Deal to understand how unions built a middle class in the U.S., lifting people from poverty into decent jobs whose hours were limited, jobs that paid a living wage. TFA has received $60 million or more from the Walton Family Foundation, which is vehemently anti-union and pro-privatization.

Kopp’s claims were contested by Andrew Hargreaves of Boston College, this year’s winner of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award.

“Dr Andy Hargreaves of Boston College compared teachers on the programme to Macauley Culkin’s character in the 1990 film Home Alone.

“Teach for America was, he said, symptomatic of the way education systems mistakenly prioritised confident individuals over teamwork.

“It’s the image of the 9-year-old boy in Home Alone,” he said. “Somebody with incredible competence and supreme over-self-confidence [who] believes he can fight off crime and intruders by dropping strange contraptions on their heads and propelling them back out into the snow just with his own individual gifts, abilities, grit and guts. A bit like Teach for America.”

“Such teachers might be “great” for schools lacking support, he said, but they only stayed for two or three years. Finding ways for teachers to work together was more important than supporting “heroic, overgrown 9-year-old individuals who want to save the system for us.”

Mercedes Schneider wonders why Kira Orange-Jones was chosen by TIME as one of the nation’s most influential people. She is executive director of Teach for America in Louisiana.

She is also on the state board of education, where Schneider finds no evidence of her influence.

Schneider concludes that TIME wanted to salute both TFA (its former executive editor was president of the TFA board) and to bolster Néw Orleans’ inflated reputation as a successful experiment in reform by eliminating public education.

Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the school board of Santa Ana, CA, will decide today whether to hire TFA to teach students with disabilities.

Why would anyone hire the least experienced, least prepared youngsters to teach children with the greatest needs?

In this interview with Peter Cunningham, EduShyster gains his insights into the current thinking of the billionaire reformers.


Peter Cunningham was Arne Duncan’s communications director during Duncan’s first term. In Washington, he was known as “Arne’s Brain.” He is smart, charming, and well-spoken. So far as I know, he was never a teacher, but that is not a qualification these days for holding strong views about fixing the public schools. Cunningham is now back in Chicago. He started a blog called “Education Post,” which was funded with $12 million from the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and an anonymous philanthropy. Its goal, proclaimed at the outset, was to introduce a more civil tone into education debates and to advance certain ideas: “K-12 academic standards, high-quality charter schools, and how best to hold teachers and schools accountable for educating students.” Translated, that means it supports Common Core standards, charter schools, and high-stakes testing for teachers, as well as school closings based on testing.


You might say it is on the other side of almost every issue covered in this blog, as Ed Post praises “no-excuses” charter schools, standardized testing, Teach for America, and other corporate-style reforms.


EduShyster asked Cunningham if he feels the blog is succeeding, and he cites Nicholas Kristof’s recent column–admitting the failure of most reform efforts and the need to focus on early childhood programs–as an example of progress. When she pressed him about his “metrics” for “betterness,” he replies:


Cunningham: I think that an awful lot of people on the reform side of the fence are thrilled by what we’re doing. They really feel like *thank God somebody is standing up for us when we get attacked* and *thank God somebody is willing to call out people when they say things that are obviously false or that we think are false.* When I was asked to create this organization—it wasn’t my idea; I was initially approached by Broad—it was specifically because a lot of reform leaders felt like they were being piled on and that no one would come to their defense. They said somebody just needs to help right the ship here. There was a broad feeling that the anti-reform community was very effective at piling on and that no one was organizing that on our side. There was unequivocally a call to create a community of voices that would rise to the defense of people pushing reform who felt like they were isolated and alone.


EduShyster: That expression you see on my face is incredulity. But please go on sir. I want to hear more about the isolation and alone-ness of people pushing reform. How they are faring today?


Cunningham: Take Kevin Huffman. Now you can disagree with him on policy, but he felt like people were waking up everyday and just attacking him on social media. He tried to respond, and he just felt like it didn’t matter. By 2012-2013, Team Status Quo—your label not mine—was very effectively calling a lot of reform ideas into question. I mean look around the country. Huffman’s gone, John King is gone, John Deasy is gone, Michelle Rhee is gone. I’ve created the ability to swarm, because everyone felt like they were being swarmed. We now have people who will, when asked, lean in on the debate, when people feel like they’re just under siege.


There is much in this interview that is fascinating, but most interesting to me is that the billionaires, who have unlimited resources were “feeling isolated and alone.” They felt they were “being piled on and that no one would come to their defense.” They needed to hire bloggers to defend them.


This is indicative, I think, of the fact that social media is very powerful, and those who oppose the “reformers” own social media. The pro-public education voices are in the millions–millions of teachers, principals, parents, and students. The billionaire reformers hire thousands. Whether you consider the more than 200 bloggers who are part of the Education Bloggers Network, which advocates for public education, or consider Twitter and Facebook, the critics of billionaire-backed reform and privatization are many, are outspoken, and command a huge forum. No wonder the billionaires are feeling lonely and isolated. They can create astroturf organizations like StudentsFirst, Education Reform Now, 50CAN, TeachPlus, Educators4Excellence, and dozens more groups, but it is typically the same people running a small number of organizations and issuing press releases.


Is it time to feel sorry for the billionaires?


Be sure to read the comments that follow the interview.








Jeannie Kaplan, a former member of the Denver Board of Education, began looking into the role of Teach for America in Denver. At first, she thought that they were probably a big problem but then decided that as teachers, they were not having much of an impact, except for their cost. Then she realized that the real problem was how rapidly they moved into leadership roles for which they were not prepared.

She writes:

When I started researching TFA in Denver, I thought my conclusions about its impact would be, “TFA is not only NOT the solution for teacher excellence, it is in fact the problem.” However, in all honesty I have not found that to be the case. The number of corps members is very small, and the impact of these CMs in classrooms has been negligible. One real threat TFA poses in Denver Public Schools appears to be in the leadership roles TFA recruits are assuming in the District. TFA CMs are rising rapidly to principal positions with little educational or leadership experience. (Information for the 2014-15 school year shows TFA has supplied DPS with 7 traditional school principals or assistants, 2 innovation principals, and 12 charter school leaders, 5 of whom are in the STRIVE network. Any relation between the TFA trained leaders and declining academic performance in the STRIVE network?) Another real threat posed by TFA is what effect these CMs are having on overall teacher morale. But here again, TFA is not solely to blame for the rift between professional teachers and alternatively licensed teachers. DPS has found other organizations to provide cheap, non-professional teachers.

One positive outcome from my TFA inquiry is the level of detail the DPS central administration gave me regarding this outsourcing. It responded with clarity and timeliness. One negative outcome from my inquiry has been more confirmation that charters are only public schools when they want taxpayer money. The DPS administration does not have charter school/TFA information because in reality, charters operate as private schools. Charters have their own boards, their own budgets, their own operating methods, and while taxpayers are funding most of these operating expenses, the central public school administration does not have access to this information. Or at least it has not shared it. To get the charter school information in general, TFA information specifically, a person has two options: 1) call each charter school or the Charter Management Organization (CMO). Denver has close to 60 charter schools and while twenty belong to two CMOs that still left leaves close to forty calls; or 2) call the organization in question, in this case TFA. I chose the option number 2.

At the beginning of February I had a pleasant meeting with the TFA Colorado State Director who regaled me with data and success rates of TFA in Colorado. We even had several pleasant email exchanges as I tried to dig deeper and get more information. Then something happened. After being assured I would get my requested information – how many teachers were currently at each TFA serviced school – our communication went from a pleasant “Let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns,…” to “I am not able to prioritize this right now” leaving me without several important pieces of data. What changed ? I believe it is the request for accountability. TFA seems unable to produce evidence that it is really making a difference, that its CMs are really getting better results. When asked to substantiate data and deliver real accountability, not just spin and talking points, TFA like most “reform” organizations is unable to “show me the money….”

Given all of this, here is possibly the worst consequence of TFA’s presence in Denver today: TFA in DPS is contributing to the constant teacher churn. TFA as currently structured, will hardly be the savior of delivering a “reform” top tenet: A GREAT TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM. And as long as this nation refuses to address the affects of poverty on our students, no one “reform” organization, nor for that matter will “reform” itself, make any significant impact on academic achievement or really the more important goal – providing a world class, well rounded education for all!

Mercedes Schneider continúes her close reading of the Senate reauthorization bill, crafted by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patti Murray. This is part three. The others are linked inside her post.


You will find this an interesting post. You will see that the bill penalizes states that cut their education budget by more than 10%; that it allows but doesn’t mandate merit pay; that it includes a big loophole for Teach for America; and much more.


Mercedes is going through this bill line-by-line. Members of Congress would learn much by reading her reports.

Josh Kaplowitz joined Teach for America to help others and was assigned to a D.C. public school where he had trouble controlling a class of second graders. One of them was especially rambunctious and demanded to go to the bathroom repeatedly. What happened next is not clear. The child said the teacher pushed him out of the room and to the floor; the teacher said he guided him out of the room. Kaplowitz was accused of assault. He was arrested, taken to a police station, detained overnight, fired, and sued for $20 million. The district eventually settled with the mother for $90,000. It was a nightmare for all involved.


A decade later, after he had gone to law school, married, had children, and was working for a law firm in D.C., Kaplowitz got a message on Facebook from the student who had accused him of assault. He was in college, playing football, and doing well. He wanted to meet Kaplowitz. Kaplowitz had to make a decision: to meet or not to meet?


What happens next is a fascinating story.

The Texas legislature has a set-aside for Teach for America. Way to go, TFA lobbyists!

But that’s not all. The two-year TFA turnover won’t be counted as teacher turnover:

TX HB 1060

A teacher who is employed by a school district through participation in a program that requires a two-year teaching commitment in an underserved area or low-income community and who leaves employment with the district after the two-year commitment is not considered for purposes of reporting teacher turnover information under Subsection (e)(3).

Matthew Di Carlo of the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of Teachers is neither pro-TFA nor anti-TFA.


Here he reviews the latest study of TFA by Mathematica.


It has been widely reported that the study found little or no difference between the test scores of the students taught by TFA and by regular teachers. TFA saw that as a victory, since it presumably showed that no training or experience was needed to achieve the same results. Others saw it as a repudiation of TFA’s oft-repeated claims that their recruits were superior to career teachers.


Di Carlo parses the results and reaches this conclusion:


Now, on the one hand, it’s absolutely fair to use the results of this and previous TFA evaluations to suggest that we may have something to learn from TFA training and recruitment (e.g., Dobbie 2011). Like all new teachers, TFA recruits struggle at first, but they do seem to perform as well as or better than other teachers, many of whom have had considerably more experience and formal training.


On the other hand, as I’ve discussed before, there is also, perhaps, an implication here regarding the “type” of person we are trying to recruit into teaching. Consider that TFA recruits are the very epitome of the hard-charging, high-achieving young folks that many advocates are desperate to attract to the profession. To be clear, it is a great thing any time talented, ambitous, service-oriented young people choose teaching, and I personally think TFA deserves credit for bringing them in. Yet, no matter how you cut it, they are, at best, only modestly more effective (in raising math and reading test scores) than non-TFA teachers.


This reflects the fact that identifying good teachers based on pre-service characteristics is extraordinarily difficult, and the best teachers are very often not those who attended the most selective colleges or scored highly on their SATs. And yet so much of our education reform debate is about overhauling long-standing human resource policies largely to attract these high-flying young people. It follows, then, that perhaps we should be very careful not to fixate too much on an unsupported idea of the “type” of person we want to attract and what they are looking for, and instead pay a little more attention to investigating alternative observable characteristics that may prove more useful, and identifying employment conditions and work environments that maximize retention of effective teachers who are already in the classroom.


For me, the problem with all such studies is the assumption that the best (perhaps the only) way to identify the best teachers is by comparing changes in test scores. Great teachers supposedly get higher scores than mediocre teachers. I think that places far too much faith in standardized testing and in the assumption that education is solely measured by those tests. It makes the tests the arbiters of all things, even though most teachers do not teach tested subjects. Test-based findings are even more suspect when the children are very young.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, who recently moved from the University of Texas to California State University at Sacramento, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on Teach for America. He has studied their performance over time (see here and here), and he is not a fan. When Mathematica released its latest study of TFA, Heilig read it closely and analyzed the findings. TFA boasted that the study showed that its teachers were just as good as those who had studied education and intended to be career teachers. Some readers gleaned from this finding that “anyone can teach, no professional preparation needed,” that is, if they graduate from a highly selective college and are admitted to TFA.


Heilig digs deeper and has a different take on the study. The main finding, he says, is that Mathematica found no statistically significant differences in the groups of teachers they studied. However, he points out, the TFA teachers were overwhelmingly white, and few had any intention of staying in teaching as a career.


He notes that the test of “effectiveness” in pre-K-grade 2 is a five minute test:


Equally effective at what?…Mathematica utilized performance on the Woodcock Johnson III for the Pre-K-2 results— which takes 5 minutes to administer. Thus, the effectiveness of TFA teachers compared to Pre-K – 2nd grade teachers is based on a five minute administration to capture letter-word identification (Pre-K – 2) and applied problems for mathematics Pre-K – 2). Furthermore, one of the more egregious issues in the study is the aggregation of grades is that of the states that have Pre-K programs, more than half of states do not even require Pre-K teachers to have a bachelor’s degree. The report does not state that lack of a degree was an exclusion criteria and it is explicit that community preschools were included, so it appears than an aggregate that includes not only alternatively certified but also non-degreed teachers worked to TFA’s advantage. Should we really be impressed that TFA teachers outperformed a group that could have included non-degreed teachers? And they do it twice: with kindergarten and with grades K, 1, and 2.


What are the lessons of the study? Heilig writes:


So the [TFA] teachers were— on average— young, White, and from selective colleges. They had not studied early childhood in college and had very little teaching experience. They reported a similar amount of “pedagogy” (primarily the 60 hours from the five week Summer Institute), and more professional development (as we discussed above, they viewed it not very valuable). TFA teachers also reported less student teaching experience before they entered the classroom. They also were more likely to be working with a formal mentor (I mentioned David Greene’s point about the drain on mentors due to the constant carousel of Teach For America teachers in and out of schools here). As new teachers, they spent more time planning their own lessons, but were less likely to to help other teachers. Finally, TFA teachers were less satisfied “with many aspects of teaching” and less likely to “plan to spend the rest of the career as a classroom teacher….”


In conclusion, read at face value, here is the message Mathematica appears to promulgate with the report:


We do not need experienced (read: more expensive) teachers when non-experienced, less expensive teachers get the “same” —though not statistically significant— outcomes.
We do not need a more diverse workforce of teachers, again, because TFA teachers, who are overwhelmingly white, get the same outcomes.
Is TFA really in alignment with a vision for providing every student a high quality teacher? Or do they, Mathematica et al. just keep telling us that they are?


For myself, I have read many times that Teach for America invites young people to “make history” by serving for two years. And Wendy Kopp has frequently said that “One day,” all children in America will have an excellent teacher. I have a hard time understanding the logic of these claims. If the TFA teachers get the same results as current teachers, how is that “making history”? If most TFA recruits leave after two years, how does that lead to the conclusion that one day all children will have an excellent teacher? If TFA persuades policymakers that teachers can do a good enough job with no professional preparation, doesn’t that decimate the idea of teaching as a profession? If anyone can teach so long as they went to a selective college, how does that raise the standard for teachers? If our policymakers prefer churn, with teachers leaving every two or three years to find their real career, how is that good for students? How does TFA improve the profession? It doesn’t. It eliminates it.


For his fearlessness, for his willingness to stand up to those with money and power, for his willingness to present the evidence as he finds it without fear or favor, I place Julian Vasquez Heilig on the honor roll of this blog. He is an example to all researchers of the ethics of his profession. To be an outstanding researcher requires years of study, scholarship, discipline, dedication, and experience. Sort of like being a great teacher.






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