Archives for category: Teach for America

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.

 

 

Gary Rubinstein, an alumnus of the early days of Teach for America, has become its most thoughtful critic. He is now a veteran high school teacher at Stuyvesant High School, one of Néw York City’s most prestigious (and one of its most selective) high schools. Gary had an epiphany several years ago. He rejected TFA’s boasting and its alliance with corporate-style reform. As a former corps member, Rubinstein feels a responsibility to be honest about TFA’s exaggerations.

 

In his ongoing effort to hold TFA accountable, he recently watched the webcast of TFA’s annual “What’s Next?” Conference. Last year, it was held in Tennessee, and the guest speaker was ex-TFA State Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who championed privatization and made teachers his enemies. This year, the conference was held in St. Louis without a celebrity TFA speaker. Rubinstein considered that a wise step, given the toxicity of some of them.

 

He writes:

 

“Last year we also got to see the good Kopp / bad Kopp dynamic between the two co-CEOs Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva-Beard. Kramer was the good Kopp with his remarks entitled “Embracing Change” while Villanueva-Beard played the role of bad Kopp as she delivered a speech entitled, if you can believe it, “We Won’t Back Down.” Aside from constantly using the phrase that will forever be associated with pro-charter school bomb of a movie, Villanueva-Beard exposed herself as a first class reformer complete with cartoonish caricatures about the ‘status quo’ and critics of the modern reform agenda who believe in low expectations for all but rich white kids. If one of the purposes of the ‘What’s Next?’ event was to help critics to see that TFA truly cared about their concerns, that speech certainly did not help with that.

 

“What a difference a year makes. On June 3rd, the 2015 edition of the ‘What’s Next?’ broadcast was filmed, this time in St. Louis. Rather than choose a place that was notable for standardized test score improvements, they chose a place where TFA actually did some good during the Ferguson protests..,..

 

“The next hour was a carefully scripted back and forth between co-CEOs. I’m always intrigued by these two. In 2011, while Wendy Kopp was still sole CEO, Kramer and Villanueva-Beard made about $600,000 between them for their old positions. I can only surmise that now that figure is closer to $800,000. You’ve got to admit is is kind of bizarre that you have co-CEOs of a $300 million a year company and one lives in Houston and the other in Minnesota while the corporate headquarters of TFA are in New York City. What is it they bring to the table that makes this a good use of the TFA money, as abundant as it might be? Well, there is one thing that TFA certainly gets from this arrangement. Whereas before you had a specific leader, someone you could like or not like, someone you could credit or blame. Now they have two people, both very timid public speakers. I don’t think anyone really thinks they are more than mere puppets so they are not really targets of any criticism. Before you could accuse Wendy Kopp of talking out of both sides of her mouth at times. Now there are literally two mouths so one can be expressing one idea and the other can be doing another and they can never be accused of being ‘a hypocrite.’ I doubt that this hedging the bets thing was the reason for this co-CEO arrangement, but it has given TFA this new dynamic which can make them more immune to criticism. Kramer and Villanueva-Beard: Which is the Yin and which is the Yang? Which is your buddy and which is your enemy? Which is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern?”

 

Rubinstein learned that TFA’s recruitment is down by about 30% in two years. He also noted a new tone, an effort to show that the leaders had heard critics, especially among alumni, and were listening.

 

He wrote:

 

“Whether this is just a new communications strategy to reverse the declining popularity of TFA in recent years or something they really believe, I don’t know. Even if they are just saying some of these things to make critics a bit less critical, I still think that it helps the cause of all the teachers out there opposed to the kind of education reform championed by people like Kevin Huffman. Though actions do speak louder than words, words are pretty important in their own right.”

 

TFA’s words have done a lot of damage over the years, certainly to experienced teachers and as well to the very idea of teacher professionalism. Rubinstein has some hope that they may be taking a new tack.

Yet when you consider that the leading alums of TFA have led the attacks on teachers–Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman, and John White–and when you think about TFA’s relentless efforts to demonstrate that teachers need only five weeks of training to be better than experienced teachers, it is hard to be hopeful about a deep change in TFA.

Humility would surely help. But more important would be a change in mission, going only where they are needed; serving as assistant teachers, not full-fledged teachers; refusing to replace experienced teachers who were laid off to cut costs; refusing to act as the labor force to staff non-union schools; abandoning their hubris.

Gary Rubinstein knows reformers better than most people. He started his career in Teach for America in Houston in the early 1990s and eventually became a career math teacher in New York City. He is one of the most perceptive critics of reform, having started in the early days of the movement.

In this post, he deconstructs the boasts of Kevin Huffman about the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Huffman is now trying to export this model to other states, despite its failure thus far to achieve its goals. Rubinsteinreviews the record of the ASD and finds it mixed at best:

“Just by the numbers, the results are truly mixed. Of the original 6 ASD schools that are currently in their third year under the ASD, two schools have improved, two have stayed about the same, and two have gotten worse.” Some success.

“ASD tries to put all the positive spin they can on their results, but the thing that they try not to mention is that in this past year the ASD got the lowest possible score on their ‘growth’ metric, a 1 out of 5. In Tennessee they take their ‘growth’ scores very seriously. They have been experimenting with this kind of metric for over twenty years and they base school closing decisions on it and also teacher evaluations. So it is hypocritical, though not surprising, that Huffman fails to mention that the ASD, on average, got the lowest possible score on this last year, and instead they focus on the two schools that have shown test score improvements.”

Rubinstein writes:

“There is absolutely no reason why Kevin Huffman should be given the opportunity to pitch his ideas to the Pennsylvania senate or in the media over there. It is like a state trying to improve their economy and asking for guidance from a man who got rich by winning the lottery. Huffman is a person who knows very little about education, but who has been very lucky to get to where he is. He taught first grade for two years, spent a bunch of years working for Teach For America, got appointed as Tennessee education commissioner mainly because of his famous ex-wife, and only managed to keep his job for three years before basically getting run out of town. He has gotten credit for the 4th and 8th grade NAEP gains between 2011 and 2013, but has taken none of the blame for the lack of progress for 12 graders or for the recent drops in the Tennessee State reading test scores. This is a new kind of phenomenon, the edu-celebrity who rises to power, leaves after a few years having accomplished very little, and then making a living as a consultant. Some gig.”

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.

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