Archives for category: Teach for America

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.

 

 

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.

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