Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

This post was written by a lawyer who also earned an MAT in secondary education. Writing as a lawyer, informed by her Ed school experience, she says that Arne’s plan to punish education colleges if the students of their graduates don’t get high test scores is “asinine.”

 

She explains:

 

“Now, please bear with me. Out here in lawyer-land, there’s a slippery concept that every first year law student must wrap her head around: it’s the idea of distinguishing between actual (or “but for”) causation and proximate (or “legal”) causation. Actual causation is any one of a vast link in the chain of events from the world was created to Harold injured me by hitting me, that, at some level, whether direct or attenuated, “caused” my injury. For instance, Harold couldn’t have hit me if the world hadn’t been created, because if the world hadn’t been created, Harold wouldn’t exist (nor would I), and therefore I never would have been hit by Harold. So, if actual or “but for” causation was legally sufficient to hold someone responsible for an injury, I could try suing “the Creator,” as if the Creator is somehow at fault for Harold’s decision to hit me.

 

Well, that’s preposterous, even by lawyer standards, right?

 

The law agrees with you: the Creator is too far removed from the injury, and therefore cannot be held legally responsible for it.

 

So to commit a tort (legal wrong) against someone else, it isn’t sufficient that the wrong allegedly committed actually — at some attenuated level — caused the injured’s injury (i.e., that the injury would not have happened “but for” some cause). Instead, the wrong must also be proximally related to that injury: that is, there must be a close enough tie between the allegedly negligent or otherwise wrongful act and the injury that results. So while it would be silly to hold “the Creator” legally responsible for Harold hitting me, it would not be similarly silly to hold Harold responsible for hitting me. Harold’s act was not only an actual or “but for” cause of my injury, it was also an act closely enough related to my injury to confer legally liability onto Harold. This is what we lawyers call proximate (or legal) causation: that is, proximate causation is an act that is a close enough cause of the injury that it’s fair — at a basic, fundamental level — to hold the person who committed that injurious act legally responsible (i.e., liable to pay damages or otherwise make reparations) for his act. [As an aside to my aside, if this sort of reasoning makes your head explode, law school probably isn’t a great option for you.]

 

Well, it appears that Arne Duncan would have failed his torts class. You see, Arne didn’t get the memo regarding the distinction between actual causation and proximate causation. Instead, what Arne proposes is to hold teacher prep programs responsible for the performance of their alumni’s K-12 students (and to punish them if their alumni’s students don’t measure up). Never mind the myriad chains in the causation link between the program’s coursework and the performance of its graduates’ students (presumably on standardized tests). Arne Duncan somehow thinks that he can proximally — fairly — link these kids’ performance not just to their teachers (a dicey proposition on its own), but to their teachers’ prep programs. Apparently Arne can magically tease out all other factors, such as where an alumna teaches, what her students’ home lives are like, how her students’ socio-economic status affects their academic performance, the level of her students’ intrinsic motivation, as well as any issues in the new alumna’s personal life that might affect her performance in the classroom, and, of course, the level of support provided to the new alumna as a new teacher by her department and administration, and so forth. As any first year law student can tell you, Arne’s proposal is asinine, as the alumna’s student’s test results will be so far removed from her teaching program’s performance that ascribing proximate causation from the program to the children’s performance offends a reasonable person’s sense of justice. [Not to mention the perverse incentives this would create for teaching programs’ career advising centers — what teaching program would ever encourage a new teacher to take on a challenging teaching assignment?]”

 

But that isn’t all. She compares her experience in her education school to her experience in law school and says that the education courses were far more practical than the law school and did a better job preparing her for the real world.

Patrick Hayes, who teaches in Charleston, S.C., did extensive research on the salaries that were promised and the actual salaries that teachers receive.

 

Although teachers were promised a raise, most will receive less money.

 

How can any school district expect to recruit great teachers when they don’t pay professional wages?

 

Patrick Hayes, by the way, started an organization called EdFirstSC, to advocate on behalf of students, teachers, and public schools.

Peter Berger teaches English at Weathersfield High School in Vermont. He says that the amount of instructional time wasted for faux professional development days is absurd. Equally absurd is the time and money wasted on consultants touring the latest fad, who never were teachers.

Likewise, the new online Common Core tests are a boon to the tech corporations, but not to the students, who actually write more on paper-and-pencil tests.

“I’ve stood behind my eighth-grade students as they’ve taken several publishers’ Common Core era tests. The directions were convoluted, the questions frequently did “focus on small details” and isolated, obscure bits of literary terminology, rather than on “overall comprehension,” and the questions often were ambiguous. Many were actually indecipherable, with words missing and incorrectly arranged so that students were left asking me what the question meant, and I was left to fill in the syntactical blanks and guess what they were being asked to do.

“The myth that these assessments are scientifically designed to generate meaningful data is insupportable. Any such guarantee is a fraud. Last week’s test was accompanied by a notice that the assessment contractor had added five questions to the test this year, for a total of 20 questions, in order to “provide more accurate test scores and less fluctuation in scores between test windows.”

“In other words, students, teachers, and schools that failed last time, and suffered interventions and sanctions as a result, maybe didn’t fail. Of course, students, teachers, and schools that appeared to succeed maybe didn’t succeed.

“Oh, well.”

Who dreamed up all this nonsense?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan can’t get over his obsession with the idea that the only reason children don’t have higher test scores is because they have “bad teachers” with low expectations. He has consistently said that teachers’ colleges bear the blame for those “bad teachers.” Never having taught, he has strong opinions about how to fix teaching. He loves charter schools, especially those without unions; he loves Teach for America, because they are elite. He loves evaluating teachers, principals, schools, even teachers’ colleges, by student test scores.

 

David Berliner, one of our nation’s most eminent researchers, does not agree with Duncan. He has different ideas. He tells Duncan, as he once told his dean, how to solve the problems of teacher education.

 

Berliner writes:

 

 

“Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration want to improve teacher education. Me too. I always have. So I went to the president of the university I was then working at and showed him university data that I had collected. I informed him that a) we were running the cheapest program on campus, even cheaper to run than the English Literature and the History programs; and b) that some of our most expensive programs to run, computer science and various engineering programs, produced well-trained graduates that left the state. But teachers stayed in the state. I told my president he was wasting the states resources and investing unwisely.

 

“I told him that with the same amount of money as we spend on the students that leave the state I could design one year clinical programs so every teacher does clinical rotations in the classrooms of schools with different kinds of students, rotations modeled on medical education.”

 

Berliner has many other good ideas. Read them here. Arne should invite him to meet and hear his ideas on how to improve teacher education.

You don’t have to look far into the future to see the technology sector circling the schools, giving generously to elected officials, hyping the wonders of computers instead of teachers (so much cheaper, and computers never need a pension), and gently persuading legislatures to add online courses as graduation requirements. Consider the federally-funded tests for Common Core: all online, all requiring a massive investment in equipment, bandwidth and support services. The Golden Fleece: replacing teachers with computers.

 

Laura Chapman writes:

 

 

 

Latest Bamboozlers are the “on-line only” promoters of “learning,” no need for teachers.

 

In a press release dated February, 3, 2014 KnowledgeWorks and The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) announced their shared agenda for federal policies that would change “our entire K-12 education system” to fit a student-centered learning environment with demonstrations of competency, free of traditional notions of schools, teachers, and student learning.

 

The policy report addressed to federal officials calls for the status quo on requiring students to meet college-and career-ready standards, but these standards would be aligned with specific competencies mapped into the idea of optimum trajectories for learning that will lead to graduation. Individual students would be tracked on the “pace” of their mastery through the use of on-line and “real-time” data. The data for each student is supposed to inform the instruction, supports, and interventions needed by each student in order to graduate.

 

This vision requires competency-based interpretations of the college-and career-ready standards and measures of those competencies. It requires a recommendation system (data-driven guide) for prioritizing required learning and ensuring continuous improvement in learning until graduation.

 

The vision calls for federal funding to states and districts for developing “personalized learning pathways” (PLPs) for students along with the infrastructure needed to produce real-time data for just-in-time recommendations for the interventions and supports needed to move students to college and career readiness.

 

The system in intended to build reports on the progress of individual students relative to mastery, or a high level of competency, for the college and career readiness standards.

 

In addition to keeping individuals “on-pace” in demonstrating standards-aligned competencies, this entire system is envisioned as offering “useful information for accountability, better teaching and learning, and measures of quality in education.”

 

In effect, programmed instruction is the solution for securing student compliance with the Common Core State Standards, assuring their entry into college and a career, with “instructional designers and programmers” the surrogates for teachers. Teachers are not needed because the out-of-sight designers and programmers build the recommendation systems for needed “interventions,” also known as “playlists.”

 

This is a souped-up version of vintage 1950s programmed instruction amplified in scope and detail by technology–on-line playlists and monitors of PLPs–personal learning plans–available anytime.

 

In fact, students get one-size-fits education, at the rate they can manage. The rate learning is optimized by computers programmed to lead students to and from the needed playlists of activities (e.g., subroutines that function as reviews, simple re-teaching, new warm-ups for the main learning event or subsets of methods for presenting the same concept). The student does what the computer says and the computer decides if and when mastery or some other criterion for competence has been achieved.

 

The selling framework is for “personalized, competency-based student-centered learning in a de-institutionalized environment.

 

Out of view are scenarios where all education is offered by “learning agents” who broker educational services offered by a mix of for-profit and non-profit providers. Token public schools remain in the mix, but are radically reduced in number and the loss becomes a self-fulling prophesy justifying radical cuts in state support. Profit seekers, together with volunteers and “20-year commitments from foundations” provide for “students in need. This is one of several scenarios from KnowledgWorks.

 

 

The quest for federal funds is found here at http://knowledgeworks.org/building-capacity-systems-change-federal-policy-framework-competency-education#sthash.Nr0OpfWq.dpuf

 

See more at the CompetencyWorks website http://bit.ly/cwk12fedpolicy

Peter Greene noted that Minneapolis followed the terrible examples of Los Angeles in 2010 and New York City in 2012 and published teachers’ value-added ratings in the newspapers for all to see. Even Bill Gates objected to this practice and said in a New York Times article that it would harm the relationship between supervisors and teachers to publish job ratings in the paper. Gates said that publishing VAM scores was an act of “public shaming” and no good would come of it.

 

Greene writes:

 

As promised, this morning brought the publishing of teacher ratings, including VAM scores, with a map and a pearl-clutching interview with the district’s superintendent. The gap is shocking, alarming, inexplicable.

 

I’m speaking of course of the apparent gap between Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s brain and reality. How does somebody with this gigantic an inability to process data end up as a superintendent of a major school system?

 

Superintendent Johnson is shocked– shocked!!– to find that under this evaluation system, it turns out that all the worst teachers are working in all the poorest schools! Hmmm– the poorest schools have the worst results. What’s the only possible explanation? Teachers!! [Pause for the sound of me banging my head on the desk.]

 

“It’s alarming that it took this to understand where teachers are,” Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Friday. “We probably knew that, but now have the hard evidence. It made me think about how we need to change our staffing and retention.”

 

No, Superintendent Johnson. What’s alarming is that you don’t understand a damn thing.

 

Here’s what you have “discovered.” If you rip the roof off a classroom, the teachers that you send to teach in that classroom will get wet when it rains. You cannot “fix” that by changing the teacher.

 

But apparently that’s the solution being considered. “Okay,” says Superintendent Johnson. “Over here we have teachers who stay dry and their students stay dry, so we’ll put this dry teacher in the classroom without a roof and have a dry teacher for the wet rooms. That’ll fix it.”

 

And Superintendent Johnson appears willing to go further. “Maybe we just need to fire the wet teachers and replace them with new, dry ones,” she may be thinking. [Sound of me banging my head against the concrete slab of my basement floor.]

 

If you want a dry teacher in the room, build a damn roof on it.

 

Look. Look look look look look. We already know that poverty absolutely correlates with test results. Show me your tests results and I will show you where your low-income students are. Poverty and lack of resources and underfunding put these students in a classroom without a roof, and anybody you put in there with them will be a wet teacher.

 

Build a damn roof.

 

Minneapolis public school officials say they are already taking immediate action to balance schools’ needs with teachers’ abilities. The district has created programs to encourage effective instructors to teach at high-needs schools and mentor the newest teachers. District officials say they are providing immediate training for teachers who are deficient. And last year, the district fired more than 200 teachers, roughly 6 percent of its teaching staff.

 

Wrong. All wrong. In fact, worse than wrong, because you are now in the position of saying, “Hey, over here we have a room with no roof on it, and if you teach in there and get wet when it rains, we intend to punish you. Now– who wants to volunteer to teach in the roofless room?? Also, we’ll probably smear your good name in the local paper, too. Any takers?”

 

And to the students, sitting in that roofless room day after day, shivering and wet as poverty and lack of resources and insufficient materials and neglect by the central office rain down on them, this sends a terrible message. “We know you are sick and wet in your roofless room,” says the district. “So we are not sending a roof or even ponchos or an umbrella. We’re not going to spend a cent more on you. We’re just going to stand a different teacher up in front of you, to see if she gets wet when it rains.”

 

 

Nancy F. Chewning, an assistant principal in Roanoke, Virginia, eviscerated TIME magazine for its cover story about teachers who are allegedly “Rotten Apples.” This impassioned article went viral.

“Have you characterized doctors or nurses on your cover as Rotten Apples? You have not. Is the government setting impossible benchmarks for doctors and nurses to make to correct this problem? No, they are not. Why? Because money talks in this country. The American Medical Association spent $18,250,000 in 2013 and $15,070,000 so far in 2014 lobbying our government; in fact, they rank number 8 in terms of organizations lobbying our government for influence. The NEA isn’t even in the ball park with the AMA, as they rank 221st.

“As Senator Elizabeth Warren has so aptly stated, “The system is rigged,” and it is definitely rigged against public education. In the latest Gallup poll, 75% of American parents said they were satisfied with the quality of education their child was receiving in public schools. However, the latest Gallup poll showed that only 14% of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job. Have you done a cover calling Congress Rotten Apples? Why no, you have not. In fact, I checked your covers for the last two years and not once have you said a disparaging word about Congress on your cover. Yet, the approval rating for teachers is 75%, and you have chosen to go after them. Why is that? Is it because as Gawker revealed earlier this year that your writers and editorial staff are required to “produce content that is beneficial to advertiser relationship”? So, was this attack on teachers really about pleasing advertisers and perhaps a billionaire from Silicon Valley with deep pockets as well?”

She notes that no teachers were interviewed for the story.

Jose Luis Vilson is a math teacher. Not just any math teacher. He is also a poet, a blogger, an activist, an outspoken professional. His blog, thejosevilson.com, is immensely popular. I am writing about Vilson today because I hope you will read his book. This Is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education.

The book is an autobiography, but it is also—as the subtitle says—a reflection on race, class, and education. As you read it, you have the opportunity to walk in Vilson’s shoes. To understand where he came from and how he became a teacher. He grew up in a mixed-race family (a Haitian father and Dominican mother), so he is both black and Hispanic. He was raised by a single mother; when a new stepfather moved in, he was often beaten for little or no reason. The family moved to the Lower East Side when he was a child, and he became accustomed to seeing rats and roaches as part of everyday life. And yet, despite all adversities, despite a deck that was decidedly stacked against him, he exuded confidence, confidence in himself and in his ability to succeed. His mother was determined that he would get a good education, and Jose took to education naturally. He loved learning, and he excelled in school. He went to PS 140, a neighborhood public elementary school, where his teachers encouraged him, then to an independent Catholic middle school (Nativity Mission School on the Lower East Side, where he had a strong mentor), and to Xavier, a Jesuit high school, where he was one of a small number of students of color. There, the issue of race became important in discussions of who would be included, who would participate, who would be slighted. In each of his schools, he remembers the teachers who touched his life and changed it.

Vilson went to Syracuse University, where he intended to become a computer scientist. Even as he studied his major field, he had some concern about spending the rest of his life staring at computer code. After he graduated, he decided to try teaching. He applied to Teach for America, but was rejected. Then he applied to the New York City Teaching Fellows, another alternate program but one that (unlike TFA) prepares teachers who are likely to make a career in the classroom. He was accepted, worked with a cohort, and eventually earned a degree from City College of New York.

The balance of the book describes Vilson’s experiences in the classroom. He is assigned to a middle school where most students are black, Hispanic, and poor. He identifies with them. But beyond identifying with them, he must teach them, get their attention, persuade them about the importance of mathematics, deal with angry and belligerent students, figure out how to respond to students who challenge him with humor or ridicule or hostility. If you want to know what it is like to teach in an urban school, read this book. Vilson does not spare himself. He is honest about his mistakes and celebrates small victories. He has no great love or respect for “the system,” but it is just one more obstacle to overcome as he concentrates on teaching the students in his care.

Through the book runs references to rap music, to Hip-Hop, to other cultural references that flow naturally among those a generation far younger than mine and in a culture that is not mine. And yet, of course, it works for Vilson, because it is his generation and his culture. These references help to illustrate one of his central themes: that teachers must be able to identify with their students to understand them, to get below their surface, to make connections beyond academics, in order to reach them and teach them. He cares deeply what his students think and feel.

He admires Jaime Escalante, the math teacher who inspired Hispanic students in Los Angeles to excel in math. When he gets word that the administration of his school is planning to give him a U (unsatisfactory) rating (which is likely to end his career as an untenured teacher) because his bulletin board was ordinary, he hangs a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech (“I’ve Been to the Mountain Top”) on his classroom desk, reminding him to feel no fear. He did not get that U rating.

As Vilson becomes a more confident teacher, he becomes a more outspoken activist. He is not shy. He advocates for more teachers of color in the classrooms where children are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. When he attends conferences, he often finds himself the only person who is black (or Hispanic), and he makes sure to make enough noise so that next year’s conference will include more teachers of color, so that the issue of diversity becomes important to the conference organizers. He becomes an advocate for “teacher voice,” aware that most decisions about how and what to teach are all too often made by people who never set foot in a classroom or did so years ago.

He offers tips to other teachers: Get your students’ respect; “don’t try to change them, try to know them”; show up to student activities, like basketball games, talent shows, to show your support; talk to them; humble yourself; “celebrate and accentuate the positive”: most of your students are trying hard and want to succeed; celebrate their achievements.

When Jose Luis Vilson starts his blog, he gains a national following and finds himself invited to national conferences. He uses his new-found acclaim to advocate for kids and other teachers.

Yes, he has written a new narrative on race, class, and education. But he has also written an inspiring account of what it means to teach. He loves teaching. It defines him. He writes:

“Teaching grasps the soul like a finger probing, not clenching, the heart. It begs you to advocate on behalf of the children, even when you least expect to. Teachers learn to be selfless, to deliver sincerely no matter what’s happening in their personal lives. Despite my difficulties with my homeroom, my administration, or other teachers, when I walk into my classroom I’m given another reason to love what I do. I rarely ever have two bad days in a row (or else!). I love walking into school knowing that it’s not going to be the same exact job it was a day, a month, or a year ago. A student always finds a way to inspire me or crack me the hell up. The only real feedback I need is from the students in front of me.
“Teaching has given me no choice but to activate my best inner qualities and to accept and embrace that I will never stop being a student myself. I love that every day there’s a new set of problems for me to solve. Even as I’m teaching my kids math, I’m learning along with them…..

“I hope that becoming a key player in the lives of hundreds of students a year will fuel your fire—knowing that it’s not enough to simply do, but that you must leave a legacy of doing. As a teacher you will play such an important part in your students’ lives that even when they forget the specifics of what you taught them, they’ll remember the feelings and life lessons you left them with, the impression that someone other than their parents (if applicable) cared enough to spur them toward their own success.

“You can make the difference.”

Jose Luis Vilson gives his readers a heavy dose of honesty, self-reflection, and insight. He cares passionately about his students. He fights for them (and occasionally spars with them). He loves his work. How many people can say, as Vilson, does, that they love what they do? That is what the detractors of teachers never understand; it is a joy that they will not experience. Vilson shares his joy and his experience.

Greta Callahan’s article about teaching kindergarten in Minneapolis went viral. She wrote her article in response to one that appeared in the same paper asserting the “worst teachers are in the poorest schools.” She teaches in one of the poorest schools, and she tells her story.

 

To those who parrot the false claim that low test scores are caused by “bad teachers,” she offers a counter-narrative. She explains the burdens suffered by her students and the stress of being evaluated by a rubric that makes no sense.

 

Let’s start with what it means to be a “good teacher.” As the article says: “The district uses three different tools to evaluate teachers: classroom observations, a student survey and student achievement data.” Let’s put that into the perspective of a Bethune kindergarten teacher.

 

• Classroom observations: We have four per year. The teacher receives points based on standardized criteria; the feedback is generally helpful. But these observations also involve the observer walking up to students and asking what they are doing. Even my 5-year-olds, who may have just started school, get asked this question. The student is supposed to regurgitate the “I can” statement that correlates to “Focused Instruction.” The usual response, though, is something along the lines of “math” or “Jaden took my crayon!”

 

If you were in my room, observing an observation, you would laugh. I promise.

 

• Student surveys: I administer a student survey once a year. My 5-year-olds have to circle their responses (even though they can’t read) to questions about their teacher and school. Have you been around a 5-year-old? They are adorable, spacey, loud and unfocused — and under no circumstances does this student survey make sense for them or to them.

 

• Student achievement data: Two to three times a year, our students are pulled out of our classrooms and tested by a stranger from the district. When she asks our kids to go into a separate room with her and gives them a test, most of them shut down. It’s intimidating to them. Some are asked to take this test in the middle of breakfast; others are tested right after recess. The inconsistency of when our children are tested creates a test that isn’t being measured consistently or accurately, in my opinion.

 

These are the “achievement data” that are referenced in the article. The scores are often low and rarely reflect the students’ actual achievements. My fellow teachers and I have plenty of conflicting and affirming evidence to support our students’ actual achievements, growth and knowledge. But this evidence is not considered when determining the effectiveness of a teacher.

 

Recruiting and retaining teachers at a high-poverty school present unusual challenges:

 

The retention rate of teachers at my school and others like it will not go up unless we have more incentive to stay — and more assistance to attempt to give our students an even chance.

 

At Bethune, many of our students are what most Americans would define as starving. At least a third are HHM (homeless/highly mobile), see violence in their homes or neighborhoods regularly and come to school with baggage many of us couldn’t imagine, let alone at age 5. Yet they are expected to meet the standards of kindergartners at upwardly mobile neighborhood schools like Burroughs and Hale. As far as the tests are concerned, a teacher is a teacher and a student is a student.

 

There are plenty of reasons why a teacher might not want to teach in a school like Bethune. Say, physical safety. Within the last two weeks, I have been slapped so hard in the face by a student that I had to seek emergency care; have been threatened by a student who said he was going to go home, come back and hurt me, because I wrote him up for hurting one of my kindergartners, and have broken up numerous fights. My fellow teachers and I have had parents threaten our safety more times than I can count — threats delivered on school property, in front of students. And, lest anyone be misinformed, there is no combat pay for working at a school like mine.

 

My children are happy to come to school and they are eager to learn. But sometimes they just lose it. A student will throw a chair across the room, or scissors at other students, or kick and punch me. It takes time, love and energy to find out why they are doing this. Many are imitating behaviors they see at home. Sometimes they have bottled-up feelings about something they have experienced and don’t know how to handle their anger. So, I teach them. I love them. I’m consistently there for them. I report their situation to Hennepin County all too often.

Many of our children do not have someone who will look over their work with them at night or take them to an activity. Our parents are generally very young and trying their best. It takes a village, but our village is poverty-stricken in every imaginable way.

 

Please read Greta Callahan’s article. She says succinctly what most teachers experience and know: Teaching is hard work. Low scores are caused not by “bad teachers,” but by terrible life circumstances that harm children and families. Of course, teachers should be evaluated, but not in the idiotic way she describes. Teachers who flounder need help and peer assistance. If they can’t teach, after sustained efforts to help them, they should leave teaching. But the narrative of “bad teachers cause low scores” is wrong. It ignores the effects of the single biggest blight on our society: growing poverty and inequality.

 

One of our regular readers posted a comment lInking to this blog post by David Cohen. Cohen is a National Board Certified Teacher and a member of a group in called Accomplished California Teachers. He teaches high school students in Palo Alto. He takes teaching very seriously. He took off this year to travel the state and document the work of excellent teachers.

In the post, he describes an exchange he had with Wendy Kopp on public radio. Here is the key part of their exchange:

“I put in a call myself, and was on the air in the final eight or nine minutes of the program if you care to listen to the audio online. Paraphrasing myself from memory here, I tried to make the point that TFA corps members are generally sent to low-performing schools that suffer from a lack of stability. There, more experienced teachers devote a great amount of time and effort to help train and support their new, TFA colleagues, even though TFA is not really dedicated to the idea that their corps members should remain in teaching as a long-term career. (I’m not arguing that they’re against that idea, but their vision is about seeing their alumni distributed throughout the education and political system). I expressed my concern that the TFA model does not concern itself in promoting stability in the schools that need it most. I passed along what I have read and heard about TFA teachers being under intense pressure to generate great results, to the point that they make a fetish of “achievement” data. To me, it looks like a recipe to produce a younger, cheaper, and more compliant teaching force, while logic, models from other professions, and any international schools comparison would suggest that we need to cultivate a stable, experienced, professional cadre of career teachers.

“Wendy Kopp’s reply came in two parts. One: “Read my book.” Two: it’s unfortunate that the education reform debate has resulted in people resisting innovation.

“If either of those parts of her reply really answers my questions about TFA, I fail to see it. Her book may or may not answer my question, but she had the microphone and the time to make the case to me and the listeners (how many of whom do you think have read the book?). Instead, she ducked the question. The suggestion that my comment was about resisting innovation was just a nicer version of “if you disagree with us then you support the status quo.”

This conversation reminded me of the time I debated Wendy Kopp at the Aspen Ideas Festival in 2011. Given the nature of the crowd (very pro-TFA, pro-corporate reform), I felt like someone thrown to the lions in the Colosseum of Ancient Rome.

Wendy said that TFA had proven that it was possible to close the achievement gap, that success was not elusive, that TFA had proven “it can be done.” Her three examples of districts where TFA had closed the achievement gap were New Orleans, New York City, and the District of Columbia. None of this was true, but arguing with Wendy, I found, was like trying to grab hold of Jello. No matter what evidence I put forward, she blithely ignored it and stuck to her talking points. TFA was a huge success because she said so. End of story.

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