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.