Archives for posts with tag: Teach for America

Gary Rubinstein is well known to readers of this blog, as I have posted almost all of his blogs. He is a career high school math teacher in the New York City public schools. I met Gary about ten years ago, when I had made a complete turnaround in my views about testing and choice. I was working on an article about “miracle schools” that fudged their data and discovered that Gary was an expert on reviewing school-level data and exposing frauds. He helped me write an article (“Waiting for a Miracle School”) that appeared in the New York Times in 2011, and he has continued to be a friend ever since. Gary’s analytical skills have been invaluable in fighting off idiotic “reforms,” like evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores (known as VAM). In his multiple posts on that subject, he showed its many flaws. For example, an elementary teacher might get a high score in reading and a low score in math, posing the dilemma of whether the district could fire her in one subject while giving her a bonus in the other. I confess that I am a person of The Word, and I have never taken the time to learn how to put graphics into my posts. I can’t even reproduce charts. I only do words. So when I need to post a pdf or a graphic or anything else that is not words, I turn to Gary for help and he is always there for me. In addition to being a math and computer whiz, Gary is an author. As most of you know, Gary began his career working for Teach for America. As he explains below, he became disillusioned with the “reform” spin just as I became disillusioned with the propaganda about testing and choice. Gary writes about how strange it is to be frequently attacked on Twitter and other social media by “reformers.” My admiration for him is boundless.

Gary writes:

I got into blogging almost exactly ten years ago, just after the Teach For America 20 anniversary alumni summit.  Until that time, I was unaware of the politics of education and the emerging education reform movement.  I had seen ‘Waiting For Superman’ and knew it was propaganda, but I didn’t quite understand who was benefiting from it or what the possible negative side effects of it could be.

But at that conference it became very clear to me what was going on during a ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel discussion.  I watched as Michelle Rhee, whom I had known from years earlier when we worked together at the Teach For America training institute, and Dave Levin, who I had known for a lot of years from when we were teaching in Houston around the same time.  At the end of the conference, Arne Duncan made an odd speech about how great it was that he shut down a school and fired all the teachers and now it is a charter school in which every student supposedly graduated and got into college.

It sounded fishy to me.  Having worked, by that time, at three different schools that had low standardized test scores, I knew that a school can have good teachers but still have low test scores.  I suspected that there was more to the story than Arne Duncan was saying so I did my first investigation.  Little did I know that it would lead to a ten year adventure that would give me the opportunity to be an investigative journalist and help save the world.  As an added bonus, I made a lot of friends, got a following to read my writing, appeared on NPR and also on a TV show called ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’  But there was a downside to this attention because I also became a target of various known and unknown internet personalities who have attacked, ridiculed, and slandered me.  I think that on balance the good outweighed the bad, but it is sad to me that I have had blog posts about what an awful person I am and there have been podcasts about how I don’t believe in the potential of all children.  Students of mine have googled me and located some of these smears and asked me about them.  It’s hard to explain to them that I’m embroiled in a strange war where the FOX news of education wants to vilify me for telling the truth.

Here is a recent example where Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, the CEO of the Education Post website, compares my views with those of Charles Murray of ‘The Bell Curve’ fame.

I suppose my story is that I was the right person at the right time and in the right place.  The small group of resistors to the misguided bipartisan teacher-bashing agenda needed someone like me.  I was a Teach For America alum so I had that whole ‘war veteran against the war’ kind of credibility.  I was very patient and able to comb through state data.  I was a math major in college so I was able to do some basic statistics and make the scatter plots that helped the cause so much.  You may or may not know that I have slowed down a lot on my blogging.  After about 7 years of intense blogging, I started to burn out.  Fortunately other bloggers came on the scene and took up the cause and have been great.  I do try to blog from time to time still, but I have also been doing other projects, like my recent effort to explain all the essentials of elementary school, middle school, and high school math in one ten hour YouTube playlist.  These efforts come from the same source — the desire to help students learn.  Whether it is by fighting off a destructive element or in providing a free resource that anyone in the world can access, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years.

I want to thank the great Diane Ravitch for taking me under her wing and for being a great mentor and friend.  I wish for her a speedy recovery from her surgery.

Here is a presentation I did at Tufts University describing my journey from teacher to crusader:

This is the story of the destruction of John McDonogh High School in New Orleans. Once a community hub, it was taken over in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Students, alumni, and community members have repeatedly appealed, demonstrated, and gone to the state board to seek the return of the school as a public school. They have been stymied and rebuffed again and again by State Superintendent John White and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. This post is a chronology of events at John McDonogh, from 2005 to the present. Those in the local community who remember what the school was continue to fight for its revival.

At one point, John White promised to consider a plan but then abruptly turned the school over to Steve Barr, who long ago created the Green Dot charter chain and then started a new charter chain called the Future is Now (FIN). Oprah filmed a show about Barr’s new charter school in New Orleans and promised to follow what she was sure would be the miraculous transformation of a “failing school” into a great charter school. Scores plummeted at John McDonogh under FIN, and the charter left town.

Students, parents, and alumni again returned to the state board, pleading for their school to be turned back into a public school. Again, they were rebuffed by a board stacked with charter-friendly, TFA-friendly members. The member who was most consequential in rejecting the community was Kira Orange-Jones, who was elected to the board while she was executive director for TFA in the state. The expansion of charter schools in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and elsewhere depends on the continuing flow of inexperienced TFA corps members who are happy to work 60-70 hours a week and leave after two or three years.

What you will see as you read this account is a remarkable number of overlapping relationships, conflicts of interests, and collusion among “reform” groups to disempower the local community and keep control far away from them.

The post reminds me of Kristen Buras’ study of New Orleans titled “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.” Buras documented the fact that New Orleans public schools were underfunded before the hurricane in 2005. Once the district was taken over by the state, money began to flow by the tens–maybe hundreds– of millions from the federal government and philanthropies. The more charters, the more outside money. Charters were never underfunded.

In the latest round over the future of John McDonogh High School, the Recovery School Board decided to turn it into a charter elementary school “focusing on engineering and exploration.” The friends and alumni of John Mac lost again. They plan to appeal the decision. What are their chances? The powerful in Louisiana do not want any public schools in New Orleans.