The Seattle School Board will soon consider terminating the District's contract with Teach for America. There is disagreement about this on the School Board, so we are likely to hear a discussion of the question with Board directors advocating for each side. This is good and healthy. This is what democracy looks like. I welcome a full discussion regardless of the eventual conclusion. I will, however, be deeply disappointed if the discussion is not honest. We have already seen the start of a dishonest discussion. This dishonest discussion needs to be stopped and it is the other Board directors who need to stop it. They need to stop it by exposing the dishonesty the moment it appears.
When the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee met and decided to advance this motion to the full board, one of the Board directors, Harium Martin-Morris, spoke against the termination of the Teach for America contract. Mr. Martin-Morris made one of the most loathsome and dishonest statements I have ever heard from a school board director. He said that the Board should make data-based decisions and that it was pre-mature to terminate the contract with Teach for America because they did not yet have the results of this experiment. There are so many lies packed into that statement that I'm going to need some time and space to unpack them all.
The pretension that the Board, and Director Martin-Morris in particular, has any sincere interest in making decisions based on data is a bald-faced lie. It doesn't take Dan Dempsey to list all of the failures in this area. We can start with the contract with New Technologies Network, that wasn't based on any data - at least not any real data. But why even go even that far afield? The contract with Teach for America was not based on any data. If we want to make decisions based on data then we should terminate this contract just to un-do a decision that was not data-based. As everyone will recall, there was a great deal of testimony about the contract with Teach for America. All of those speaking against the contract quoted data - lots and lots of data. Those speaking in favor of the contract did not quote any data at all; they relied on anecdotes and inspiring stories. The data presented to the Board and Director Martin-Morris shows that Teach for America corps members are about as effective as traditionally certificated novice teachers. The data also shows that novice teachers are the least effective teachers. So Teach for America corps members are as effective as the least effective certificated teachers. That does not recommend them. The data would indicate that not only should the District terminate this contract, but that the District should never have entered into it in the first place.
Lies Backed by Lies
Director Martin-Morris has a ready answer for the criticism that the Board ignored the data when entering into the contract with Teach for America. Two, in fact. He described them at the C & I meeting. First, he said that he's not interested in how Teach for America performed in other cities. He's only interested in the results from Seattle. So only Seattle data matters. He also has decided that all of that other data is "inconclusive". If we ignore any experience outside Seattle - a very strange standard to apply, one that we do not apply in any other context - it still leaves us with the fact that the District entered into the contract without any data to support the proposal. The same is true if we were to accept the data from other districts, but conclude that it's all inconclusive anyway. So if Director Martin-Morris were sincere about making decisions based on data he should have rejected the proposal to contract with Teach for America because there is no data to support the idea - certainly no local data and no conclusive data from other districts.
No Results from the Experiment - Three Lies
Director Martin-Morris' laughable fiction that we need to wait until we have data from the experimental contract with Teach for America holds three different lies: that the contract with Teach for America is an experiment, that the "experiment" has yet to yield data, and that we will have data someday in the future.
Not an Experiment
At no time during the discussion of the contract with Teach for America did anyone say anything about it being an experiment. There was a lot of testimony; there was a lot of discussion. The word "experiment" was never mentioned. There were a fistful of the rationalizations for the contract, but none of them included the idea that this was an experiment. On the contrary, many of them contradict the notion that the contract is an experiment. The Board Action Report didn't suggest any such thing. The applications for certification for the corps members doesn't mention anything about an experiment. There is no hypothesis, no control group (we're trying lots of different things all at once), no benchmarks, no metrics, no assessment. There are none of the required elements of an experiment. I don't recall anyone telling families that their children were test subjects in an experiment. The whole experiment rationalization is a construction of revisionist history. Here's a hot tip for Director Martin-Morris and other aspiring flim-flam scammers - when proposing a false history don't propose it to those who lived it first hand, don't do it within a year of the event while memories are still fresh, and don't do it when the history is well-documented and proves you false.
We DO Have Data
If Teach for America were an experiment, we already have our results. Only six corps members - and only five with alternative certification - were hired. The "experiment", if it were one, has proven a failure. The principals don't want them. There are your results from this experiment.
Teacher Effectiveness or Gap Closing Data
I suspect that the data that Director Martin-Morris is looking for will speak to teacher effectiveness or closing the academic achievement gap. He won't get it. There are only six Teach for America corps members in Seattle and one of them had a traditional certification. That means that there are only five subjects in this "experiment". That's not nearly enough to form a statistically significant sample. These five people cannot represent all of Teach for America. No matter the outcomes - good, bad, or indifferent - we won't be able to draw any meaningful conclusion from this tiny speck of data. There's no reason to defer the decision until the end of the school year to see how the corps members do, because we won't have any better data at that time than we have now. That just goes to show, even further, that this is no experiment. I'm also having a little trouble imagining the Board discussing the performance of individual teachers like this. That's not really the Seattle way.
Let's Just Be Honest
I know that there are people who will argue in favor of continuing the contract with Teach for America. There is a case to be made for that side of the discussion, and I am looking forward to hearing that case made and made honestly. But let's have an honest discussion. Let's not stoop to these dishonest practices of claiming that the contract is an experiment, that we don't have data from it yet, that we will have useful data at the end of the year, or that we will base our decisions on data. Those are lies and they should be exposed as lies the moment they are pronounced by anyone low enough to give throat to them.