Friday, February 24, 2012

Dishonest Discussion

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.

Data-based Decisions
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.


StopTFA said...

Maybe the data he's talking is the number of shills that got preferential Board speaking slots to pour out their passionate personal anecdotes of how AMAZING they are.

Or perhaps it is TFA's internal metrics, that must require a decoder ring to translate into whatever HMM wants 'em to say.

seattle citizen said...

"Not an Experiment
At no time... did anyone say anything about [TFA] being an experiment...testimony...discussion...The word "experiment" was never mentioned...
[R]ationalizations...but none of them included the idea that this was an experiment."

Hey! What a coincidence! The newest "rationalization" for charter schools in Washington is that they are widdle wee experiments! After months of other gibberish, the "experiment" propaganda is now being spread.

Are these two "experiments" connected behind the curtain to Gates, Broad, Scholastic, and the hedge fund profiteers? Probably.

Are they winning the propaganda war with the weapon of "dishonest discussion"? Yes.

Will the public become educated enough about this privatization - through propaganda of our public commonwealth - to do somehting about it?

seattle citizen said...

All the "data" anyone needs is available at ArneDuncan/ArielInvestment.com, data which suggests that our non-educator, investment-themed-charter operator Secretary of Education has to go. That Obama picked this guy to lead the national effort regarding public schools is simply ludicrous. It's Obama's biggest mistake, and one he ought to think about before he comes asking for support from voters next November.

seattle citizen said...

oh, and I made up the Arne Duncan/Ariel Investment website....It SHOULD exist but doesn't.

StopTFA said...

Costs are another type of "data". If SPS is found to have flim-flammed the limited certification process; delaying conditional certs; exceeding limits on emergency sub certs while fully-certificated substitutes were read to work; stating TFA would teach one subject while they in fact teach another (for which they are NOT highly qualified); then they deserve to have the book thrown at 'em. Here's where the risk for $$$ and noncompliant audit findings emerge. Yeah, we still haven't fixed the ones from years ago...

Anonymous said...

Melissa had a diary about the battles in charter world ... when it comes to ed DEform, there is them, and there is us.

But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking.

When the Star-Belly children went out to play ball,
Could a Plain Belly get in the game? Not at all.
You only could play if your bellies had stars
And the Plain-Belly children had none upon thars.


Anonymous said...

Ultimately, the only thing that counts is the vote of the board member. Rationalizations and revisions are irrelevant. Harium-Morris' attempts to logically defend his yes vote are no more egregious than the others who vote yes.

Harium Martin-Morris, Sherry Carr and Michael DeBell are going to have to live with themselves. Kay Smith Blum is going to have to live with her re-election campaign. This vote is going to (re?)define her.

--enough already

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, Sherry is not a sure thing (not if her words are to be considered). In an email she said that TFA was starting to be more trouble than it was worth. This was before we found out the time that HR and principals had to take for TFA. It was also before we had to hire a sub to babysit one of them.

Nick Hanauer also brought up TFA over at Publicola and mentioned the diversity they bring. Again, they didn't bring a whole lotta diversity to SPS (not based on their national recruiting numbers).

Charlie is right - let's have an honest discussion.

dan dempsey said...

There likely will be little in the way of honesty that can be supportive of the TFA contract and the "conditional certification" of TFA Corps Members. Many of the District's actions were clearly illegal.

(1) The Action Reports authorized Enfield to seek "conditional certifications" on the grounds that this was a Strategy to close achievement gaps.

1A... Enfield did not do that instead she sought conditional certification on the grounds that TFA CMs were "highly qualified and experienced in the subject matter to be taught" AND "had unusual distinction or exceptional talent demonstrated through public records or accomplishments and/or awards". Enfield was not authorized by the Board to do that and there was never any examination that even considered "exceptional Talent etc." of any of these TFA CMs.

1B... Enfield and the Board violated WAC 181-79A-231 as to seek conditional certification requires that a careful review of all other options to "conditional certification" has been performed. The Board was repeatedly questioned as to when this careful review was performed and no one ever responded.

1C... Is is abundantly clear that six board members violated their oath of office by granting the Superintendent permission to request "Conditional Certificates" when each knew that the WAC had not been satisfied.

1D... Enfield committed a legal violation when she submitted the applications for TFA CMs conditional certifications. See the application she signed on page 4 HERE. Is this perjury or forgery? .... Enfield chose Box 1 instead of Box 2... Why? ... and yet She confirmed it to be true that the applicant met the check marked conditions for application.

(2) WAC 181-79A-231 is very clear about conditional certificates and emergency substitute teaching certificates .... The District has clearly IGNORED legal requirements. Note OSPI makes the assumption that school superintendent Enfield is telling the truth.... OSPI does not check on the truth of claims made when "conditional Certificates" are sought.

(3) Look for Tony Martinez and the SAO to cover this ... when litigation ends... Initial filing is HERE ... The appellant's Trial Brief is due on April 16, 2012.

The outside legal firm Freimund, Jackson, and Tardiff is seeking a summary judgement for the district to end the legal appeal brought by Joy Anderson.


dan dempsey said...

If Harium actually wants some data ... He can try Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence By Julian V. Heilig and Su Jin Jez.

You can find a list of Heilig's publications HERE

Alternative Certification and Teach for America:
The Search for High Quality Teachers -- HERE.

See page 395 B

The debate over the specific impact of TFA and whether its recruits should be considered high quality teachers has been covered extensively in
education-related academic literature. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez recently conducted a comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed research on TFA.

Examining more than a decade’s worth of research examining TFA outcomes, the study concluded TFA teachers had a positive impact on student achievement in mathematics only when they had obtained training and certification beyond the typically two-year TFA classroom commitment.

TFA teachers rarely had a positive impact on reading achievement.

In fact, four peer-reviewed studies found novice TFA recruits to have significant negative effects on elementary students’ reading achievement when compared to fully-prepared teachers.

TFA recruits’ negative effects on achievement
also extended to mathematics in three of the studies.

Despite the decidedly mixed effects of its teachers noted in the peer-reviewed research, TFA
continues to claim, “Teach For America corps members are more effective than other teachers, including certified and veteran teachers.”

Anonymous said...

Here are the honest reasons that they are here IMHO.

1. Some of the wealthiest names in town want them here. Bezos. Gates. Assorted Seattle Foundation and Alliance for Education - types. Have to keep the patrons happy if you want them to support Seattle Public Schools.

2. TFAers are "best and brightest" - isn't that what Martin-Morris infamously said the first time around? Clearly these motivated students will do at least as good a job if not better than our old teachers and those only bright enough to go to school INTENDING to be a teacher, instead of a business manager, financier, etc.

3. Stritikus at the UW wanted them here and as a Dean he carries weight that the nonthinkers just go along with.

4. Everyone else thinks they're great, so we have to too! (Anyone remember The Emperor's New Clothes?)

In short, don't hold your breath waiting for an honest discussion because none of the education cocktail crowd will be dumb enough to say these things to a larger audience. Some of them are so closeted with their elitist biases that they probably don't even realize this is what their hearts believe.

I think TFA is one pain in the butt in time and energy spent that this town could do without. But I'd put money on the swing votes of Carr and Smith-Blum landing on the side of the Cool Kids. They both voted for the contract in the first place.


Melissa Westbrook said...

You forgot. Charter legislation - which would save the TFA program here in the region - seems to be weakening daily. If there is no kind of charter legislation, who will hire TFA?

StopTFA said...

Yeah, I'd be surprised if Federal Way goes courtin' again, especially since one TFAer up and quite eight weeks into the year.

Haven't heard that Renton or Kent rushed to sign on the dotted line.

Doubt that Bellevue's board would want to sleep with TFA after salivating after Enfield.

Highline? Their hands are full and they are trying to do the RIGHT thing, not experiments.

So, guess the billionaires can keep throwing good money after bad.

StopTFA said...

I've been trying to picture how the "research" on this experiment would look like. Let's see, we have a sample of five TFA, check. We would compare them to all 1st year teachers in SPS, check. We should set a level playing field so would make sure the students are all at the same level with regards to academics, language, cognitive abilities, home environment, check.

Oh, we would have to throw out two TFA teachers "effectiveness" scores because they have a TFA "volunteer" in their LA/SS classrooms every Friday. This volunteer is a former TFA, taught in private school, and is a published author. Now that might not be an apples to apples comparison. Wonder if they need to use Readers/Writers Workshop...

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