Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Ed Reformers

I thought it might be a good idea to review who's out there and what they have been doing.
Of course, the Big Daddy of ed reform (for elected officials) is none other than Arne Duncan.  He seems determined to stay (and stay the course) until the President leaves office.  But Duncan is seeing his "my way or the highway" backfire on him as time has gone by.  He rolled out Race to the Top to both lure and scare districts only to see that the heavy lift of applying made many districts turn away.  I've had yet to hear a news story that has extolled the successes from RttT.  As well, the rewriting of NCLB is likely to see the role of Secretary of Education diminish from the dizzying heights that Duncan took it to during his years as Secretary.

The private Big Daddy of ed reform is none other than Bill Gates.  Looking at his work list, I think you can see a lot of "I created this group and this group and this data cloud" on and on.  But what did he truly accomplish?  It's difficult to discern beyond the biggie of Common Core which was built on his financing of it.

A recent NY Times op-ed by Nicholas Kristof tried to imagine the pillow talk of Mr. and Mrs. Gates.

By my conservative back-of-envelope calculations, the world has saved more than 33 million children’s lives since the foundation was established (although obviously the foundation doesn’t get all the credit). And Bill and Melinda Gates foresee the world saving 61 million children’s lives over the next 15 years with the right investments, as child death rates drop more quickly than they ever have in the history of the world.

That’s the amazing news. In contrast, they acknowledge, the foundation’s investments in education here in the United States haven’t paid off as well.

“There’s no dramatic change,” Bill acknowledged. “It’s not like under-5 mortality, where you see this dramatic improvement.”

I would agree with Mr. Gates; giving a child a vaccine is a pretty quick and easy save.  Trying to understand what creates better public education is a much larger issue.   

Naturally, they have joined the bandwagon of pre-k.  Don't get me wrong, I think preschool is vital especially for at-risk students.  But it always bringing a smile to my face imagining the memo that either got e-mailed or faxed about a year ago that said, "New talking point - preschool."  The Gates say that now includes birth to five (and, coincidentally, the King County Council is putting forth on the November ballot...a levy for birth to five services).

But when I asked about their legacy, Bill didn’t much want to talk about it.

“Legacy?” he asked. “We don’t optimize for that.”

Two of his public education favorites - Teach for America and Stand for Children - are worth a look at as well.

Let's look at Stand from a great blog, Opt-Out Oregon and their view of what happened in Oregon.  They have a good 5-minute video about the changes from, yes, a grassroots group to what it is today.

(To this day, I have never met a parent who is a member of Stand for Children.  Not one single person who wasn't employed by them.  I recall when Seattle Magazine did a photo shoot of public education activists, including Lauren McGuire who was Seattle Council PTSA president at the time, the director of Stand made the rest of us wait and then, when she showed up, didn't even apologize.)

Stand is funded by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation. 

Stand for Children is having a luncheon - Changing the Odds - in September and their featured speaker is Joel Klein, the former Chancellor of the NYC department of Education.  Don't know Mr. Klein's work?  Google him. He did serious damage there and, short of Michelle Rhee, I'm not sure who they could have gotten that was more ed reform.

As for Teach For America, well, it appears that shine has come off their razor-thin veneer.

The Washington State TFA claims they will have 30 corps members this year.  That would be pretty large compared to where they started in about 2012 with what? seven people.  Of course, that's all because of charters coming into view, not districts suddenly waking up to the virtues of TFA.

One big whopper on their Washington page (see if you can spot it):

Each neighborhood truly has its own personality, from Capitol Hill to Columbia City's incredible diversity to West Seattle's proximity to the beach.  Corps members living in Washington are able to find reasonably priced housing in these and numerous other neighborhoods throughout the region.

UW's College of Ed on their program for TFA (U-ACT) has this odd wording:

The program is designed to support candidates who are teachers of record in public schools in the Seattle region, and grounds teachers’ learning in the context of the school community as well as the realities of daily teaching practice.

You mean all those who teach in the Seattle region, right? Then it says:

Our ultimate goal in U-ACT is to ensure that you begin your teaching career with a strong foundation of what ambitious equitable teaching means and looks like.  

Who wrote that very ambiguous and poorly worked statement?  I'm betting on TFA.

It's not until you get to the end of the page that they admit it's a program just for TFA students.

To be clear (and I've said this over and over) - TFA is NOT there to create a new American teaching corps.  It's to create an army of ed reform true believers and put them in place both in districts and legislatures.

Teach for America has sent hundreds of graduates to Capitol Hill, school superintendents’ offices and education reform groups, seeding a movement that has supported testing and standards, teacher evaluations tethered to student test scores, and a weakening of teacher tenure.

From Salon:

Even supporters of TFA and TFA alumni notice there are problems with the organization’s mission. In a new report from education investment and consulting group Bellwether, the authors find, as Education Week’s reporter writes, fewer TFA alumni today “said they’d recommend TFA to a friend than in 2010, another sign of this general malaise among corps members.”

From the NY Times:

Teach for America, the education powerhouse that has sent thousands of handpicked college graduates to teach in some of the nation’s most troubled schools, is suddenly having recruitment problems.

For the second year in a row, applicants for the elite program have dropped, breaking a 15-year growth trend. Applications are down by about 10 percent from a year earlier on college campuses around the country as of the end of last month.

Of course, teaching in general is falling out of favor.  

From 2010 to 2013, the number of student candidates enrolled in teacher training programs fell 12.5 percent, according to federal data.

(I had an interesting back-and-forth on Twitter recently with an ed reformer who took issue with me questioning why minority college students would go into teaching when it has been so denigrated as a profession.  He said I couldn't possibly know that for certain. But when Gov. Walker of Wisconsin says he can be President and win over ISIS because he beat down the teachers union or when Gov. Christie of New Jersey says he would like to punch the teachers union in the face, I'll stand my ground on whether teachers are being maligned in this country.)

“Teacher turnover really destabilizes a learning environment,” said Hannah Nguyen, a University of Southern California junior who aspires to be a teacher but has helped organize protests against Teach for America. “So having a model that perpetuates that inequity in and of itself was also very confusing for me.”

Interestingly, a news story came out this week that the National Labor Relations Board ruled this week that TFA teachers in a Detroit charter school have the right to organize a union.  It reads like something from The Onion:

“According to a statement from the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the NLRB said Friday 14 Teach for America corps members should have been able to vote in an election last spring. That election was held to determine if teachers at University Prep Schools, a charter school network in Detroit, wanted to form a union.

“Detroit 90/90, the private company that operates the schools, argued the Teach for America members, as well as long-term substitutes, were not professional employees.

“We are really pleased to be recognized as professional teachers,” said Patrick Sheehan, a TFA corps member and second grade advisor at the time of the election. “U-Prep hired us to teach just like other teachers. Making the legal argument that we are not professionals means one of two things — either Detroit 90/90 doesn’t respect the work we do with students or they lied to prevent us from organizing a union.”

The vote to unionize at University YES caused their sponsor to abandon the school:

“University Yes Academy teachers voted to unionize earlier this year, despite their parent company — New Urban Learning — announcing it was walking away from the school. The announcement of New Urban Learning walking away from University Yes took place days after the school’s teachers announced they planned to hold a vote on unionization.”

Speaking of teaching, I can't resist adding this story from Diane Ravitch:

The state board of education in Kansas voted to drop teacher certification requirements for six districts, including two of the state’s largest. 

Kansas is preparing for the 19th century, when teachers needed no professional preparation. 

“Cynthia Lane, superintendent of Kansas City USD 500, one of the affected districts, called the compromise “a reasonable outcome.”

“The bottom line,” Lane said, “is we want every possible tool in order to put the right staff in front of our kids.”

Who dreamed up this scheme to lower standards? ALEC.


Charlie Mas said...

Locally, take a look at what Democrats for Education Reform, League of Education Voters, and Stand for Children are doing. They have largely given up on trying to put people on the School Board in Seattle. Instead, they are working with the City to usurp control of the District away from the Board.

n said...

It seems to me unions are desired only when it becomes clear to labor that it is working in an unstable, unjust, and/or underpaid environment. Unions protect employees wages, hours and working conditions. People aren't tempted to pay what I consider high union dues unless stress makes it a matter of necessity. What better indication that teaching isn't as easy as outsiders often think it is. Including Bill and Melinda Gates.

I sometimes wonder if opening our schools to so many parents and community members hasn't actually done damage to the here-to-fore view of teaching as a true profession when the wall between school and home was only breached by open house night, student presentations and the presence of relatively small PTAs . In ed school, one of my colleagues who volunteered in the classroom on a regular basis actually admitted she used to second-guess her child's teacher. She was sure she could do better. Until she became a teacher. Suddenly the enormity of the job was all hers and she admitted her very, very wrong read on what teachers actually have to do. A snapshot of teachers in real time doesn't do justice to the very, very difficult job of managing and teaching twenty-to-thirty children for six hours a day five days a week. Every set of parents only need to multiply their on-average two kids by ten-to-fifteen every late afternoon and weekends to maybe understand the difference. And remember that it is all about engagement in math, reading, and writing. Yeah, recesses and art and PE - everybody loves their PE teacher! But those of us in academic areas can't strap on the roller blades, pull out the volley net, or hand out the unicycles to keep engagement. We have to do with pencils, paper and books.

I think a good teacher needs to really love learning first and then be able to pass that love of learning on to the students. And of course I believe they should be smart/curious. However, Pasi Sahlberg doesn't think it is just brains: Q: What makes Finnish teachers so special? A: It’s not brains

I guess I'm really responding to sense that all these non-teachers who are deciding how teachers should be managed and paid don't really have a clue themselves. Not one clue. And many, many parents do not either. Even if you think you do . . . We are a very judgemental society IMO.