My Personal Top 10 Blog Posts

I started this blog about 11 years ago, and in that time I have written over 500 posts.  Some of these posts are particularly meaningful to me so I thought I would collect my personal ‘top 10’.  I know that I don’t often go through the archives of blogs I like so this is a way for people who read this blog to either re-live the ‘greatest hits’ or for newer readers to get caught up on it:

#10 I Taught At The XQ Houston Super School

When Steve Jobs’ widow got involved in education reform and aired a prime time infomercial on all three major networks to promote her plan to reinvent high school, it was a major coincidence that the main school she featured was the high school that I taught at in Houston.  with some investigative reporting and some contacts I still have from my Houston days, I revealed a scandal which may have contributed to the rock star principal there being fired.

#9 Same Kids, Same Building, Same Lies

At the Teach For America 20th anniversary alumni summit, I heard Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, tell a story about an amawing school turnaround that sounded, to me, to be too good to be true.  This led to my first ever school ‘debunking’,  This got me discovered by Diane Ravitch and I became a key ‘fact checker’ for the corporate reform skeptics from that day on.

#8 The Death of math

I haven’t written much about my main passion in education — teaching math.  This post summarized what I think about how the math curriculum evolved in this country and what I think of it.  This one was widely read because it was picked up by a popular site called ‘the dish’.

#7 Teacher quality at KIPP

I had the rare opportunity to visit one of the most high profile charter chains in the country, the New York City KIPP school.  As I blended into the woodwork, I had the opportunity to reveal that what is going on there is not particularly impressive.  I never got invited there again.

#6 How I teach 2.6 months more of math in a year than the rest of you slackers

I’ve written a lot about research in education and how it is often presented in a misleading way.  For this post I showed how the ‘months of learning’ statistic is completely unreliable.

#5 4th Best High School In New York Is A KIPP School That Doesn’t Exist

This post revealed that KIPP had cheated on their US News & Zorld Report entry.  A few weeks later their rating was disaualified and I am confident that this post was the cause of it.

#4 Open Letters To Reformers I Know. Part 8: Wendy Kopp

Over the years I wrote about 20 ‘open letters’ to various people in the education reform community.  Some were to people I knew and others were to people I never met.  This one got a lot of attention, including a response and there were articles about this exchange in both the New York Times and The Washington Post.

#3 Open Letters to Reformers I DON’T Know. Part IV: Arne Duncan

This is a post I’m really proud of.  In it I explain to Arne Duncan about why the methods he pushes to evaluate schools and teachers is inaccurate by applying them to his basketball career at Harvard.  This reauired me becoming an expert in late 1980’s Ivy League basketball.

#2 Analyzing Released NYC Value-Added Data Part 2

When the New York media released the teacher ratings to the public, I used the data to show how flawed the metrics were.  This post was the most compelling where I showed that a teacher can be evaluated ineffective and highly effective in the same year.

#1 Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t

This was the ‘viral’ post that got me on NPR and propelled the popularity of this blog.  I’m not sure that TFA ever fully recovered from it.


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Are 85% of TFA alumni really “working in education or careers serving low-income communities”?

In a recent podcast on ‘Getting Smart,’ they interviewed TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva-Beard.  At the 0:56 mark the host gave this series of numbers, straight from the TFA PR department, “Of the 53,000 alumni, 85% work in education or in careers serving low-income communities. That includes 1,260 school leaders, 471 school system leaders, 500 policy and advocacy leaders and 200 social entrepreneurs.”

A major critique of TFA is that the teachers use TFA as a way to pad their resumes — that they teach for two or maybe three years and then go on to law school, medical school, or business school.  If this 85% number is accurate, it would serve as a great counter to any critique of TFA that the corps members do not commit long enough.

Six years ago in a HuffPost editorial, Elisa Villanueva-Beard said that it was 80%.  Over the last few years this has grown, at least in theory, to 85% and it is something that is now quoted on the Teach For America website in the section about their impact.

Teach For America has a 28-year track record of advancing educational excellence and equity in the United States through our network of remarkable and diverse leaders working to expand opportunity and access for all children. With nearly 60,000 alumni and corps members in 51 regions around the country, our network now includes 14,000 teachers; 3,700 school principals, assistant principals, and deans; more than 300 school system leaders; 500 policy and advocacy leaders; nearly 200 elected leaders; and almost 200 social entrepreneurs. And while only one in five Teach For America corps members had plans to teach before applying to TFA, 85% of alumni are now working in education or careers serving low-income communities.

This 85% statistic, if to be taken literally, would mean that 43,350 out of 51,000 TFA alumni have a career in education or serving low income communities.

The first question to ask is:  How was this data collected?  Did TFA track down all 51,000 alumni?  Did they do some kind of random sampling?  Or is this based on their alumni survey?  I know it is based on their alumni survey since when I fill mine out there is this question:


So what they should say is that out of the people who self-selected to take the alumni survey, 85% of the responders answered yes to one or both of these questions.  There are two types of bias at work here.

The first is selection bias since this is not a random sampling — it is the people who choose to answer which likely has a higher percent of people likely to answer ‘yes’ to these questions.  We don’t really know what percent responded.  Since there is so much selection bias it probably doesn’t matter if the response rate is 60% or 70%.  But if the response rate is something like 10%, that would make the statistic even less reliable.

The other type of bias comes from the wording of these questions.  What qualifies as “relates to improving the quality of life in low-income communities”?  Since it is up to the responder to decide, we really don’t know.

The way these questions are worded, something I’m really wondering is:  What percent of college graduates, in general, would answer yes to one or both of these questions.  Since we don’t have this control group to compare to the TFA group, it is hard to know if 85% is actually impressive.

Another thing kind of ironic about the 85% number is that, in general, 85% is the percent of corps members who don’t quit during their first two years of teaching.  Since this statistic is just about ‘alumni’, those people who quit are not included and that further skews the numbers.

In the past six years TFA has found a way to say that this number has grown from 80% to 85%.  Who knows what they will be saying it is six years from now.  Whatever it is, people should know, as TFA absolutely does, that this number is complete nonsense, something that it would not even be fair to call a half-truth.  If TFA continues to use this 85% number and they didn’t realize it was bogus before, they know now and they will be purposely using something they know is misleading at best.

There are two ways to get more accurate data.  One is for TFA to try to fully account for all 51,000 alumni.  This is a difficult thing to do and something that TFA is not going to invest the time and money into since it can only make that number more accurate and make them look worse for it.  The other way is to do a random sampling where they pick about 10,000 people who started with TFA out of the about 65,000 alumni plus quitters.  Then they would have to track down all 10,000 of those and that would be a pretty good random sample, I think.  They won’t be willing to to this either.

So I’ve decided to do a little crowd sourced experiment.  In the early days of TFA, they sent me an alumni directory with the name of every corps member from 1990 to about 2000.  So here is my experiment.  There were 522 corps members in the first cohort of 1990.  I had WolframAlpha picke 100 numbers between 1 and 522.

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 9.25.29 PM

Then I alphabetized the 522 corps members from 1990 and assigned each a number and then picked the 100 people who corresponded with the 100 numbers that were randomly chosen.  This is a true random sampling and it is about 20% of the total population which is a pretty good size sample actually.

215 Holifield, Erin
278 Lienhard, Bill
111 Darby, John
308 McGlone, Thomas
19 Arsuaga, Maritere
461 Tan, Chin
425 Simes, Jeffrey
115 Davis, Geoff
253 Koo, Chiray
171 Gomez, Carlos
184 Groom, Ileetha
392 Rivera, Richard
370 Polen, Michael
277 Lewis, Kimberly
299 Martinez, Jane
271 Lerntouni, Tank
113 Davis, Andrew
60 Brown, Daryl
320 Miller, John
401 Sabin, Caroline
3 Abell, Jennifer
273 Levine Grimaldi,
72 Can, Kristen
95 Cobb, Kendall
265 Lay, Corey
384 Rehl, Michael
Livingston, Therese
485 Wade, Andrea
122 Dennis, Terrence
379 Ramsey, Lukman
512 Winiecki, Marc
236 Jones , Stephanie
397 Roth, Sharon
429 Skolaslci, Renee
499 Wickliff, Derek
364 Phoa, Cynthia
193 Hamilton, Donna
413 Seligman, Miklci
95 Cobb, Kendall
125 Dineen, John
467 Thompson, Julia
56 Brooks , Daniel
361 Peterson, Lisa
99 Collins, Philip
502 Willey, Kristin
136 Ebby, Rachel
514 Wright, Ernest
41 Boatright, Laura
194 Harrigan, Lisa
505 Williams, Brandi
501 Wilkinson, Wendy
173 Gonzales, Emilio
373 Price, Wendy
20 Aumou, Elizabeth
367 Plaman, Kathryn
180 Grado, Danielle
Ruvoli-Gruba, JoAnne
444 Steensland, Lara
478 Utley, Stephen
57 Brooks, Hoff
27 Beck , John
517 Yudell, Michael
384 Rehl, Michael
185 Guerrero, Scott
116 Davis, Lorna
Palazzolo, Rayann
513 Wolf, Matthew
467 Thompson, Julia
203 Heitmann, Noel
Hendricks Richman, Susan
68 Bushnaq, Faith
109 Crean, William
129 Donoho, Lori
186 Gulling, Egypt
339 Nicholas, Robert
210 Heyl, Densie
257 Kruse, Jennifer
137 Edge, Kecia
204 Held, Robert
Zimmerman, Andrea
313 McPherson, Maria
224 Israel, Todd
63 Brown, Michael
106 Cox , David
251 Klender, Kimberly
336 Newkirk, Jennifer
64 Buckley, Michael
333 Nagler, Mary
25 Basich, David
181 Graham, Elliott
299 Martinez, Jane
146 Eppolito, Veronica
201 Haynes, Michael
216 Holmes, Tiffany
464 Taylor, Olu
437 Snyder, Christina
460 Tabb, Kathleen
226 Jacobs, Sandi
297 Marie!, Kecia
237 Jones, Brian

OK, now I did not then go through and start tracking down each of these 100 people.  There was a time a few years back where I may have had the energy for such a project.  But, with six degrees of separation and all that perhaps some readers will know some of these people who are all about 51 years old right now and graduated college in 1990.  Or maybe readers can pick someone off the list at random and write a comment, something like “297 is a banker at Wells Fargo” with some kind of link to prove this.  I haven’t really thought this through fully, but if these 100 people can be researched, it would be interesting to see if approximately 85 of them are “working in education or careers serving low-income communities.”


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The Missed Opportunity Myth

Before Michelle Rhee was a board member for Miracle-Gro she was the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst.  Before that, she was Chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007 to 2010.  Before that, she was the CEO of The New Teacher Project.

And even though Rhee is not a public figure anymore in education, she continues to influence education policy through The New Teacher Project which has since changed its name to TNTP.  TNTP puts out slick papers that it calls research but is really propaganda disguised as research.  Their first one was called ‘The Widget Effect’ which laid out the case for replacing salary schedules with a system based on merit pay based on statistically inappropriate analysis of standardized test scores.

And over the years they have put out other papers with clever titles like ‘The Irreplaceables’, ‘Rebalancing Teacher Tenure’, and ‘Teacher Evaluation 2.0.’  These papers are often quoted by ed reform propaganda sites like The74 and Education Post.

One of their most recent papers is called ‘The Opportunity Myth.’  Its central thesis is something that reformers love to use in their teacher bashing arguments, which is that too many teachers shortchange their students by having low expectations for them.  The work they assign is not challenging enough and since students always rise to the challenge of whatever you assign to them, these teachers are negligent in their duties.

So TNTP observed 1,000 lessons in five school districts and analyzed 5,000 assignments and 20,000 student work samples.  They concluded that the work that the students were assigned was usually inappropriate for their grade level.  Here is one of their graphics from the paper.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 3.05.41 PM

So 75% of the time students are working on things “that were not grade appropriate.”

My first question about this study is:  If a teacher is teaching a 5th grade class where the students are behind and only at a 3rd grade reading level, but you give them material at a 4th grade level, are you someone with low expectations or high expectations?  I would say you are someone with high expectations.  But this research paper would conclude that this teacher was someone with low expectations because the 4th grade reading level is lower than the grade the students are in.  This is the main flaw with the misleading conclusion so happily quoted by the reform propaganda sites.

TNTP actually put up samples of the assignments they rated on their website so I took a look at how they rated some math assignments to see if I agreed with their ratings.  I was not surprised to see that when it came to 8th grade math, the TNTP raters had no idea what they were talking about.

This part is a bit ‘mathy’ but I will do my best to explain the context of this assignment so if you are not a math teacher you can still get the idea of how misguided TNTP is in their rating system.

One of the most important concepts is math is something called ‘slope.’  It is first taught in 7th or 8th grade and it is weaved into all the following courses and actually comprises a large part of Calculus.  Informally speaking, the slope of a line is a measure of how steep it is.

In the picture below, the segment AB has a slope of 1, the segment CD has a slope of 2, and the segment EF has a slope of 1/2.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 3.20.40 PM

A slope of 2 means that for every unit you move to the right, you have to move up 2 units.  For segment CD, to get from C to D you would move two units right and four units up.  So if you only moved one unit to the right from C, you would move two units up to get to the point on the line.

One of the main ways of testing to see if students know slope is to give a diagram with a line segment on it and ask them to compute the slope.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 3.27.55 PM

The slope of this line segment is:

A) 1/3    B) 3    C) -1/3    D) -3    E) Slope is not a ‘thing’

If you said ‘B’, you are correct.  To get from (2,1) to (5,10) you have to go three units to the right and nine units up.  So if you only went one unit to the right, you would only go three units up.

There is also a ‘formula’ for slope:

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 3.33.54 PM

There are a lot of way to test to see if a student understands the concept of slope.  If you just have the students calculate slope over and over there is a chance they they don’t really ‘understand’ slope but that they just memorized a formula.  Still, if you have a student who cannot calculate the slope of a line or line segment when the coordinates of two points are known, then that student surely does not understand the concept of slope.

Now (and I know I’m losing readers here by the minute — but you have to have some background so you can understand why I contend that TNTP is not qualified to judge the quality of a math assignment based on a lesson about slope) you may not be surprised that if there are three points on the same line segment and if you calculated the slope by picking any pair of those points, you would get the same answer.  In this case, you will get a slope of three no matter which two points you choose.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 4.06.36 PM

Informally speaking, if the slope of the segment from (2,1) to (4,7) was different from the slope of the segment from (4,7) to (5,10) then it wouldn’t be a straight line.

When you go to the TNTP page where they show examples of activities and how they rated them, they have this example for a lesson about slope.


Math teachers I’m sure will agree that this is a good set of questions.  The first two questions are based on a graph and the student knew to draw a vertical and horizontal line which shows a conceptual understanding beyond just plugging numbers into a formula.  In the third question, the data is presented as a chart instead of on a graph, giving an opportunity for students to get comfortable with multiple representations and this question has six different ways to calculate the slope so there is opportunity for students to discuss that.  In the fourth question the student creates a chart from the data and then does it like the third question.  One of the answers is a positive integer, one is zero, one is a negative fraction, and one is  a positive fraction so all different sorts of answers are covered.  This is a fine example of practicing the skill of calculating the slope as data is presented in different ways.

But according to the ‘experts’ at TNTP, the teacher who created this assignment was guilty of low expectations.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 4.46.20 PM

TNTP explains why they made this judgement, but to understand why their rationale is nonsense, I’m going to have to take you through some more background about math and about the common core standards.

There are math standards from K to 8th grade and then standards for six different aspects of high school math.  The math standards for a grade, like 8th grade, are pretty short, taking up maybe 10 pages if you print them out.  States will take those standards and turn them into lesson maps where there will be 150 or so subtopics based on the standards.  The standards are not very thorough, actually.  There are big gaps in them that anyone who is a practicing math teacher would know need to be filled in.

So for 8th grade math, the concept of slope is only mentioned twice.  Here is the text from the two mentions:

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 4.55.26 PM

So there is no mention in the standards at all of mastering the skill of actually using the slope formula to calculate the slope of a line defined by data in various representations.  Any real teacher would know that this is an extremely important skill that you would spend several days on as it will come up for the next 4 years in many important math units including several months of Calculus.  And the teacher who made this assignment that was deemed ‘weakly’ aligned to the standards was aware that it would be negligent not so spend some time practicing with the slope formula.

So the TNTP people gave this explanation for why this was ‘weakly aligned’:

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 5.09.19 PM

OK, so you likely have not been teaching math for 27 years like me so this explanation does look like something that they put a lot of thought into.  So I’m going to say a few things about their rationale for bashing this assignment.

First of all, this is not the standard that the assignment was trying to address.  This assignment is addressing a standard that is not explicitly stated because it is so obvious to everyone (except the TNTP raters) who needs to understand what sorts of things are needed in teaching the concept of slope.

Secondly, this standard 8.EE.B.6 is perhaps the most unnecessary and, sorry to use this language, stupidest standard I can imagine for this topic.  Remember this picture I put up before?

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 4.06.36 PM

They are saying that a better way to justify that if you have a straight line then the slope of any segment on that line will have the same slope is to apply a much more difficult concept to master from Geometry, the idea of similar triangles.

Similar triangles are two triangles where one is like a ‘zoomed in’ version of the other.  So they are not necessarily congruent triangles because there is a little one and a big one.  What makes them similar is that they have the same angle measurements.

So these two triangles are similar since they both have angles of about 72 degrees, 90 degrees, and about 18 degrees.

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 5.29.07 PM.png

Notice that the sides of the big triangle are double the sides of the smaller triangle.  We say that the corresponding sides are in proportion and this will always happen with similar triangles.  It also works the other way around — if we know the corresponding sides are in proportion, then the triangles are similar so all their angles will be equal.

Using this concept of similar triangles, we can look at that straight line problem with three points on it in a different way (though this would not be advised since it is unnecessarily confusing and really won’t offer any truly useful insight into this topic at this point in 8th grade).

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 5.37.20 PM

Adding some lines to make two triangles, you’ve got the big one with a horizontal side of 2 and a vertical side of 4 and you’ve got the small one with a horizontal side of 1 and a vertical side of 2.  You also have that right angle in the bottom right corner of the triangle.  If two sides are in proportion and the angle between those two sides is the same then these are similar triangles.  And if they are similar triangles, the angles BAC and ECF would need to be the same too and if those angles are the same then the line ACF would have to be a straight line.

This is not something I would ever teach to 8th graders unless my principal said that I’ll get fired for not following the common core standards like they are the ten commandments.  It is maybe an interesting curiosity that I could mention or not mention, depending on the situation.  It certainly doesn’t belong on a short list of standards, like the common core standards.  And for TNTP to pan this assignment because they don’t understand that a good teacher knows it would be negligent to try to push this ill advised standard if they can avoid it, and that a good teacher knows that even though it doesn’t say that the slope formula is something that should be practiced, it certainly is something that should.

I can probably do a similar analysis for every assignment that TNTP said is weakly aligned to the standards, but I won’t torture myself or the people who like to read this blog with any more of this.

TNTP is the legacy of Michelle Rhee.  She, a bit like Voldemort in the early Harry Potter books, is out of sight right now but she continues to influence education policy through her intermediates and it is important to show that making a fancy paper that looks like real research and is quoted by The74, Education Post, and the TFA blog does not mean that the researchers are qualified to analyze the data they collect.



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TFA Is Shocked, Shocked To Find That It Is An ‘Arm’ Of The Charter School Movement

A few weeks ago an article appeared in ProPublica called ‘How Teach for America became an arm of the charter school movement’.  I found this be a very well researched article which shed light on something that public school advocates like me already knew a lot about — that TFA and the charter school movement are highly intertwined.

For people who didn’t already know about this, this would be truly eye opening.  But even for people like me who have always known about this, this article gave some new details that offered even more compelling proof including a major ‘smoking gun.’

The smoking gun is a contract that TFA signed with the Walton Foundation where TFA would receive $4,000 for each public school teacher they recruit and $6,000 for every charter school teacher they recruit.

I thought the article was great and it got a lot of attention but, for me, the most amazing thing was the reaction by TFA and by the TFA supporters.

Here is what TFA tweeted:

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 3.44.06 PMScreen Shot 2019-07-09 at 3.44.42 PM

To which I responded:

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 3.45.58 PM

Alexander Russo wrote on Phi Delta Kappan’s ‘The Grade’ a rebuttal called ‘How ProPublica’s investigation of Teach For America fell flat.’  You can read it and see if you find any compelling arguments in it, I know I found none.

This outrage by TFA and their cheerleaders is ironic to me since a few years ago TFA was very proud to be an arm of the charter school movement.  If you went to the past two alumni summits, the 20th and the 25th, at least 75% of the people who were featured to speak in the sessions were from charter schools.  Also, and I do think this is relevant, both Wendy Kopp and the current CEO of TFA, Elisa Villanueva-Beard, are married to charter school top executives.  When Elisa Villanueva-Beard does an interview for a podcast or something like that, she always uses charter school teachers as her examples of the amazing things that TFA corps members are doing.

It is only because Democrats are finally souring on charter schools that TFA is acting like they do not have this deep connection with charter schools.

I have two other facts which were things not mentioned in the ProPublica article, as if more proof of the TFA/charter school connection is really needed.

One thing that is not widely known is that TFA lets charter schools have first option on the most talented new corps members.  I know this because I have been in touch with one of the TFA superstar corps members from a few years back who was recruited into a KIPP school while he was at the institute and he told me about this arrangement.  So TFA lets their charter school buddies get the best of the new recruits and leaves the dregs for the pubic schools.  This means that the public schools are more likely to get a new TFA corps member who will quit or not quit and just be very ineffective.

Another thing that I find very telling is the way charter schools are represented in the TFA alumni magazine called ‘One Day.’  I looked through the winter 2019 edition and found that there were about 20 pages of advertisements in the approximately 100 page issue.  Of the 20 pages of ads, about 18 are for charter schools and the other two are for graduate programs.  Now I can see a TFA cheerleader saying that TFA can’t control who wants to post ads in their alumni magazine.  But maybe they don’t need to run ads at all.  Why should an organization that has $350 million need to get a few more thousand dollars for ads?  And if they are going to have ads, maybe they can make an effort to have it so that it is not just charter school ads.

Here’s the list of advertisements with a few scans so you can get the point of view:

2 page spread:

Success Academy Charter Schools


1 page ad:

IDEA Charter Schools

Green Dot Charter Schools

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 4.32.54 PM.png

Brooke Charter Schools

KIPP Charter Schools

Ascend Charter Schools (3 different one page ads)

ReGeneration Charter Schools

1/2 page ad:

Harlem Village Academies Charter Schools

The Equity Project Charter

Discovery Education

Vanderbilt Peabody College

1/4 page ad:

Penn GSE grad school

Freedom Prep Charter

Mission Preparation Charter

Alliance Charter

D.C. Public Schools

Columbus United Schools (Charter Network)

Ednovate Charter Schools

Bryn Mawr Graduate Degree

University of Michigan Master’s program

YES Prep Charter Schools

Seton Education Partners (Religious and Charter schools)

TenSquare (Charter school support organiztion)

United Schools Network (a charter network)



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Success Academy (Again) Takes — And Bombs — The Algebra II Regents

Last year I wrote about how the top charter chain in New York City, Success Academy, only managed to have three students get between 52% and 72% of the questions correct on the Algebra II Regents.

In New York State, the standardized end of the year exams for high school are called ‘The Regents.’  In math there are three Regents:  Algebra I is for 9th graders (or advanced 8th graders), Geometry is for 10th graders (or advanced 9th graders), and Algebra II is for 11th graders (or advanced 10th graders).  To get a diploma you only have to pass Algebra I, but to be ‘college ready’ you generally take the other two courses and, depending on what year you complete Algebra II, you take precalculus and possibly AP Calculus.

Success Academy is known for their Grades 3-8 ELA and Math test scores, but up until recently they weren’t taking the Regents at all, for unknown reasons.

In today’s New York Post there was an article about how 100% of the eighth graders from Success Academy Bronx 2 scored a level 5 on the recent Algebra I regents.  As this has been celebrated by various charter cheerleaders on Twitter, I wanted to give my analysis of this event.

First of all, there is a generous curve on the Algebra I Regents where 31% correct curves up to a 65.  For the higher scores, it is less generous, but still to get an 85 which is a level 5, you only have to get 79% of the possible points.  It is still pretty good to have 100% of your students get 79% or better on this test.  Throughout the city, most schools don’t achieve that.  But is it really 100% of the Success Academy Bronx 2 eighth graders.  The article mentions that they have 53 students who completed 8th grade.  But according to state data, this class was 72 students just two years ago.  So they lost almost 30% of their students in two years.  Suddenly 100% doesn’t sound like 100% anymore.

Another consideration is that charter schools, for some bizarre reason, are permitted to grade their own Regents while non-charter schools have to have their Regents sent out to be graded at a centralized facility.  Students generally do a little better when graded by their own teachers, not because of intentional cheating but because the teachers are more likely to understand what the student was trying to explain in questions where they have to write what their thought process was.

One issue that many people have noted about Success Academy students is that they seem to ‘peak’ very early.  They do so well up to 8th grade and then so few of them are admitted to the specialized high schools.  They didn’t even seem to take Regents until recently and though they seem to do well on the Algebra I Regents in 8th grade, they do not seem to do anything on the Geometry or Algebra II Regents.

Success Academy had 130 9th graders in the 2017-2018 school year.  Presumably most, if not all, would be taking the Geometry Regents, yet according to the records they had zero students even attempting that test.  For Algebra II I wrote about how in 2016-2017 they only had 13 students out of 16 pass and only 3 of them with grades above 72%.  Well, after seeing this recent story about their 8th graders and Algebra I, I looked that their Algebra II scores for last year (this year’s scores are not out yet on the data site).  Despite having 161 10th graders last year, 31 11th graders, and 17 12th graders, Success Academy had only 22 students even take the Algebra II Regents.  And their scores were the same as they were the previous year with 68% of the students getting between 30% and 52% of the possible points and 14% of the students getting between 52% and 72% of the possible points.

So The New York Post and various Twitter charter champions can celebrate the 8th grade Algebra I scores, but until they translate into Geometry and Algebra II success, I’m going to keep pointing this out.

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Chalkbeat Tennessee Publishes TFA/Charter Propaganda Interview

Among the education news outlets funded by Gates and others who try to push the slowly dying education reform agenda Chalkbeat is one of the better ones.  Unlike The74 or Education Post, Chalkbeat does often try to be balanced and they have Matt Barnum on staff who is one of the smartest education writers out there.

So I was annoyed when I saw this interview recently published called “This teacher had a student tell her she wasn’t ‘fun.’ Here’s what that taught her about inequity.”

If you are up for it, you should read the entire interview yourself — it speaks for itself.  But I’ll summarize it here with analysis.

The basic premise is that Angelique Hines a first year TFA teacher placed in a brand new charter school in Tennessee is featured in a series of interviews by Chalkbeat called “How I Teach.”  The premise of the interview series, according to Chalkbeat is “Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask educators who’ve been recognized for their work how they approach their jobs.”  So already there’s an issue of whether Hines is really an educator who has been recognized for her work.  She has been teaching for 9 months in a brand new charter school that has no track record at all.

One thing we do know is that her students can sit with their hands folded in front of them in a very obedient way.

So the article explains its title.  Hines speaks about how a student said he misses his old school because that school was much more fun.  One example of how the old school was more fun, he says, is that in the old school they watched more movies.

From this exchange, Hines makes a lot of assumptions about the school that the student came from and about the charter school at which she works.  She believes that since learning can be hard work, being called ‘not fun’ is a compliment.  It means the student is learning, and that the fun he was having at his old school meant that he wasn’t learning.

But students can learn and have fun at the same time when done right.  Now I wasn’t at the old school.  She wasn’t either, and Chalkbeat Tennessee certainly didn’t take the opportunity to investigate what school that student came from and whether or not that school performed well on the various accountability metrics that Tennessee is known for.  Also, there is no research or speculation about how frequently they watch movies at the old school and what the purpose of those movies are.  And students sometimes remember things like watching a movie and how fun it was and they will, in their memories, think that the fun activity was a lot more frequent than it actually was.  Every year I show the amazing animated movie ‘Flatland’ about what happens when two dimensional creatures learn about the third dimension and what that might mean about the fourth dimension.  The movie is only 30 minutes long and at the end of the year when I survey the class about what some of their favorite times in the class were, there are always a few students that mention ‘Flatland.’

But Hines knows that the old school did not teach which is why the student felt it was fun and she is teaching which is why she is not fun to this student.  These are the kinds of assumptions that TFA trains their recruits to think.  I remember my first year when I was teaching some overly complicated and underly planned lesson and my students getting very confused and frustrated and I remember telling my TFA friends later that day, “These students aren’t used to a teacher trying to get them to really think.”  I now know how wrong I was — I just wasn’t a good teacher then.

A kind of predictable and amusing part of the interview is where Hines explains about how in the beginning of the school year there was a boy who was late nearly every day.

At the start of the year, I had a student who was always late for school. Every day he came strolling in at 8:15 [or] 8:20 a.m., and I would always think to myself “Why can’t parents get their kids to school on time?”

I never thought about the challenges his family must be facing; I only made assumptions. One day, I was talking to my school leader about it, and I was told to call home. When I did, his mother revealed to me that she had 5 kids who all went to different schools, and she talked about the difficulty of getting them all to school. I also learned that he had responsibilities to his siblings. This included ensuring his younger siblings got to school before he did.

I made a promise to myself to always assume the best, to understand the challenges that our families may face, and to never write a narrative [of] a situation before I inquire. My school leader and I partnered with the family, and we worked out a way where the bus could come closer to where he lived, so he could make the bus in the mornings. He has not been late since.

This is the cinematic “The kid I saved” story.  So the mother had five kids all going to different schools.  Of course this is a consequence of Tennessee’s school choice program championed by TFA alum and former Tennessee commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.  And all those factors that made it so difficult for the student to get to school on time, like his responsibilities to help with his siblings, those were all fixed by having the bus come closer to where he lived.  And of course “He has not been late since” — if that’s not a lie than some of the other stuff was lies.

I’d rather hear a genuine story about helping a kid get to school on time more frequently and even though he still is late from time to time, we don’t penalize him for it knowing he has a special situation that makes it impossible to never be late.

This is an article about a heroic first year TFA teacher at a charter school who is countering the failing nearby public school that does nothing but show movies.  This entire narrative is based on a kid saying that his old school was more fun because they showed more movies.  And considering this is a first year teacher who has no results yet to suggest how effective she actually is and it is a first year charter school which also has no results yet, I think this was incredibly irresponsible of Chalkbeat to feature this teacher in this series.  It is an example of public school bashing combined with TFA and charter school propaganda.

If you can stomach it, read the interview and let me know in the comments what you think.

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After 29 Years Evidence That TFA Still Doesn’t Set New Corps Members Up For Success

When I first started this blog 11 years ago, the purpose was to give tips for new teachers.  Back then, this was on the site, no longer active, where I would interact with new TFA corps members and offer advice to them.

You’d think that after 29 years, TFA training would have improved.  But since they are supposed to be so data-driven, they should look at the most telling statistic about their quality of training.  The quit rate for TFA has not changed from 29 years ago until this day, approximately 15% don’t complete their two-year commitment, or roughly 1 out of 7 corps members.

I was once a staff member at the TFA institute and I had a lot of conflicts with Michelle Rhee who was second in charge of it at that time.  I also worked for the New York City Teaching Fellows which was a TFA spin-off and trained about 6 cohorts of math teachers.  I wrote two books about teaching, the first one ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ is still in print.  The lesser known one ‘Beyond Survival’ went out of print, though I obtained the rights to it and am considering making a kindle version of that one.

I noticed this tweet from an institute staffer today:

We rarely get to see or hear from actual TFA corps members.  I don’t know if they now have to sign some kind of non-disclosure agreement but I find it strange that this group of ‘leaders’ produces not one person live-blogging or live-tweeting their experience.  When pictures of corps members in action are posted, I like to glance at them and see what I can infer from them.  Sometimes I’ll notice that they are student teaching a class where there are only 5 students in the class and I’ll write about how unacceptable it is that TFA has not figured out a way to pack the student teacher classes with actual students.

In this tweet I noticed something I found revealing in this picture:


One thing to notice is the 7th grade math board work with 7+2=9.  Not sure what the context is for that, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

No, the thing that I found relevant is the list of classroom rules

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 7.44.07 PM

These remind me so much of the doomed-for-failure rules that they advised me to use my first year 28 years ago.  These are the sorts of rules that tell kids “I’m such a new teacher, I have no idea what I’m doing.”  I’m not going to do a deep-dive into these, I don’t want to make the teachers who made these feel bad — it is the TFA staff trainer’s fault really.  Rules like this cause more misbehavior than they prevent.  It baffles me that TFA still thinks that rules like this are effective for new teachers.

What some people who read this blog might not know about me is that before I became the ed reform fact-checker, I spent about 13 years from 1992 to 2005 doing a workshop at the summer institute.  For most of those years, TFA didn’t really want me there, and didn’t invite me, but when I invited myself they weren’t turning me down back then.  This workshop, which eventually became the book ‘Reluctant Disciplinarian’ still stands as great advice about the psychology of what techniques are needed to have classroom management as a 22 year old teacher.  At the 37:46 mark I talk about how in my first year, my first rule was “Respect” and how that was too abstract of a rule and made students think I was a fake teacher — the first of many mistakes that eventually took down my first year.

I hadn’t looked at that video in a while, it is hard to believe that this was 16 years ago and that I had already been doing versions of that workshop for 11 years at that time.  I don’t know how I didn’t pass out at the end of the workshop, it took so much out of me.  It reminds me of the Daffy Duck cartoon where he can never get the audience to cheer for him they way they do for Bugs Bunny until at the end he dons a Devil’s costume and swallows nitro glycerin followed by a lighted match and finally gets a standing ovation.

Anyway, the advice from this video — as old school as it might seem — has helped a lot of teachers, particularly ones that had almost no training, make it through their first year.

If any TFA corps members are reading this, here’s a link to something I wrote in 2012 for Educational Leadership magazine called ‘The Don’ts And Don’ts Of Teaching.”  It’s basically the two pages that I wish someone had handed me during my own TFA training.

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