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:

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To which I responded:

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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

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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

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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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US News And World Report Closes Cheating Loophole — Charters Tank

U.S. News & World Report produces several influential annual ‘best of’ lists in all kinds of categories.  In education they rank colleges, graduate schools, and, of course, high schools.

In recent years, charter schools have been dominating the U.S. News high school rankings.  Reform propaganda outlets, like The74, gleefully touted the success of charter schools in the U.S. News & World Report rankings in columns like this and this.

Two years ago I wrote about how the KIPP New York City high school was ranked as the 4th best high school in New York State and then I uncovered that they actually cheated on this by assigning their students to four different schools, one of which became a top performing school.  Based on my research, KIPP was eventually disqualified off the list.

While KIPP’s cheating scheme was truly dishonest, other charter schools gamed the ranking system another way.  Before this year, the ranking was based primarily on the percent of seniors to pass an AP exam.  So if you were a charter school with high attrition and had 25 seniors in your graduating class, despite the fact that you had 150 ninth graders three years earlier, if all 25 of those seniors passed at least one AP test, you could be one of top rated schools in the country.

But this year — finally — U.S. News & World Report closed this loophole for their 2019 results.

Now the rankings are based on (from U.S. News website):

30% College Readiness, which is the percent of 12th graders taking and passing an AP test.  This is still game-able, but since it is no longer 100%, gaming the system this way can only get you so far.

20% Math and Reading Proficiency

20% Math and Reading Performance.  This is kind of a value-added where they compare the test scores to a predictive model.

10% Underserved Student Performance

10% College Curriculum Breadth

10% Graduation Rate.  This one is the killer for schools with high attrition rates.

Though this system still has some loopholes, it is a big improvement over what they have been doing before that.

As a result, most of the charter schools that had done so well previously are no longer being touted by The74 who posted an article about the change in a very matter of fact way.

U.S. News still has a long way to go and probably are doing more harm than good anyway, but at least they improved the metric to deter cheating and we won’t have to read as many articles about how U.S. News is proving that charters are superior to public schools.

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Toto, I Have A Feeling We’re Not In The State That Paid TFA A Finder’s Fee Of $90K Per Recruit Anymore

A few days ago I wrote about how Texas pays TFA $5.5 million for 400 recruits, or about $15,000 per recruit.  Yesterday I wrote about how Ohio paid $2 million to TFA for 100 recruits, or about $20,000 per recruit.  As TFA is in about 40 states, I wondered what state is paying the highest amount per recruit.  I got a tip today for one that I think cannot be beat.

The state of Kansas paid TFA $270,000 for a total of 3 recruits.  First they had a $520,000 contract for 12 recruits which would be about $40,000 per recruit.  But when TFA only delivered 3 recruits, they had to give back $250,000.  As a result, they ended up paying TFA a staggering $90,000 per recruit.

TFA says that this was an investment for them to start placing corps members into a new region and they needed the money for training and to pay a staff member to go around and observe the new recruits.  With the $300 million TFA has, though, they should bear the risk and burden of the overhead in entering a new region.  And they should pay their own staff member.

And how is it possible that they were not able to deliver the 12 recruits that were originally promised?  When people sign up for TFA, they do select preferences, but they are also told that they must be flexible and go where they are most needed.  How TFA could not have compelled 9 more corps members that they were needed in Kansas is very fishy to me.

TFA should be ashamed of this fiasco, but it is yet another example of this organization’s greed.  How they got lawmakers to sign on to this is really the bigger story.  I’m thinking that TFA has some pretty talented lobbyists all around the country pushing lawmakers to agree to fat contracts like this.

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What’s Round On The End And “High” In The Middle? Ohio’s $20K Finder’s Fee For Each TFA Corps Member.

Yesterday I reported that Texas pays TFA $5.5 million a year for 400 new recruits.  I speculated that TFA probably has similar arrangements in other states.  Today I learned that the latest Ohio House Bill 166 budget allocates $2 million a year for TFA.  A bargain?  Not quite.  While Texas gets 400 new TFA corps members a year, Ohio only gets 103 new corps members a year.  This works out to about $20,000 per corps member.

The entire HB 166 can be found here.

On page 3166 to 3177, lines 97517 to 97525 it says:

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As I mentioned yesterday, these states do not have to agree to this.  TFA is not going to close up shop just because these states refuse to subsidize them.  It is completely wasted taxpayer money.

This tip was sent to me by a reader in Ohio.  If you are in another TFA state and can find out what your state is paying per corps members, let me know.  Right now Ohio is the King Of The Hill at $20K per recruit.

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