pages 1 to 100
pages 101 to 200
pages 201 to 300
pages 301 to 350
pages 351 to 400
pages 401 to 437
When the new book ‘Class Warfare’ came out, the story of the current ed reform movement featuring TFA and KIPP, I refused to buy it, since I didn’t want anyone to profit from passing fiction and fantasy off as non-fiction.
But when I received a complimentary copy as a gift from my frequent debate opponent, Whitney Tilson, I promised that I would, at least, read it.
Analyzing a short research paper or an hour long debate is one thing, but a 500 page book — well, I was hoping that I wouldn’t find much to say about it since I really don’t have the time, yet I can’t resist.
Page 1 starts innocuously enough, but then one of the most misleading sentences in the entire first 100 pages occurs on page 2. Jon Schnur is one of the protagonists of the book, designing Race To The Top and advising Clinton and others on education. Schnur is a very sophisticated thinker, so it is tough to summarize his views in just one sentence. But for this introductory section, to set one of the most important recurring themes throughout the book, Brill attempts to do so with “Truly effective teaching, he came to believe could overcome student indifference, parental disengagement, and poverty …”
This is the battle cry of the corporate reformers — that teacher need to be motivated to work harder and not hide behind their job security provided by the selfish unions who always put the needs of the adults ahead of the needs of children.
Reading this summary of Schnur’s philosophy struck me as odd as I had recently corresponded with him on this very issue. What follows is my email to him and (with his permission to publish this) his much more nuanced response.
This is Gary Rubinstein. I’m a veteran math teacher at Stuyvesant High School, a TFA alumnus (Houston 1991), and I also participated in one of your ‘think tank’ sessions last summer. The reason I’m writing is that I’m concerned about how the current debate over school reform is playing out in the media and throughout the legislatures of different states.
I read your rebuttal to the Diane Ravitch Op-Ed, and I wanted to examine the ‘subtext.’ Anytime someone writes something, there’s the danger that the subtext is interpreted in different ways by different people with different interests.
As a teacher (and as someone mentioned in the Op-Ed), I was not at all insulted by Diane Ravitch’s comments.
I did not think that she was trying to put down the schools by highlighting their poor test scores.
A lot of the public listens to comments from Michelle Rhee which seem to indicate that the problem with education is that teachers are unqualified and that those who are qualified are lazy. A school that touts high test scores and claims that the only difference between it and its low-performing neighbor is that the teachers are working harder. This supports Rhee’s claims (or at least how the public perceives her claims) and leads to states closing down schools and firing teachers because they are not performing ‘miracles’ with their schools test scores.
By showing that most, if not all, of the proof that schools can be turned around by getting teachers to work harder should be dismissed because a school like Bruce Randolph isn’t even getting the results it claims.
In your Denver Post rebuttal, you mention two other schools that are getting even better results, and I don’t doubt that they are. But you know that these schools are doing a lot of things besides just getting motivated teachers. I know that New Leaders For New Schools trains leaders who learn a lot more than how to scare teachers into working hard. I’m sure that a lot of what you teach your New Leaders is strategies for overcomingthe symptoms of poverty.
This is where I think you and Ravitch agree. You both think it takes a lot more than just motivating qualified teachers and firing unqualified ones.
I wish you could make this more clear in your writing so it doesn’t get misused by people like Michelle Rhee who will use your credentials to support her heavy-handed approach to a very sophisticated issue.
It’s easy to characterize Ravitch as someone who is defending status quo and saying that teachers can’t do any better, but that’s not really what she’s saying. Teachers are being attacked because they need support to perform miracles. Even with such support, miracles are tough — as can be seen by the four schools that were labelled turnarounds though they haven’t gotten their scores up yet. And the ‘true’ miracles, like West Denver Prep, well I’m sure they are doing a lot more than just threatening teachers. (I also notice that some of their test scores are good, but others are still pretty bad)
This issue is so important that I think it’s important that people like you and Diane Ravitch figure out what you agree upon before the things that you don’t agree upon dominate the discussion and people like Rhee with her huge budget for PR get to make the decisions that will affect all kids.
And his response:
Hope you are doing well.
Colin Rogister shared your note with me – thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us. I really appreciate your taking the time to write.
First, I strongly agree with you about the need for dialogue. That’s why I reached out to Diane and suggested we tour some schools together and have a dialogue about what we’ve seen and their implications. My sense is that she and I both have some important differences of perspective – and common ground as well. Shared experience and dialogue can help crystallize what’s shared, what’s different, and can enable progress that can benefit kids. Even if inadvertant (and I alluded to that possibility in my op-ed), I do believe that her New York Times op-ed communicated to many readers that low-income children and schools serving those children can’t make important academic and educational progress at least in today’s climate and context. And while I very much look forward to a respectful dialogue (and I am sure some important common ground), I profoundly disagree with that (even if unintended) perspective. I think that risks paralyzing efforts to improve education and address poverty generally – just at the moment when we should be intensifying our progress.
Second, I agree with you emphatically that any strategy for improved education based simply on teachers working harder has no prospect for success. There is no evidence to support the effectiveness of a one-dimensional strategy of getting teachers to work harder or be more motivated. Indeed, our educational systems must drive dramatic improvements in teaching and school leadership excellence – with a blend of high standards, smart accountability, and very deep, meaningful support for the development of educators systemwide. A teacher quality strategy that relies exclusively on better individual teacher performance won’t succeed – nor will a strategy that ignores the dramatic impact different types of teaching can make on student success and achievement.
Third, I am so compelled by efforts by educators that have led to dramatic progress for low-income students in a growing number of schools and classrooms across the country. This growing – but still too small, and too difficult – number of successes demonstrates the powerful evidence that all students regardless of background can achieve at high levels when we adults get it right – and get it right systemically. I think the implications of this point are enormous -leading to the importance and urgency of making sure we adults at scale can help our kids pull off what they have demonstrated they are capable of. The accelerated progress of these schools and classrooms as well as students needs to be a foundation on which we build even greater success.
Finally, I agree that we must make progress toward solutions on an issue that is more complicated than the one or two dimensional characterization often given of education today in the media. One way to do that is to recognize that there are many people working towards critical goals, and it will be most helpful to find a way to harness the energy, commitment and important ideas from a number of people with a range of perspectives including you and Diane, Michele Rhee and many others as well.
Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts – and thank you for all you do for kids.
All the best,
Throughout the first 100 pages, Brill repeats the idea that reformers want to link teacher evaluations to the growth their students get on standardized test. On page 3 Obama tries to get legislation passed when he was senator with this in it, and on page 5 it finally becomes a part of Race To The Top “plans for using data and student-testing systems to evaluate teachers based on student improvement.”
To people who are not teachers, this sounds reasonable enough. Shouldn’t teachers be evaluated on their performance like everyone else? Well, the thing that Brill fails to mention is that teachers do not mind being evaluated on their performance. What they do mind is being evaluated on their performance with an unreliable metric. Standardized test scores whether the absolute ones or the growth models, otherwise known as value-added, have been shown to be completely unreliable in study after study. This is why unions rightly object to them being used for teacher evaluations and also for school closings.
Now, this does not mean that ‘tenured’ teachers have a job for life. There are plenty of other ways to measure teacher quality, which principals are supposed to do with classroom observations and writing up teachers who are not doing their jobs. That system is already in place and though it is a lot of work for an administrator, that is part of their jobs to supervise and otherwise motivate their staffs. To add in an unreliable metric to the mix is completely unfair. Besides being unfair, using this type of metric in teacher evaluations has the unfortunate side effect of encouraging teachers to teach to the test, thus robbing students of true learning opportunities. It is a lose-lose.
Page 7 “researchers at think tanks who were producing data about how teaching counted more than anything else” Not true. Even Michelle Rhee is careful to always qualify this common claim by saying teachers are the most important “in school factor.” Much of this research is pretty suspect anyway as you can see in one of my recent posts.
Page 8 On charters “these are public schools with no admissions requirements or any other filters.” What about the self-selecting nature of kids who have parents who have it together enough to find out about the lottery?
Page 9 On charters “ones that work not only demonstrate that children from the most challenged homes and communities can learn but also suggest how traditional public schools might be changed to make them operate effectively.” Well, with attrition and also the self-selection component mentioned above, it is safe to say that they are not the children from “the most challenged homes,” but maybe, at best, “challenged homes.” Most challenged don’t make it in, are counseled out before they start, or soon after they start, in many cases. And traditional public schools can’t change to copy these tactics. Where would the kids who get kicked out go? Back to a charter school?
Page 11: Reid had “forced out one of her new fifth-grade English teachers.” in mid November, but then later in the page described that Reid and the teacher “had agreed that she and Harlem Success were not a good fit.” How can you be forced out and agree at the same time?
Page 12: Why does her charter school class have only 22 kids, isn’t that a bit low?
Page 15: About traditional school teachers that don’t use their sick days “or turn into cash when they retire.” He makes it seem like a bad thing that there is an incentive to not missing school. If you ‘bank’ your sick days, that’s a good thing and you should get some kind of benefit from it.
Page 16: Mentions in footnote that some critics claim that charters “skim” the top students and writes “None of the actual data support this.” This is not true. Here is a recent one that says they do it, but that it is a good thing.
Page 19: Mentions that TFA has student teaching with 5 to 10 kids in a class — important point glossed over. Poor training is bad for the kids they teach.
Page 20: “none of the tricks she’d been taught at the TFA academy for regaining the class’s attention worked.” Again, the TFA training is poor and hasn’t actually improved much. This story about Reid’s terrible first day followed by her making a change and having a great second day is pure fiction, though Brill wouldn’t know this. In general, kids are pretty well-behaved on the first day. It’s just part of the group dynamic. If they are bad on the first day, it will be a really tough year for a new teacher.
Page 21: Rhee is failing in her first year. This is an important point since if even the great Rhee can struggle so much, what does that say for the mortal TFAers and how they fare?
Page 23: I’m glad that Brill mentions that Levin and Feinberg were mentored by an older union-member teacher, but then adds that Harriet Ball and other senior teachers that were helpful “hadn’t gotten the memo telling them they were supposed to fail.”
Page 25: Usdin also got help from a union teacher. I was glad to see this mentioned.
Page 27: American public schools are failing because they ranked 25th in math achievement internationally. But if you compare our low-poverty schools to low-poverty countries, were beat them. And if you compare our high-poverty schools to high-poverty countries, we beat them also. This is something that few people know about. Also, the U.S. always fared poorly on those international comparisons going back to 1964 when we were 12th out of 12.
Page 28: On the NYC rubber room “The city’s contract with the UFT required that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges were resolved — in a process that typically took three to five eyars and rarely resulted in dismissals — they continued to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.” The slow arbitration process is not the fault of the unions and the teachers — and if they were not dismissed doesn’t that mean there wasn’t enough of a case against that teacher? Why would it take so long, then. We live in a country where we don’t get convicted just because were were accused.
Page 41 (there was an interesting history of the teacher’s unions for a while, which I liked) then “This created a dynamic in which the union leaders and the bureaucrats were naturally inclined to find ways to coexist by worrying more about the adults than the children.” This thing about adults vs. children is such a cheap trick, so let me describe a typical way that the union helps worry about the children and some of the adults over the interests of other adults. There’s a union rule that schools should balance teachers schedules so that each teacher has a minimum number of ‘preps’, meaning that if I’m teaching Algebra, Geometry, and Trig, I’ve got 3 preps, which is a lot more work than if someone has one prep, just teaching Algebra. So the union says this is not fair and we should each have two preps. This benefits the children of the teacher who now can concentrate on the two preps rather than being spread thin by three preps. This is just a small example, but it is typical of the way that the union protects teachers from administrators who want to ‘play favorites’ with the teachers they like best.
Page 43: On ‘A Nation At Risk’, “or how teachers’ union contracts blocked the performance-based evaluations,” with no mention yet of WHY they blocked these inaccurate evaluations.
Page 44: “There are still thousands of skilled, highly motivated teachers in America’s classrooms, most of whom, polls show, aren’t active in their union and don’t worry much about how the small print in their contracts protects them.” What poll is this? This is divide-and-conquer, and it is not true. I consider myself to be a motivated teacher who actively supports my union. Remember — if a teacher is really too lazy to do their job, they probably will be lazy in supporting the union too.
Page 45: Poor teachers make up “a fourth or even a third of the teaching corps.” That is a big percent. My experience in four schools puts the number of hopeless causes at less than 1%.
Page 51: Good reminder that original point of TFA was to “ease the shortage of teachers across the country.”
Page 53: Interesting that original plan in Wendy’s thesis was for corps members to co-teach with a mentor.
Page 54: “67 percent of all TFA’s 21,000 alumni would be working in public education. That’s more than 14,000 of the “best and brightest””. I’m so sick of hearing this stat. I wrote a whole post on it once. In short, this is based on a self-selecting alumni survey in which less than 60% generally responded. Also ‘in public education’ is very broadly defined including being an admissions officer at a college, or something like that. This stat sounds nice, but it is not true.
Page 57: Escalante was not the hero that he is always portrayed as. In reality, he team taught with another teacher and built his calculus program up over a number of years with the top students in his school.
Page 59: Clinton and Porter propose “an education system that develops first-rate teachers and creates a professional environment that provides rewards for successes with students, real consequences for failure, and the tools and flexibility required to get the job done.” But ‘successes with students’ wasn’t defined as performing on a standardized test only.
Page 63: “TFA training was not destined to get better for many years.” Unfortunately, it is still completely inadequate. As they’ve scaled up to 5,500 corps members, the training has gotten worse, I think.
Page 66: Finally an admission “It was the beginning of using data — however inaccurate the data might be because the tests were imperfect — to drill down and link students to increasingly more targeted sources of their performance.”
Page 69: Says that TFA’s retention rate in 2008 is 92 percent. This only counts the number of TFAers that begin their first year (don’t drop out in institute, which is a significant number as they realize that their training is setting them up for failure) and make it through their first year. Another 3% quit during second year, based on their numbers, making it 89%, or 1 out of 9 who make it though institute but not through their commitment.
Page 70: most TFA recruits “had succeeded.” Only by TFA’s self-reported metrics.
Page 73: Describes KIPP contracts for parents and students. This would scare away many families who feel they can’t uphold the contracts. And when some kids do break the contract, Brill doesn’t mention what happens to them.
Page 75: KIPP trains students with the SLANT model. “Sit up straight. Look and listen. Ask questions. Nod your head. Track the speaker.” Isn’t forcing a kid to nod his or her head kind of strange?
Page 76: This is one of the strangest paragraphs I’ve seen. It claims that ‘Special Circular #6’ “was sixty-seven pages devoted to giving teachers an extra period off during the day” Now, I’m a teacher in New York City, and I can tell you for sure that I did not get an extra period off every day beginning in the 1997 school year. I don’t know what he is talking about here, and this is one of those points that the casual reader will see and get very angry about the greedy teachers and their unions.
Page 78: The famous 3 effective teachers in a row study from Dallas is finally invoked. The idea is that one group of 30 fourth graders with a 60% starting score went up to 76% after having three highly effective teachers in a row while another group of 30 fourth graders with a 60% starting score went down to the 42% after having three ineffective teacher in a row. I wrote a whole post about this Jordan-Mendro study recently. This study had a lot of flaws in it, as do most value-added studies.
Page 82: Johnston is described as having been “brushed off b Greenville, Mississippi school officials when he suggested how they might restructure things to make the school work better.” But he had just taught there for two years. He has not yet earned the right as a new teacher to do that yet. You’ve got to stick around.
Page 82: “Schnur and Johnston quickly realized that they shared a belief that what really mattered in fixing schools was getting better teachers and better principals.” This is the first mention of principals, I think, as people to blame other than teachers. And based on my correspondence with Schnur from above, he believes it is more complicated than that.
Page 85: “It is true, though, that states soon began to game the system by defining their standards of proficiency down.” This is an important sentence that could be discussed more, but isn’t.
Page 87: “Bloomberg had not talked about school reform in his 2001 mayoral campaign the way he and Klein later would discuss it — in terms of eliminating union protections.” How is that ‘school reform’?
Page 90: “recruits from Rhee’s NYC Teaching Fellows would have to join the union, but they were not likely to hide behind union contracts when it came to throwing themselves into their work.” I trained the NYC Teaching Fellows for several years and they, just like regularly trained teachers, don’t ‘hide’ behind union contracts. We do our jobs, which includes taking grading home and planning at home too since when the treadmill of the school day begins it is tough to get paperwork done at school.
Page 96: Says “The teaching fellows turned out to have been slightly to significantly more effective.” Another value-added study that is, I believe, flawed. I trained the fellows and they, like most first year teachers, struggled so would not truly teach better than experienced teachers.
Page 98: “granting paid sabbaticals” is mentioned with contempt. So, as a New York City Teacher, we can, after 7 years, take a 1/2 year sabbatical where we have to take courses to further our professional development. If you wait 14 years, you can take a year. Is this that bad?
Page 99: About principal Lombardi “had also fashioned an end run around the ost onerous union contract restriction, enabling him to get past the tenure and rating system he had complained to Klein about in order to stock his school with teachers committed to his mission and get rid of the rest. Lombardi would target the teachers he though were laggards and make life miserable for them, constantly observing their classes — which was allowed — but the union would lodge a grievance for it, charging harassment.” He makes it sound like Lombardi found a clever loophole, yet this is exactly what principals should, and do, do when they have teacher they want to fire. This passage demonstrates that it is possible to make things uncomfortable for teachers. Some of these teachers, they say, voluntarily transferred to another school — which doesn’t really fix the big issue, but surely there were some of these teachers who worked harder as a way of getting the principal off their backs.
pages 1 to 100
pages 101 to 200
pages 201 to 300
pages 301 to 350
pages 351 to 400
pages 401 to 437