They really ought to pay me a consultant fee.
Some of the better decisions that TFA made over the past year were anticipated by me on this blog. Whether or not TFA reads this blog and if it makes them think about these ideas, consciously or subconsciously, I don’t know. It’s not like anyone ever sends me an email saying “Even though you are sort of a pain in the butt, we appreciate that you spend time every day of your life thinking about how TFA can improve. Even though we don’t always agree, we do appreciate your passion, at least.”
Nearly four years ago in a post called ‘Does TFA value teachers?’ I wrote:
When you finish your second year, you’d expect TFA to bring you in and lay some kind of speech on you where they say you should really consider staying. That you’re now a experienced teacher and it would be a shame if you didn’t do just one more year with all the talent you have and the skills you developed. They don’t, though. It would cost them nothing to do so, but they don’t because it’s just not part of the model. It seems like they would rather you spend your energy getting elected to public office so you can one day be secretary of education and then you can really have some impact.
Four years later, they announced the ‘Teach Beyond 2’ initiative which does just that.
Recently I wrote a post called ‘The man who saved TFA’ in which I explained something that everyone really knows — that not all alumni agree with the TFA alumni who are leading the ‘no excuses’ reform movement. About TFAs role in promoting one group of alumni over another, I wrote this:
When this divide started to become clear, TFA had the opportunity to use this ‘diversity’ of thought as a strength. They could have said that they helped launch the careers of all these great thinkers and they haven’t yet figured out what the best thing to do, but through open and honest exchanges, they will hammer it out. Then the ‘sides’ could have worked together, testing their theories as scientists would. Challenges would be welcomed, not seen as threats, since everyone was seeking the truth, not just trying to appear right.
But when TFA was faced with these two camps, that is not the path they took. Instead of staying neutral, the way a parent might when her two children are playing on opposing soccer teams, TFA picked a side. They elected to shut out the side with all the teachers and the district assistant principals, the district principals, and the scholars. That was when TFA became all about charter schools and educational reformers who all were test score zealots.
I felt that it was a bad strategy to attach themselves to one side of the debate since you never know when the pendulum will swing the other way and the ‘reformers’ who once had all the power will be banished, and possibly not allowed to come within 500 yards of a school.
Now, perhaps this new TFA blog had been in the works for a while and it is just a coincidence that it appeared one week later. But it is not totally impossible that the creation of this new blog is a direct result of TFA higher ups reading my ideas. Either way, TFA has just launched their own blog site called ‘Pass the Chalk’. Though I don’t quite ‘get’ the title (is it a play on ‘pass the salt’?), I like what they say the premise of the blog is.
In Wendy’s inaugural post she explains:
This won’t be the place to hear the “official TFA line.” In fact, you will see from these posts that there is no official TFA line or monolithic view. As you might expect from a community of some 40,000 corps members, alumni and staff, we have a wide array of opinions and disagree about many things, including the role of Teach For America itself in achieving our goals. We think this diversity of thought is a good thing, and that we all have much to gain from sharing our perspectives and grappling with tough questions.
I was pleased to see this description as it is what I’ve been complaining about for so long, that TFA has shut down one side of the debate by showcasing only alumni from the ‘reform’ camp. I received an email from my alumni region which said it will eventually:
have series like “point/counterpoint” where two bloggers argue opposite sides of the same issue, like the benefits of gender-segregated education, and whether New Orleans is truly an example of community-level change.
Now, there’s something I’d like to see.
So far the posts have still all been from the “official TFA line” that Wendy claims does not exist. Comments are not allowed either, as far as I can tell. I’m going to try to be optimistic, but if there is a point/counterpoint of two bloggers where the ‘point’ is ‘charters are the greatest thing since the wheel’ and the ‘counterpoint’ is ‘charters are the greatest thing since sliced bread,’ I’m going to be sure to complain about it.
Also, it is not clear how certain people are invited to write these blogs. I would love to square off against Michelle Rhee in a point/counterpoint, but as I haven’t been invited to contribute (I would if I was invited to) it looks like I might be shut out of the idea that, quite possibly, I inspired. I’ll follow the posts and let everyone know if this blog is living up to its claims or if it is just an attempt to appear neutral while continuing to push the no-excuses reform agenda.